All posts tagged: Politics

Justice Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh, and Our Two Supreme Courts

As many people now know, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton insisted, in one of his famous essays urging his fellow New Yorkers to embrace the proposed Constitution of the United States, that the Supreme Court “is beyond comparison the weakest” of the national government’s three branches. After all, the other two branches “dispense[] the honors,” “hold[] the sword,” “command[] the purse,” and “prescribe[] the rules.” But the Supreme Court? It has “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment” and is, therefore, the government’s “least dangerous branch.” Things have changed. For a variety of reasons—including the “rights revolution” of the 1960’s and Congress’s inability, or unwillingness, to legislate—the Court’s role in the country’s policies, politics, culture, and imagination has ballooned. Every summer, as the Court’s term comes to an end and the high-profile, hot-button decisions are released, judicial junkies are glued to their screens and the SCOTUSblog website like MCU fans waiting for the new Avengers trailer to drop. Each new much-anticipated, 5-4 ruling prompts howls and hosannas, grim pronouncements that doom is near and …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …

The Anti-Integralist Alasdair MacIntyre

“St Paul and St Thomas Aquinas tell us how there is always more to be hoped for in any and every situation that the empirical facts seem to show.” –Alasdair MacIntyre, “How Aristotelianism Can Become Revolutionary,” 19 Along with Charles Taylor and Jean-Luc Marion, Alasdair MacIntyre is widely recognized one of the most important Catholic philosophers still working today. He recently published another book Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that offers a restatement of his distinctive approach to neo-Aristotelian and Thomist practical philosophy. Interest has only intensified as a result of recent questions surrounding the viability and legitimacy of liberalism, questions raised by Rod Dreher, Patrick Deneen, and Adrian Vermeule, to name a few of the most prominent contributors to this debate. In this light, and not implausibly, Cyril O’Regan recently cast MacIntyre as a leading detractor of modernity, a weeper, in his programmatic essay “The ‘Gift’ of Modernity.” This characterization is not wrong but it is, in important ways, incomplete. It fails to appreciate MacIntyre’s hope, his reasoned commitment to the possibility of …

Recent Reports on Sino-Vatican Negotiations Raise Many Complicated Questions

In recent months Catholics in China had anticipated the upcoming February 1 implementation of the government’s new, stricter regulations on religion with a sense of foreboding, viewing them as the regime’s attempt to achieve two goals with regard to China’s divided Catholic Church: 1) to greatly increase its already strong control over the “official” (government-recognized) church, and 2) to eradicate the activities of the “unofficial” or underground church though fines and prohibiting their gatherings (presumably stopping them by force, whereas they had previously often turned a blind eye), with the goal of eliminating it altogether by forcing it to amalgamate with the official church. I should note at the outset that virtually everything in China is complicated, and government policies are not uniformly applied and enforced the same way in all circumstances throughout the country. Understanding these events requires some background which is beyond the scope of this article, but I have provided elsewhere.[1] Simply hearing that an “underground Church” still exists in China naturally raises questions for Catholics in the West: what is it …

This Is What You Get When Politics Invades Our Ecclesial Lives

There are millions of Catholics who believe that abortion should be legally available and whose political ideology can only be described as contemporary American liberalism. Likewise, there are millions of Catholics who favor only minimal regulations on the market and reject economic redistribution and whose political ideology can clearly be identified as contemporary American conservatism. In both cases, the views of these Catholics are indistinguishable from non-Catholic Americans who share their respective ideology. Is it wrong to identify them as such? Does it undermine the fundamental unity of the Church? Does it place their political identity above their identity as a member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? I would argue that such labels are both accurate and useful, at least for those who study and write about politics. When politics invades our personal lives and we can only be friends with those who share our political orientation, then something is deeply wrong. Our political ideology occupies too much of our identity, and our emotional development has been blocked by obstacles we should …

Welcoming the Child: Foundations of the Hospitable Imagination

Bearing and bringing life into the world is the primordial act of hospitality, the universal experience of co-creating with God and welcoming the stranger, essentially the “first” work of mercy. Many will argue the political nuances of life issues and prioritizing who deserves the loudest voice in a world clamoring for one’s conscience and one’s action. But when we draw a collective breath and the dust settles, we must acknowledge the most basic reality of human life. We have all come into this world as tiny, vulnerable, powerless children dependent on our mother’s bodily hospitality and a warm and nourishing landing spot after birth. All of us. Without exception.   I definitely didn’t “get” this until I was pregnant with my first child and went through the miraculous, traumatic, transformative experience of pregnancy and birth. A lot of things came into focus after that pivotal moment in my life as a woman. I understood for the first time what it meant to literally give your life for another (though I did not actually die). I …

An Ethic of Listening

I love to write and speak—definitely a verbal processor—but I wouldn’t say I’m naturally a good listener. This double-edged sword makes me an effective rhetorician but also a candidate for what St. Paul refers to as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” in the oft-quoted love chapter of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 13:1). In the Internet age we live in, our entire society struggles with this issue. There are few checks on self-expression, and words are flooding the sound and digital waves constantly, drowning one another out with increasing urgency and vitriol. Politics, particularly in this last election cycle, has left many of us disillusioned by the complete lack of civil discourse and real listening taking place in the halls of power. The media got the country completely wrong by not listening to a whole class of real people and their actual thoughts on the state of things. Though I do all kinds of writing and speaking on life issues, and I don’t shy away from rallies and protests as well, I’ve come to …

Fairy Tales and Realpolitik

In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton praises fairy tales not because they imagine an alternate world but because they marvel at the universe as it is. Materialists take for granted that apples fall from trees. Fairy tales wonder, because logically speaking the apple didn’t need to fall down. Why didn’t it fall up? Couldn’t the law of gravity break? Why didn’t it break? He calls it “elementary wonder.”[1] Without explicitly connecting them, Chesterton makes a similar point in his following chapter on politics. If you want to improve the city you love, don’t try to find what’s lovable about it. Be shocked that your city is, be dazzled that you are there and not somewhere else. Then start your reform. Chesterton wants people to see their primal loyalty not as embarrassing, irrational, or socially constructed, but as a primal love. When you fall in love, you can never quite explain why you love the person you do. Mothers love a child this way, “arbitrarily, because it is theirs.”[2] Anyone with a precise reason to love would be …

Toward a Monastic Notion of the Common Good

It is said that Christendom has fallen, and societies around the world have entered into a post-Christian phase. These conditions have been exacerbated by a caustic and divisive election season. How are Christians to enter into a society whose values and general framework seem hostile to those of the Christian tradition? Is it possible for Christians to find common ground with others in order to offer significant contributions to society’s development? This implies the need for Christians to develop a nuanced and intelligent response to the needs of a nation divided by political discord. Some propose that the only viable response of the Christian is either to prepare for battle against the tides of culture, or to retreat to the outskirts of mainstream society, both for the sake of preserving their heritage and convictions as Christians. Perhaps Christians and society at large would benefit more from an option that synthesizes the values that are found in both: offering a markedly Christian proposal that engages contemporary society that also maintains an ascetical dimension of detachment from …

Christ the King of Mercy

This Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, marks the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. As the aftermath of the recent election continues to play out, it strikes me that this past year, with its focus on learning what it means to practice mercy, has been a training ground for the days, months, and years to come. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, one must practice mercy, and at the moment, that seems to mean extending mercy toward those who appear to hold views antithetical to our own. In the world of social media, we can far too easily become insulated: we tell people to un-friend us if they voted for a particular candidate; we mute people from our news feeds if they post too many ideological rants or politically-driven articles; we cultivate a circle of friends who share our viewpoints. In this ‘echo chamber of the like-minded,’ our voices bounce off one another in isolated agreement and self-validation, growing louder and louder until they become a din, and …