Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Catholic Anarchy, Part III: Sedition

In this same time … our good Lord shewed a ghostlie sight of his homelie loving: I saw that he is to us all thing that is good and comfortable to our help. … And in this he shewed a litle thing, the quantitie of a hasel-nutt, lying in the palme of my hand, as me seemed; and it was as round as a ball. I looked theron with the eie of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ and it was answered generallie thus: ‘It is all that is made.’ I marvelled how it might last: for me thought it might sodenlie have fallen to naught for litleness. And I was answered in my understanding, ‘It lasteth, and ever shall: for God loveth it. And so hath all thing being by the love of God.’
—Lady Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 5

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How, then, is a state to be overthrown? There are two ways of doing so, direct action and indirect action; indirect action (in an ostensibly democratic culture such as ours) tries to elect people who will work to dismantle the structures of power, while direct action simply tries to get on with the dismantling and never mind electing anybody. Of these, only direct action is likely to be any good, because not one man in a thousand is going to dismantle the system that put him in power; he is far likelier to work, as far as in him lies, to render that system hostile to his rivals for power.1

Direct action can again be divided into two kinds: the coercive and the persuasive. Coercive direct action includes all techniques that rest on either violence or the threat of violence, from armed revolt to sabotaging property to holding Cold Stone Creamery executives at gunpoint with demands for socialized ice cream distribution. By contrast, persuasive direct action encompasses the range of tactics that appeal to the opponent’s conscience and intellect, from pamphleteering to strikes to non-coöperation with the law.

As a professed pacifist, I naturally look to persuasive rather than coercive action. But, given that I view my pacifism as a matter of personal calling, not universal obligation, the question remains of whether I prefer persuasion as a matter of liking, or think that it’s simply better strategy than coercion; and I think the latter.

The chief argument in favor of coercive direct action is that it accomplishes radical change in a short period, which persuasion can’t, because some people just won’t be persuaded. The trouble about this argument is that it’s wrong from start to finish.

First of all, let’s talk about radical change. It shouldn’t be confused with merely drastic change. The word radical comes from the Latin radix,2 which means ‘root’; it is change at a root level, a change of heart, that is at stake here. And coercive means can’t effect that. Thinking it could was the error of the Middle Ages at their worst, attempting by force of arms to protect and expand the dominion of the Prince of Peace. Trying to force profound change on a population breeds only hypocrisy; it’s a law of human nature. Radical change has to come from within, and be permitted to flower through patient tending—pulling a plant will not make it grow taller, and the harder you pull, the likelier you are to tear it up.

Persuasion is not the best way of effecting a change of heart: it’s the only way. For many people it may not do its work alone: it may require experiment or experience for them to change their minds. And, yes, there will always be people who can’t be reached. ‘That we should wish to cast [Sauron] down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind.’3 That’s life, and there’s no getting round it.

But the fact is, coercive direct action does accomplish something. It can right certain material injustices, even if it can’t effect radical change as such. Surely that’s better than nothing?

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on what the coercion brings with it. But we can say this about all coercion, before we know anything else about it: it is, whether implicitly or practically, violent. And if violence is the problem, adding in more violence is doomed to failure. Not all anarchists are pacifists, either personally or philosophically, but the state’s power to compel is something we all object to, and compelling them to cut it out is pure hypocrisy.

The only way it could be justified is to classify the agents of the state as the enemy, an other, not a human neighbor. Both Christianity and democracy forbid such a thing. And anyway, if the problem with the state is the separateness of the state and the people, siding with the people just makes it worse. It doesn’t solve anything. Dehumanizing one’s opponents is always wrong; which is why I describe myself, in the words of Dorothy Day, as a pacifist in the class war.

So what does persuasive direct action actually consist in? It has three primary forms: advocacy; striking; and civil disobedience. Advocacy includes every kind of argument for anarchy, spoken and written, from pamphlets to full-length books. It also encompasses techniques chiefly meant to draw public attention to the cause of anarchism, like protests or artistic displays. The aim here is persuasion in its purest form: gaining a hearing from people, explaining what we mean by anarchy, and trying to convince them to adopt it.

Striking is normally a refusal of work in some way or other.4 A walkout at a company (especially in fields of work with ‘hard’ products, like farming or construction, as opposed to ‘soft’ products like entertainment or research) is the commonest form, and its aim is to bring about negotiation, or to bolster the cause of the strikers in an ongoing dispute; the same is true of rent strikes, culture strikes, and student strikes. I know only little about this, as I’ve never been in a position to participate in one (partly because I’ve been fairly well treated by my employers to date). Abstaining from voting can be considered a form of striking as well; though, given there's no quorum for electing public officials—i.e., no matter how low voter turnout is, the person who gets the most votes out of that turnout will win the election—it’s largely symbolic, and blends a little into the third category.

Lastly, there is civil disobedience: this is peaceful but direct defiance of the law. This may be a symbolic action, like Gandhi’s Salt March, or it may be simply a result of conscience clashing with legislation. There are times when anybody should do this, anarchist or not, as when the resistance movements in Europe in the 1940s concealed Jews. That isn’t so much anarchism as basic human decency. When it comes to specifically anarchist civil disobedience, though, the technique has a more determinate character. Civil disobedience doesn’t require attention-grabbing defiance of every individual law; after all, many laws do codify right behavior no matter who did the codifying, and many more are just less trouble (and no affront to your dignity as a person) to obey than to make a fuss over.

But some laws aren’t like that. Some laws are simply wrong, and should not be obeyed, or should even be specifically disobeyed: for example, not only should you not turn Jews over to the Nazis (not obeying), you should help them get away, however much you can (disobeying). Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to coöperate with the segregationism of the Montgomery bus system, though not a defiance of a law exactly, is of a kind with civil disobedience. A more exact and contemporary example would be Edward Snowden’s disclosure of surveillance information; that the spying was going on in the first place was wrong, and it was also wrong that it was being kept secret; his publication was, therefore, an act of conscience, a symbolic protest, and a kind of advocacy all in one.

Okay, the pic may be a little melodramatic, but the article's good and hefty.

Other laws, while they may not be violations of justice per se, may still be unwarranted, offensive intrusions into the general human right of liberty. Quiet refusal to fall in line with laws that have no right to be instituted are not usually effective as protests, but, from an anarchist point of view, they’re perfectly legitimate choices ethically (for example, in places where selling alcohol is banned on Sundays, an anarchist would see nothing immoral about selling and buying it anyway).

But what does any of this matter? There are never many Parkses, Snowdens, or Gandhis in any generation. What effect can something as small as one person have on an entire political system? What can one woman or man do?

First, break the spell of size. The state may be huge, but it is made of human beings; there’s nothing else in it. If there are many of them, there are many of everybody else, too. And second, it is our submission to coercion that gives it its power. Sedition doesn’t have to mean conspiracy and rebellion, when it is conducted not against the powerful but against their power; sedition can be as simple and clear as the word No. Realize for a moment that every state would crumble to dust in a day if everyone in its simultaneously refused to coöperate with its directives. Only one thing is needed to bring down principalities and powers: namely, the will to do it. From the moment we choose it, we have liberty. All the rest is the flower; the will is the seed.

How can this sort of sedition have victory? That’s what persuasive direct action is for: annoying your friends into agreeing with you. Because with every person you convince, the number of free people expands. Maybe, one day, the state will crumble; in the meantime, anarchy has already begun.

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1There have been exceptions: Cincinnatus, the first dictator of republican Rome, was famous for being a dictator that actually followed Roman law and retired when the emergency was over; similarly, King Juan Carlos of Spain, who quietly blended in with the totalitarian regime of Francisco Franco, emerged after the tyrant’s death as a democratic reformer, transforming his own office into a constitutional monarchy. But these men are precisely exceptional. Rulers like Julius Cæsar, William of Orange, Napoleon Bonaparte, Vladimir Lenin, and Augusto Pinochet are the rule. Being trapped in the spider’s web of power politics is a far commoner fate even among would-be reformers, men being what we are.
2From which we also get the word radish, which is why radishes have long been a symbol of political unrest [citation needed].
3Said by Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Book III.
4Hunger strikes are the only exception to this that I’m aware of, but, like the other forms of strike, they are often used as a negotiating tactic, or sometimes for publicity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Five Quick Takes


Snow always brings the mid-Atlantic to a standstill. I’ve never understood this. It comes literally every year. And every time, native Marylanders, Virginians, and Washingtonians behave as though radioactive, intelligent, self-locomoting fangs are falling from the heavens, and the only way to repel them is with milk-soaked toilet paper.

Come to think of it, I suppose it’s equally ridiculous that I manage to be driven to the brink of criminal insanity by this every time it happens, since it’s literally as predictable as the snow that provokes it. Maybe I should work on that.

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Lent will be upon us soon; just a smidge over two weeks till Ash Wednesday. I’m thinking that I may reread Theology of the Body this Lent; I did a couple of years ago, and it was very nourishing, but I don’t think I understood more than half of it. It’s a demanding read, but it’s fairly manageable in the forty days the season gives you.

This particular Lent is a special one for us in the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter. On Candlemas (February 2nd), we will be getting our first bishop! His name is Monsignor Steven Lopes, and he will be consecrated at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, which will then become a cathedral proper. This is the first time that an Anglican Ordinariate will receive a bishop anywhere in the world; hitherto, all our ordinaries have been married men, who can’t be made bishops in the Catholic Church. Msgr Lopes has taught theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, served in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and been the personal chaplain to Pope Benedict XVI. I’m looking forward to having such a creditable figure as our first bishop.

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I assume that the sort of person who reads Mudblood Catholic is likely to be the sort who takes an interest in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages, and perhaps knows already of Ardalambion, an online encyclopædia of all the known tongues of Middle-earth. I’ve been thinking a good deal about Nandorin, or Silvan Elvish; it’s a problematic aspect of Tolkienian linguistics, as the material is so sparse (there’s almost no record of Silvan grammar, and the wordlist has only about thirty entries).

Now, I can’t be sure about it, since my knowledge of linguistics is about as amateur as it comes, but I’ve hit upon a theory I’m liking more and more, that might not only straighten out the awful tangle that is the Silvan corpus, but even allow us to expand on it. Quenya and Sindarin, the best-known and most filled out languages Tolkien constructed, were modeled on Finnish and Welsh respectively, at least in terms of sound. Well, looking at some of the phonological trends in Nandorin, I think it shows evidence of being modeled on Old English, another language Tolkien was fond of.

This may explain a lot of oddities in Tolkien’s work on Silvan: the weird vowel mutations in certain words, unparalleled in any other Elvish language; the existence of the æ sound (like the a in cat), which dropped out of the others; the apparent preservation of kw as cw or c, though all other close relatives of Silvan change it to p; the preservation of sp at the beginning of words, where Quenya and Sindarin alter it to f. If I’m right that my readers enjoy thinking and reading about this stuff, tell me so, and I may write a piece about it! (And if not, tell me that too, because for the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy it, I can understand why linguistics would be dull as balls.)

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I’ve been praying to and thinking about the Blessed Virgin Mary more than usual lately. Not sure why. I wouldn’t say that she’s more approachable than God; I mean, in one sense she is, since God is unimaginably Other, while Mary is at least a human being even as the Mother of God. But praying to God is easy enough in its way, since He is more intimately present to us than anyone or anything else is or ever could be: In Him we live and move and have our being.

Anyhow, I’m finding it easier to address her. When I pray to God, there’s this feeling of muteness, almost like emptiness. It isn’t an unpleasant feeling, though it is odd. Speaking to the Blessed Mother, I can formulate words at least, and I feel I’m growing into my relationship with her somewhat. I tend to hold her at arm’s length: I have always found it natural to venerate her as the Queen of creation, even when I was a Calvinist, but being affectionate and open with her as the Mother of Christians is threatening. Intimacy is always threatening. Love contains every kind of pain except the pain of damnation in it (and, who knows, it may be that the anguish of the damned consists largely in the rejection of that pain which, in a fallen world, is always the cost of love), and the more people you love and the more deeply you love them, the more vulnerable you are. Even being perfect is no defense—it may defend you from the pain of a wounded ego, but neither holiness nor wickedness can defend you from the pain of your beloved mistreating you, or their just being caught in some kind of brokenness. The Mother of God, conceived without sin, is also the Mother of Sorrows; and her Son, the ‘desire of the everlasting hills,’ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

But it is worth it. Few passages in literature are as stirring as Ransom’s speech to the Green Lady (the Eve of Venus) and the tempter-possessed Professor Weston, in C. S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. When he is asked whether Maleldil, i.e. God, brought good out of the Fall of Man:

‘I will tell you what I say,’ answered Ransom, jumping to his feet. ‘Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can block His way, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost forever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will come.’ He turned to the body of Weston. ‘You,’ he said, ‘tell her all. What good came to you? Do you rejoice that Maleldil became a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you made Maleldil and death acquainted.’1

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Rev Franklin Graham’s appalling performance at Focus on the Family recently2 (part of a trend on his part, unhappily) seems to have reëstablished the homophobia of conservative Christians for some people. Among a host of hideous remarks, his asinine assertion that bisexuality ‘means orgies’ would be funny if it weren’t so damaging to those bisexuals who are just trying to, you know, live their lives (including, ahem, some believers). It is offensive, and it’s hypocritical—that any believer, let alone one who is in professional ministry, should say ‘We have to be so careful who we let into the churches’ is a profoundly shaming fact.

But I find that for me, it’s more dismal and sad than angering. I was raised in a conservative household and an evangelical Protestant culture; and the way that culture seems to have spiritually decayed in the past decade or so borders on the tragic. Or maybe I had the good fortune to have been brought up in one of its better enclaves. The idea of barring people from church would have been not only wrong but incomprehensible to the churches that I grew up in, and conservatism, even when it meant a culture war, didn’t (always) mean demonizing people who weren’t Christians or Christians who disagreed with us. I still have a good deal of sympathy with many conservative ideals, though I’ve moved far from others; watching people like Graham, Trump, Palin, and Santorum become the face of the right has been a gloomy coming-of-age. I expected better even of opponents; after all, you can be opponents without being enemies—like Chesterton and Shaw. God grant this is a barbarous interlude only, and not a harbinger of a deepening descent.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.3

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1This is from Perelandra, the second and finest novel of the Cosmic Trilogy; unfortunately I don’t know what page it’s from, as I got this from Gutenberg Canada (I haven’t a copy of my own). But you can find the novel at this link.
2I prefer, when at all possible, to report people’s own words rather than quoting other news sites, since all media comes with spin. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a transcript of Rev Graham’s comments as such, so I chose this link because it does at least quote him at some length and include a recording.
3W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming, ll. 1-8.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Catholic Anarchy, Part II: The Strength of Sin Is the Law

For Part I of this series, click here.

No man demands what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself. … One can only find the middle distance between two points if the two points will stand still. We may make an arrangement between two litigants who cannot both get what they want; but not if they will not even tell us what they want. … There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians who are in favor of secular education, but think it hopeless to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education, but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant proprietorship and therefore vote for something else.
—G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World, pp. 20-21

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So then, put simply, anarchism is the philosophy that the best way to organize society is for it to be genuinely self-governing, instead of being governed by a state whose authority is separated from and above that of the people as a whole. (Whether the state is instituted by elections, heredity, lottery, or any other means is not important for the anarchist: it is the state’s distinction from the citizenry as a whole, not its mode of coming into existence, that counts.)

But why think that? Most people haven’t, historically speaking—or, if they have, they’ve dismissed it as a pipe dream. And there’s a very practical case to be made for dismissing it as a pipe dream. However, I can’t help noticing in my studies of history that, in politics at least, practical people don’t seem to get what they want. Not reliably, anyway, and not for long.

Idealists, on the other hand, often make a remarkable impact: practical people have to take the unbending idealist into account, if only by shooting him. Stalin, speaking  to a French statesman who asked him about his influence with Russian Catholics, once said, ‘The Pope! How many divisions does he have?’ It’s witty enough in its own right; but it’s even funnier for other reasons, when you consider that the Soviet Union at that time was a thing of yesterday and vanished the day after tomorrow, while the Papacy is the oldest continuous institution on earth.* Idealism is much more practical than practicality—chiefly, I think, because it’s more human. Men are not bulletproof, but ideas and passions are; the pragmatist concerns himself only with men, but in so doing he leaves out the most important parts of man, his brain and his heart.

But back to anarchy. The idea is that men should be self-governing, and that, in a state, they just aren’t—even if it’s a professedly democratic state. The Man is still the Man even if you vote for him. And state governance, self governance, and chaos are the only options (until the Greys invade, but all the same we need something to do in the meantime).

This all, then, comes back to two simple questions: one, do men have the right to govern themselves? And two, is it best for them to exercise this right, or abdicate it in someone else’s favor?

Chesterton said (in a passage that I can’t find at the moment) said that there are two sorts of business in the world: the kind we wish a man to do for himself (or others) only if he does them well, like performing surgery or discovering the North Pole; and the kind we wish a man to do for himself even if he does them badly, like writing his own love letters or blowing his own nose. The classically democratic contention is that governing society is this second kind of thing; that we should wish the citizens of a society to run their society, even if they do so badly. Such is the dignity of the image of God and of its nose.

And the case for human self-government, from a Catholic perspective, is a pretty good one: if all men are rational, they are all qualified to contribute; if all men are sinful, they should all be caught. Aquinas, in discussing the nature of law in the Summa, says much the same thing:

A law, properly speaking, regards first and foremost the aim of the common good. Now, to direct anything to the common good belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the deputy of the whole people. And therefore the making of a law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has the care of the whole people; for in all other fields, the direction of anything to its purpose concerns the one whom the purpose belongs to.**

St Thomas Aquinas: stirring up shit since 1243.

Bob Ludlow, one of the companions of Dorothy Day and an early contributor to the Catholic Worker, wrote, with reference to this passage and to anarchism in general:

The State is government by representation (when it is a democracy) but there is no reason why a Catholic must believe that people must be governed by representatives—the Catholic is free to believe one way or the other as is evident from St Thomas’ treatment of law … Anarchists believe that the whole people composing a community should take care of what governing is to be done rather than have a distant and centralized state do it. … Our Lord taught us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’—in other words the nearer earthly government approximates what things are in heaven the more Christian it is. I do believe—whether it can be realized or not—that the anarchist society approaches nearer to this ideal than do other forms of government.***

That’s a quick-and-dirty summary of my own reasons for being an anarchist: I think it’s a nigh-inevitable logical consequence of taking the democratic theory of government seriously, and moreover that the democratic theory of government is a natural corollary to the Christian and Catholic theory of man. Most anarchists have rather different reasons for being anarchists—usually descending from the philosophy and politics born of the French Revolution, especially Marxism. But I have little to do with these; their criticisms of the middle and upper classes and of capitalist economics are often right, even biting, but I don’t find their proposed alternatives satisfying, practically or intellectually.

Now, in order for this to work, you’d need to get down to the levels where a society is small enough to actually run itself; say a small city, at the very largest. This of course would mean the destruction of nation-states as we know them,**** and in my opinion, that’d be a damn good start to any improvement of human life. The massive nation-state of the modern era, which is practically an invention of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, has seen greater luxuries of destruction and human horror than any other political form known to man, most often as a result of war and nationalism (or the two together, dancing the tango of suck).

An anarchist society couldn’t abolish war, but it would tend to put the lid on nationalism; and it would make the gigantic wars of the last three centuries harder to conduct, for two reasons. First, there’s the fact that no one society could draw upon the power required to wage such a war—whether we’re speaking of soldiers or money or technology.

And second, when waging a war is taken out of the hands of the state and put into the hands of the people who actually have to wage it, the people who bear the cost of the decision are the same ones making it; and that is an encouraging thought. Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces or no, you didn’t see George W. Bush disarming land mines at Fallujah, or Barack Obama hunched over a computer in Yemen orchestrating drone strikes, any more than you saw Truman flying over Nagasaki. They don’t have to see what they’re authorizing; only their tools and their victims pay that price. That is wrong.

Once again to be continued …

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*With the possible exception of the Emperors of Japan.
**Summa Theologica, Second Part, I.4.xc.3. I’ve tried to clean up the customary, but (for the lay reader) borderline impenetrable, Dominican translation by reference to the Latin; anybody who wants to check my work can look at the Latin and the Dominican fathers’ English side by side here.
***Day quotes this in her partial autobiography The Long Loneliness (pp. 268-269); it seems to be from a personal letter of Ludlow’s, or perhaps an article, but she doesn’t specify. Italics, or rather un-talics, are original.
****A nation-state, in the technical sense in which I’m using it, isn’t at all the same thing as a country. For example, France and Spain are countries, and the French and the Spanish are nations; the Basque people, who live on the western side of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, are also a nation but do not legally have a country. A nation is a group of people with a common cultural heritage, and usually a common ethnicity; many states, past and present, have been multinational—the USA and the Austro-Hungarian Empire are good examples. (The British Empire, since it was a colonial power, is a little different.)