Who Killed the Constitution?

As we watch what was left of our constitutional republic crumble before our eyes, it’s natural to wonder when and by whom the wrecking ball was first swung.

For anyone more awake than woke, it is clear that the “new left,” whose takeover of the Democratic party and the majority of our public institutions is nearly complete, is a strain of Marxism, bent on the eradication of our empire of liberty and its replacement with a dictatorship of their own enlightened selves.

Before there was Marx, however, there was Hegel; and before the ideas of the “materialist” madman took hold of our elites, those of his “idealist” predecessor were already doing yeoman’s work in the multigenerational project of dismantling the United States of America.

In Claremont Review of Books, Myron Magnet reviews Ronald Pestritto’s study of the Rise and Legacy of American Progressivism, which details the influence of German philosophy on Woodrow Wilson, whose scholarship and presidency galvanized a movement that succeeded in radically transforming the theory and practice of American government.

Though our founders were undoubtedly influenced by modern philosophy, the central feature of the political order they crafted—checks and balances—is rooted in a fundamentally classical point of view.

According to that (sane) view of the world, human affairs ought to be governed by reason, which is capable of discerning the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Since, within each human breast, reason is beset by passions of a fallen nature, the rule of reason cannot be secured by entrusting any one man, or like-minded group, with absolute power.

Instead, public policy must be specified in laws written and executed by officials representing different coalitions in different ways, placing each in a position to confirm the merits and correct the faults of the others’ contributions.

As yet another fancily dressed disciple of Machiavelli, Hegel also espouses the rule of reason. For those of his school, however, reason is not a means of discerning and conforming to objective truth, but rather a tool by which human beings subject an inherently chaotic world to their own essentially subjective desires.

“Progress,” in this view, is not closer conformity to objective principles, now dismissed as “a priori speculations” with “no historical foundations.” Rather, it is the consolidation of absolute power by man over nature.

To achieve this goal, all the energies of all men must be directed into the same channel, and so there must be a “unity of the public mind.” As a result, liberty of conscience, and all related freedoms, are demoted from their prior position as inalienable endowments, and come to be regarded as nuisances to be eliminated, or, when that idea is too shocking, “redefined” as needed.

In a nutshell, the result is a regime governed by unelected and uncontrolled “experts,” who claim to speak for the people, so long as the people they pretend to speak for are agree to think only what their enlightened despots tell them they ought to think.

If these same people have the audacity to think otherwise, they will soon learn that, despite what they may have been told on TV, “progressivism means the death of self-government.”

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The Times Ahead

Robert Hugh Benson is most famous for his 1907 novel Lord of the World.

Set in the early 21st century, it describes the ascent of Antichrist, whose kingdom—much more familiar in style and substance than we would care to think—emerges both naturally and preternaturally from the technological and technocratic tendencies of modern society.

As the overwhelming majority of souls swooningly surrender to the enemy of their salvation, the few who remain recalcitrant are increasingly marginalized.

A regime whose ideology is one of peace and tolerance cannot admit that a handful of stubborn throwbacks pose a mortal threat to its insatiable craving for power. So instead, it labels them as objects of pity, suffering from a mental illness harmful to themselves and society.

In a penultimate phase of this asymmetrical conflict, a new law requires each citizen to be asked one fateful question: Do you believe in God?

Anyone who answers in the affirmative will be eliminated, but not as an act of aggression. Instead, he will be “euthanized,” to relieve him of his own misery, and secure the happiness of mankind.

The reasoning is simple: if human flourishing is achieved exclusively by human agency, anyone willing to bow to divine agency undermines his own welfare, and endangers that of his fellows. Better for him to disappear quietly, if he cannot be convinced even by totalitarian tools of persuasion.

Prior to the year our vision became perfect—I mean 2020—many had remarked on the uncanny prescience of Benson’s dystopian vision. Now, unfortunately, the parallels are harder to miss than ever before.

How so? I invite the reader to make his own suggestions, and may follow up soon with some of my own.

In closing, let us consider the fate of this faithful remnant in Benson’s tale. Their prospects seem hopeless, and indeed humanly speaking they stand no chance of surviving.

On the basis of revelation, however, we know who wins the war. As for how Benson’s inspired imagination supplies the details of this victory, I will not spoil things for anyone who has not yet read this essential guide to the times ahead.

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Speaking of Glory

Musicologists have noted that Vivaldi saved his best music for the Church.

Consulting their own sensibilities, they tend to think this is because it’s where he found his largest audience. Consulting this blogger’s, I’d rather believe it had something to do with the Red Priest’s desire to glorify his Lord.

Speaking of glory, we are fortunate enough to possess two versions of the Gloria by everyone’s favorite composer-uncle Tony. In this masterful production by Concerto Italiano, we hear the entirety of one, interspersed with movements from the other:

Though I don’t quite grasp the principle on which the two works are blended, it remains the case, as always, that Rinaldo Alessandrini and his crew present us with Vivaldi at his best.

The joy and the sorrow, the mystery and the solemnity of this ancient prayer are brought to life in a manner for which I am deeply grateful.

Those who regard the traditions of the Church as dead, or existing only in a “virtual reality,” seem to have no idea what they are missing.

For their sakes and our own, let us join in praying that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, will continue to have mercy on us all!

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Praying for Real

St. Catherine of Sienna warns us not to let our prayers consist “more in words than in affection.” The goal of prayer is for the soul to be “inebriated and set on fire and sated with holy longing, finding herself filled completely with love of [God] and of her neighbors.”

Recognizing that “the soul is imperfect before she is perfect,” the saint recommends that beginners “stay with vocal prayer so as not to fall into laziness.” While saying the words, however, we ought to “make an effort to concentrate on [God’s] love, pondering at the same time [our] own sins and the blood of [God’s] only-begotten Son.”

The driving forces of what St. Catherine calls “mental prayer” are “self-knowledge,” or consciousness of one’s sins, and knowledge of the “charity and forgiveness” of God.

One without the other is dangerous: “For if self-knowledge and the thought of sin are not seasoned with remembrance of the blood and hope for mercy, the result is bound to be confusion”; while the presumption that we are already forgiven exalts the soul in pride.

“The soul, then, should season her self-knowledge with knowledge of [God’s] goodness, and her knowledge of [God] with self-knowledge. In this way vocal prayer will profit the soul who practices it and it will please [God]. And if she perseveres in its practice, she will advance from imperfect vocal prayer to perfect mental prayer.”

Finally, St. Catherine reminds us that “whatever [we] do in word or deed for the good of [our] neighbor is a real prayer.”

Just imagine what would become of us, and our world, if we were all to practice praying, for real!

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Saints Among Us

How many of those walking among us here and now will one day be revered as saints? I suspect we would all do well to reflect more deeply on this question, and its implications for our lives, personally and culturally.

I mut confess to giving the matter much less thought than it deserves. Still, there are a few blessed souls whose words and deeds never cease to floor me with the thought: this is what it means to be a saint!

One of them is Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

There are many things I love about the good cardinal. The title of his first volume of reflections on the Church in the modern world says it all: God or Nothing.

Without God, there is not a man or a plan among us that amounts to anything. Sarah grasps this truth, and he speaks it with authority, with tenacity—and with love.

Years ago, the cardinal gave an address in which he candidly demonstrated the failure of the 1970 liturgical reforms to achieve the goals set forth by the Second Vatican Council. Echoing Pope Benedict, and drawing upon certain encouraging words of Pope Francis, he boldly called for a reform of the reform, and even had the temerity to point out that its inspiration should come from the fervent and unrestricted use of the ancient form of the Roman Rite.

After suffering a public rebuke by one of Francis’s arrogant underlings, the prefect did an amazing thing: in obedience to his abusive superior, he agreed to change his phrasing; in obedience to the truth, he meekly reaffirmed the substance of his prior remarks.

Needless to say, despots do not reward courageous acts, however humble, and Sarah was stripped of all but his title until the day his retirement was hastily accepted. Throughout it all, I never heard him utter of a word of complaint, or of complicity.

True to form, Sarah now responds to the Holy Father’s most recent betrayal of his spiritual children without a syllable of explicit criticism, and without leaving a doubt in our minds as to what he thinks.

As usual, his message is simple and decisive. All the Church has to offer the world is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Consequently, there are two options for the Church. She can maintain “the unbroken chain that links her with certainty to Jesus,” or she can admit her own nothingness. All else is stuff and nonsense.

In case we missed his point, the Cardinal specifies: to deny “the continuity between what is commonly called the Mass of St. Pius V and the Mass of Paul VI” is to deny “the credibility of the Church.”

If the Church were able to contradict herself, then no reasonable person could regard her as the mouthpiece of a God who, in his perfection, can do no such thing.

If the Church cannot contradict herself, no one claiming she does so can be regarded as accurately representing her.

“A father cannot introduce mistrust and division among his faithful children.” A man who calls himself our father, and yet seeks to provoke a war among us, is revealed by this very act to be something other than what he claims to be.

As for any such false father, let us pray for his immortal soul, and remember that God wills not his death, but “that he should be converted from his ways, and live” (Ez. 18:23).

As for ourselves, we would do well not only to reflect upon, but also to follow as closely as possible the example of that saintly cardinal, who speaks the truth, here and now, in perfect charity.

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How to Define Dogma

Today we commemorate the day on which “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

These words are taken from a decree of Pope Pius XII, solemnly defining as dogma—that is, as revealed by God—a privilege which the faith and piety of Christians had always ascribed to their Blessed Mother.

Though comparisons sometimes kill, death is part of life, and anyone whose interest in the nature and limits of papal authority may have been piqued by recent events, would do well to study Pius’s use of that divine commission.

The saintly man (I trust it will be made official, when the Church emerges from its present thralldom to worldly powers) cites the first Vatican Council, reminding us that “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in such a way that, by his revelation, they might manifest new doctrine, but so that, by his assistance, they might guard as sacred and might faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the apostles, or the deposit of faith.”

Before finally determining the point in question, Pius is careful to review its provenance from the earliest records of Christian prayer and teaching, through the affirmations of Church Fathers and Doctors, to the thousands of petitions he has himself received “from every part of the world and from every class of people, from our beloved sons the Cardinals of the Sacred College, from our venerable brethren, archbishops and bishops, from dioceses and from parishes.”

As one example plucked from the immemorial tradition from which Pope Pius humbly drew, I would recommend this recording of a reconstructed Vespers service for today’s feast, drawn from the works of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).

Though it is composed of pieces written for different occasions, a few of them were originally dedicated to the mystery of Our Lady’s Assumption, and all of them embody the joy and awe we ought to feel on this occasion.

For Mary’s bodily glorification not only provides us with a loving Mother in heaven, but also foreshadows the fate awaiting each and every member of Christ’s body on the last day.

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Blessings for Battle

Blessed be the Lord my God,

who teaches my hands to fight,

and my fingers to war.

Psalm 143:1

Prayer is a weapon with which you can defend yourself

against every enemy.

If you hold it with love’s hand and the arm of free will,

this weapon, with the light of most holy faith,

will be your defense.

St. Catherine of Sienna

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The Grandeur of Unity

Men put the grandeur of the idea of unity in the means; God, in the end; the result is that this idea of grandeur leads us to a thousand petty things.

To force all men to march with the same step, toward the same purpose, that is a human idea.

To introduce an infinite variety in actions, but to combine them so that all these actions lead by a thousand paths toward the accomplishment of a great design, that is a divine idea.

The human idea of unity is almost always sterile; that of God, immensely fruitful.

Men think to attest to their grandeur by simplifying the means. It is the purpose of God which is simple, His means vary infinitely.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

In this pregnant passage, we discover a key to discerning more than the difference between legitimate and abusive acts of authority. Tocqueville’s slam on petty dictatorship also points to features distinguishing the healthy life rightful authority is meant to promote, from its opposite.

Among other things, this wavering Catholic’s wisdom illuminates a central mystery of the divine liturgy, deeper reflection on which might be one of the providential blessings inadvertently occasioned by the latest attempts to rebury the treasures of liturgical tradition.

According to our white-robed caudillo, the unity of the Church demands the extinction of that form of worship employed by an overwhelming majority of history’s saints (among whom we count successfully penitent sinners).

Even at first glance, it is easy to see how this definition of unity as uniformity constitutes one of the “thousand petty things” Tocqueville rightly deplored.

Those possessing first hand familiarity with the ancient Roman Rite can go one step further, noting that the very structure of that magnificent inheritance has the stamp of God upon it.

Especially in its most solemn forms, one cannot help noticing that while the priest says one thing, the schola (Gregorian choir) often sings another, while the servers do yet a third. As for the people, they are in the blessed position of standing, sitting, kneeling, singing, speaking, or silently praying, more or less as their heart is inspired to desire.

These “thousand paths” of the Traditional Latin Mass drive liturgical ninnies batty. They want to force us to march to the same step, in mindless unison, and here God is combining our infinite variety of actions toward the accomplishment of his one grand design. Intolerable!

Returning to the question of fruits, whether one looks to the liturgy itself or to its place in the history of the Church, one sees that the “divine idea” governing it has, age after age, sent its glorious sound out to the ends of the world (Ps. 18:4).

As for the petty proclamations of ninnies and their strongmen, if their sterility is not sufficient to open the eyes of their deluded authors, it should at least comfort us with the reflection that, even if “time is greater than space,” both dimensions ultimately belong to the “immensely fruitful” “purpose of God.”

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Christian Cheer

In every gift show a cheerful countenance, and sanctify thy tithes with joy.

Ecclesiasticus 35:11

For God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

It is sometimes noted that God has a sense of humor, and that his saints likewise display their fondness for a good joke, of a certain kind.

One characteristic of holy humor is its resurgent flourishing in the face of earthly injustice.

As St. Laurence witnessed the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus, whom he had personally assisted in the offering of Holy Mass, Butler tells us that the saint “stood by, weeping that he could not share his fate.”

His sorrow turned to mischievous mirth, however, when the local authorities demanded that he hand over the riches of the Church. “The Saint promised, at the end of three days, to show [the prefect] riches exceeding all the wealth of the empire.”

On the third day, having gathered together a host of “the poor, the infirm, and the religious who lived by the alms of the faithful,” Laurence “bade the prefect see the treasures of the Church”!

The joke had its desired effect, setting the holy deacon up to provide his oppressors with even funnier fare. “Roasted over a slow fire, he made sport of his pains,” proclaiming after a time: “I am done enough; eat if you will!”

Today, Christians face a host of foes threatening us with updated forms of plunder and persecution. It is no good pretending the threats do not exist, or lamely lamenting their reality.

If God in his Providence asks us to give, even at the loss of our very souls (Mt. 16:25), let us look on the bright side of the exchange: for “he who sows in blessings, shall also reap blessings” (2 Cor. 9:6).

By the grace of God, may such thoughts inspire us with Christian cheer!

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It Takes a (Certain Kind of) Village

One of the advantages socialists have these days is the poverty of our political culture, especially as it pertains to our (lack of) understanding of the rights they are in the process of stripping from us.

Those nobly seeking to escape the servitude into which we are rapidly slipping, drawing from a conceptual toolbox within easy reach, tend to make their case in terms of individual liberties.

Though freedom lovers are correct to insist that rights belong to individual persons, however, their rhetoric sometimes seems to neglect crucial facts about the human condition. For instance, the fact that one person can only claim a “right” or “liberty” in relation to another person through the medium of our common membership in society.

If rights began and ended with individuals, they would not be rights at all. Without a shared basis of mutual obligation, demanding that someone else recognize what’s mine as mine is the moral equivalent of spitting into the wind.

Taking advantage of our instinctive recognition of this social dimension of the human person, ideologues pit concepts such as “social justice” against our personal freedoms, as if honoring one side of this false dichotomy required the denigration of the other.

Any proper defense of freedom must not only acknowledge but embrace its social character. Here it is helpful to turn once more to the writings of Henry Veatch.

The only viable basis of moral obligation, Veatch ably demonstrates, is our duty (and desire) to perfect ourselves. As political animals, however, we cannot approximate perfection ourselves alone.

To achieve a tolerable level of self-improvement, I must participate in society. There, I will encounter others with a similarly political nature. If I fail to respect their humanity, not only do I risk my own expulsion from society, but I also violate my own rational nature by treating one thing (my fellow man) as another (perhaps a tool, or a distraction).

What then does it mean to respect someone’s humanity? Among other things, it means to respect his need for the advantages of society. To exclude anyone from society is to place obstacles in the way of his self-perfection, thereby wounding his own humanity and my own.

Like our culturally ascendant neo-Marxists, Veatch stresses that society fosters justice or the common good by providing a web of systems through which persons can obtain the goods requisite to their personal fulfillment. Such systems include everything tending to intellectual, moral, spiritual, and physical health—from education and religion to food and medicine.

Contrary to fashionable propaganda, however, Veatch demonstrates not only that such systems need not provide such goods free of charge, or in mathematically equal quantities. Crucially, he explains why any system attempting to guarantee perfectly equal access to such goods tends to deprive everyone of conditions essential to human flourishing.

One reason socialism fails to deliver the common good is that the greatest goods of human life are not measurable in mathematical terms, nor can they be distributed like material things. As Plato noted, no matter how much wisdom one man possesses, he cannot give it to another who is not willing to acquire it for himself.

Even in material things, which in principle can be shared, a similar dynamic arises. Since freedom is part of man’s nature, no system depriving him of it is compatible with his perfection. This is why communism flourishes in small communities called to an exceptional way of life, while attempts to impose it on whole political societies issue in horrors of technocratic slavery and mass murder.

In sum, the yahoos are not wrong to insist that it takes a village to live a happy life. Instead, they err in using terms such as “village” as euphemisms for systems of soul-crushing despotism.

If we wish to thwart the tyrannical forces running rampant in our world, let us remember to couple our call for freedom with an equal enthusiasm for the preservation and restoration of healthy social systems.

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