All posts tagged: power

Fitting a Saddle Onto a Cow

Joseph Stalin once remarked that imposing Communism on Poland was akin to “fitting a saddle onto a cow.”[1] Władysław Gomułka, Poland’s head of the Communist party from 1956 to 1970, attempted to fit the saddle onto the cow by ushering in a period of détente with the Polish Catholic Church, offering the Church a reprieve from the more brutal suppression of the Stalinist era. Of all of the conflicts between the Church and state, a little-explicated one is the antithetical conceptualizations of power and influence at play. I intend to give a brief overview of these divergent understandings of power and how they manifested themselves in two specific incidents of power struggle between Władysław Gomułka and the Polish Church, led by the formidable Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński. Gomułka’s idea of power was material in a true Leninist fashion, though not without abstraction. Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński and the Church used material power, but understood the true power of the Church on the spiritual and moral levels. Gomułka would ultimately be outmaneuvered by a Church that held a …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

The Sacrifice of Sagging Flesh

My great-grandmother’s flesh was soft under my 5-year-old fingers. Standing beside her as she spent time playing cards or dominoes with her grandchildren—my father and his brothers—or her children—my great aunts and uncles—I would hold onto to her arm, laying my head on her shoulder, touching the loose, sagging flesh of her arm. What today is considered grotesque—wrinkled and sagging flesh—felt good under my young fingers. I remember this scene fondly, because it was played out on numerous weekend evenings playing cards or dominoes into the wee hours. The laughter and banter around the card table was joyful, as she unleashed her dry wit in an attempt to out-wit my father and uncles in cards or dominoes. She had been a teacher in rural Texas, where my family has been since Texas was a Mexican state. She was born in 1893, and she had been a teacher from age 20. She walked 12 miles each way to teach at one of the rural schools that peppered the southeast Texas landscape in the early 20th century. …

Lead Us Not into Temptation

Next Wednesday commences the Church’s annual celebration of Lent. The feasting of Carnival season will give way to fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. The goal of this season is not merely to discipline ourselves for the festive celebration of Easter, as if “the best Lent ever” will give way to the “most excellent Easter.” Instead, during the season of Lent, we must come face-to-face with a fact about the human condition: Something is wrong with us. And perhaps more importantly, we can’t fix it. Christ’s temptation in the desert in both Matthew and Luke diagnoses our malaise. The Reformed philosopher, social scientist, and theologian Jacque Ellul provides an interpretation of this moment in Christ’s life, one that sees in these three temptations “the sum of the temptations that man can encounter.”[1] Jesus is first tempted to turn stones into bread, by the supposition that material needs are the most important dimension of human life. Christ’s responds to the Devil’s tempting by teaching that the divine word of obediential love is what is ultimately determinative of the …