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John Zmirak vs. the extremists

John Zmirak has an article that is, to my mind, quite good on the subject of the disturbing remnant, or perhaps resurgence, of authoritarian political views on the Catholic right. Actually, he also gives an example or two on the Catholic left, but most of his examples come from the right.

A couple of disclaimers at the outset. First disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of every word that proceedeth from the word processor of Zmirak. For example, he appears to think that the state can and should "get out of marriage," a libertarian view which conveniently leaves out the entire issue of, y'know, children, and which I have criticized before. And no, that's not an invitation to discuss that topic on this thread, merely an example of a place where I disagree with Zmirak.

Second disclaimer: As a Protestant, I do not claim to know whether this or that statement by a pope was infallible or whether this or that document was binding, nor am I deeply interested in researching all of Zmirak's interpretations or history of the documents of Vatican II. I'm more interested in his broader points.

Third disclaimer: I have not verified all of the strictly historical claims Zmirak makes, though I find some of them verrry interesting. The one about the agent of the Inquisition who was, fortunately, kicked out of New Orleans in the late 1700's after pressuring the governor to help him get started appears to be true. I don't actually know independently, though I'd find it interesting to check out if I have time later, that "[t]he fear of revolutionary violence was enough to make Pope Pius IX side with the tsar and his Cossacks against the freedom-loving Catholics of Poland, and with the British Crown against the Irish," so I'm not in a position to endorse that statement.

All that being said, I think Zmirak's broader points in the post are extremely important. To wit:

--There is a disturbing trend among some on the Catholic right to "diss" religious liberty and to long for a form of very strong, Catholic, authoritarian government. Zmirak gives several appalling examples from within his own experience. Before you cry "straw man," read those real-life examples and let them sink in. (Yes, I realize that a couple of Zmirak's examples don't come from the right, but read the ones that obviously do.) Also, if you happen to frequent such "places," ask yourself if you haven't seen things at least as bad on reactionary blogs.

Zmirak appears to be what one might call a convert on this question, so he's had plenty of experience with that slice of the religious political spectrum, having once been there himself.

By sheer coincidence, on the very day I read Zmirak's post I happened to see a couple of commentators at a reactionary mostly-Catholic blog ardently wishing for someone to come along with the power to set up religious martial law. One of them declared airily that people are worried about jackboots only because they don't think of how much good they themselves could do if they were wearing the jackboots. (Yah, for sure, that's the trouble with people nowadays: They're not power-hungry enough.)

If, on the other hand, you actually want to defend the things Zmirak describes, including burning Puritans in effigy, wishing that the Church would imprison Lutherans for heresy, and wishing one could drive the tanks to suppress Chinese dissidents (because they were holding a replica of the evil American Statue of Liberty), then you're probably beyond the point where argument will help.

I have been disturbed about this general trend for some time and wrote a couple of posts hinting at the issue on my personal blog.

--Religious liberty is a good and important thing, and it is a part of our American heritage to which we should cling and for which we should be grateful, not a part that we should be looking to get rid of. Are there interesting questions that can be asked about the precise range, limits, and implementation of principles of religious liberty? Of course. We've had several interesting conversations about those here at W4 over the years. Nor has American jurisprudence neglected such issues, so it's not as though a question like, "Should religious freedom mean allowing people to sacrifice infants to Moloch?" hasn't been hammered out, to a large degree sensibly, in constitutional jurisprudence over the last two-hundred-odd years.

Should it be non-negotiable that religious liberty is important and that this should include a very appreciable range of religious beliefs, including some that the rulers of the country deem false? Yes, that should be non-negotiable. No, Catholics (and Orthodox) shouldn't be pining to outlaw Protestantism, nor even "Protestant proselytizing," and Protestants shouldn't be pining to outlaw Catholicism (or Eastern Orthodoxy), nor even "Catholic (or Orthodox) proselytizing." As a general rule, religious liberty as conceived by the Founding Fathers of this country is a good thing, not the font of all our ills, and if you find yourself thinking grumpily, "Yeah, that religious liberty stuff, that was the real problem right there," then you've gone off in the wrong direction somewhere along the line.

--The Enlightenment wasn't all bad. Now, before you start telling me about the French Revolution, let me emphasize how moderate that statement was: The Enlightenment wasn't all bad. In fact, Zmirak's own endorsement of some Enlightenment ideas, especially religious liberty (see above), is quite moderate and heavily qualified (see the end of his article).

It would be hard for the Enlightenment to be all bad anyway, because the term "the Enlightenment" refers, in my opinion, to a monster in the classical sense of the word--a creature composed of arbitrarily stuck-together, disparate elements. In the case of the Enlightenment, the commonality of those elements consists only in their all existing at some point in the course of the same large and loosely defined time period. On the political side, we have both the gradual expansion of religious liberty in England (ultimately a boon to Catholics, it's worth adding) and the horrors of the French Revolution itself. On the philosophical side, we have everybody from Locke to Diderot and the philosophes and everything in between. On the apologetics side, we have Paley, Charles Leslie, Euler (who debated against Diderot), and many and many another great soldier of God, all living and offering evidence during that same Enlightenment period. How can any such period of history be adjudged either wholly good or wholly bad? Obviously, it can't. And one of the good things was the gradual growth of religious liberty (see above).

--It appears to be true (perhaps this is my most controversial point) that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic thinkers and leaders were not always on the right side when it came to embracing the principles of religious liberty. This was particularly ironic given that, had such principles been in place in England in the 1500's and 1600's, Catholics themselves would have been among the greatest beneficiaries. In fact, it was because of his overly zealous push in the late 1600's for religious liberty to benefit Catholics that James II lost his throne! The last thing that we Christians need now is for more Catholics, who could be continuing the good work of making fruitful common cause with their Protestant brethren in the culture wars, to embrace ultramontanist ideas and reject religious liberty as an American mistake.

In conclusion: I'm happy to join you if you merely want to say that we need some nuance when it comes to phrases like "religious liberty" or (even more) "freedom of speech." Fine and dandy. Moreover, if you say that we need to be careful what we mean by having a "right to the pursuit of happiness," I will also agree. For that matter, so will Zmirak, as he carefully lays out. The "happiness" in question should, for the right ordering of society, be construed as eudaimonia, not as hedonism. If you say that free speech absolutism is unsustainable and that mainstream conservatives don't always speak in a sufficiently careful way when they address that topic, I'm right there with you. But when we start rejecting religious liberty and condemning the American founding per se as misguided from the outset because based upon intrinsically wrong-headed "Enlightenment ideas" (such as religious liberty), then we've gone astray, and I'm going to call foul. Apparently, so is John Zmirak. He's doing it in a particularly forthright fashion, a fashion calculated to bring down on him the ire of the hardline rad-trads, but speaking for myself, I applaud his post.

Comments (121)

The rad trads would do well to consider the fact that most cultural Catholics are closer to outright pagans than fellow Christians. If they get their way, the cultural Catholics will reliably be useful idiots for the forces that would destroy them just as "secular and moderate Jews" are the sort of useful idiots that embrace Islam while being paranoid of Billy Graham type Protestants Christians.

I would assume that their dream is that the merely cultural Catholics would be the ruled, not the rulers, and would in fact be brought sharply into line in the hoped-for regime.

This man appears to be a lunatic who, if he did actually have real conversations in which people said such things, is attracting other lunatics. Most of the Catholics I know seem to be hell bent on being pentecostal evangelists except for Mass on Sunday, and then they don't mind screwing that up.

There is a neo-reactionary movement on-line, but I think it is more born of an appreciation of how badly this mishmash of a democratic republic is failing us.

This problem of pushing a truth until it becomes a falsity is human enough that we see it everywhere. In the case of religious liberty and the Catholic right, it's easy to see how the germ begins: The basis for "religious liberty" understood in the modernist sense is an error and a sacrilege--namely, that religious truths are not really knowable, such that that they can never be regarded as publicly available truths, or the basis of common understandings of the good. Resistance to this error about the basis for religious liberty becomes resistance to religious liberty as such. That there might be an authentically Catholic basis for (qualified) religious liberty that does not amount to a totalizing public neutrality toward religious questions (which we loosely call liberalism) is rejected as a dangerous compromise with The Forces of Squishiness, or with Protestantism, or with Kevin Bacon, or whatever.

I don't like the epithet "rad trad," but people like myself will be stuck with it as long as these bloodthirsty types can find a hearing among Catholic traditionalists. And yes, the problem is frequently whitewashed in Catholic traddy literature, which has a sort of unofficial "no enemies to the right" policy. I suspect that is a big part of their appeal to many Catholic traditionalists, who are sick to death of the Left getting to have all the fun winking and nodding at their own crazies while never being called on it. But it's the single thing that makes me most uncomfortable with certain Catholic traditionalist publications, who strain just a little too hard to deny the significance of the phenomenon.

August, you're suggesting maybe he's making this stuff up? No way. Everything he's saying resonates extremely well with what I see on-line. And to be honest, I have had good friends in the past, in-person friends, who would probably dislike this post of mine very much because they would be sympathetic to the views Zmirak and I regard as appalling. For example: I have occasional e-mail correspondence now with a man whom I like very much and think highly of, now a priest. This is someone I knew well personally in graduate school. In our correspondence he casually said that Thomas Cranmer did plenty that caused him to deserve to be burnt at the stake. I'm quite sure he wasn't joking. This group of friends in grad school used to try to convince me that being burnt at the stake wasn't really all that painful. This was part of their general attempt to excuse burning Protestants at the stake. They were some of my dearest friends, and I shall always be grateful for their friendship, but on these types of subjects, they were nuts.

And August, I don't really care what the neo-reactionary movement was "born of." If they're rejecting religious liberty and advocating a genuine right-wing totalitarian religious government they're wrong. You don't get "pass points" because you're reacting to something else. These are smart enough people that they ought to be able to think more clearly than that, and they are to be held responsible for what they advocate.

Like it or not, what Zmirak recounts represents a genuine phenomenon. Evidently he has lots of experience with it, too. As I said in the post, he evidently was part of it himself and therefore knows whereof he speaks. Read his other article on all the pamphlets he's been handed on how bad America is because it's all founded on a masonic plot or some such nonsense.

Over at the blog I linked they're saying he's "lost his soul," apparently because he's now rejected this form of reactionary theocracy.

So, sorry, but no: This isn't a straw man. It may be the "lunatic fringe" in some sense, but if so, it's a "lunatic fringe" that has all too much attractiveness for people who should just be normal, reasonable conservatives. In fact, I'm pretty certain that there are normal, reasonable conservatives who get drawn further and further into the swamplands, and it ain't by reading John Zmirak! It's by feeling increasing sympathy with the neo-reactionary movement.

August,

I want to echo Lydia's remarks and in particular suggest you head over to the "Orthosphere" blog. There will you find this comment objecting to America being lumped in with run-of-the-mill tyrannies:

For all the problems with our current liberal regime, and they are legion, words mean something and I’m just not prepared to lump America 2014 with the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Nazi Germany, North Korea, Revolutionary France, etc. In other words, there is a difference between a regime that confiscates your property if you are bourgeois, drags you to the Gulag for criticizing their leaders (unless they just shoot you first), destroys churches willy-nilly, etc.

In response to the above comment, we get this historical (fiction?, rad-trad longueur? lunatic raving?) bit of 'analysis':

Revolutionary France was guilty of fewer murders than is contemporary America. Same with N Korea. Same with Nazi Germany. USSR and Red China managed to pile up more bodies than we have, but we are definitely in their league.

And look at your other criteria. Those big meanies punished people for their speech. Horrors! They violated people’s God-given property rights. St von Mises, pray for us!

The idea that contemporary America is better than, say, Franco’s Spain is repellent in the extreme. Satanic, in fact.

When you are comparing America with N. Korea and Nazi Germany and America doesn't stack up, something has gone very, very wrong.

It's liberalism at issue, of which religious freedom and freedom of speech are permutations. None of us here would want to live in any country on earth prior to about 1800, because we're all liberals. That's about the time liberalism caught on. Most of the neo-reaction is based around the assumption that "we" are the naturally superior group that is being suppressed in the false system of today. So if we got rid of that false system then we would naturally rise to the top and rule justly. They fail to realize that were liberalism to go away they would already be dead or locked up.

Liberalism really is better than what came before. Sometimes progress happens.

I suspect that is a big part of their appeal to many Catholic traditionalists, who are sick to death of the Left getting to have all the fun winking and nodding at their own crazies while never being called on it.

Sage, yes, excellent. This was a point I highlighted in one of my posts at my personal blog. I know it looks a little tacky to quote oneself, but here was what I said along those lines, listing this as a dangerous inclination:

The addiction to shocking for the sake of shocking. Yes, I know, it's kind of fun to say or to read someone else saying, "Women aren't on average as analytical as men" or "Racial profiling isn't always wrong." Nor am I saying that those are false statements. But beware the little thrill you get (you know that you do get it) from seeing or envisaging the look of shock on others' faces when you say it. That is addictive. And the further you go, the more often you seek that thrill of shocking, the more likely you are to say things that are overstated or false.

Here's a story I can tell on myself. In graduate school I was, one might say, "finding myself" politically. I was all over the map. A little bit naive. In the school newspaper at Vanderbilt a Muslim student published a letter or a column, I forget which, in which he said that a man shouldn't be punished as harshly for raping a woman who wasn't a virgin, because being raped was less traumatic for a non-virgin than for a virgin. I can recall quite clearly saying to someone something like this: "Well, yes, what he's saying is obviously wrong, but I can't help kind of liking it because it will infuriate the feminists so much."

I look back on that now with a shake of the head as a bad tendency in myself.

Zmirak's politics seem to have changed a lot over the years. This is just one aspect.

I don't understand Zmirak's equivalence argument in the older article you linked to. He says it's inconsistent to demand liberties when one's out of power, but to refuse them to others when one's in power. But that only seems inconsistent if you and your opponents are equivalent - if you refuse to judge who is correct. That is, if you take a strong liberal view. There's plenty room for alternative approaches between that kind of equivalence, and "error has no rights."

By the way, I think Zmirak's wrong about what the Founding Fathers meant by "the pursuit of happiness." I don't think they meant Aristotelian happiness, or eudaimonia. The terms "public happiness" and (in France) "public freedom" were in the air then, and it's most likely that that's more or less what Jefferson was talking about. It's a political happiness, in the broad sense of "political," not the happiness of Aristotelian contemplation or of flourishing in one's private or religious life or whatever. (There are books written about the meanings of the various political terms in 18th century America, but I haven't read them.)

"But that only seems inconsistent if you and your opponents are equivalent - if you refuse to judge who is correct. That is, if you take a strong liberal view. There's plenty room for alternative approaches between that kind of equivalence, and "error has no rights.""


This sort of thinking is one of the primary reasons I remain an anti-theist. For many Christians the liberal regime that currently prevails is nothing more than a modus vivendi, and if they had more influence they would use it to oppress and control everyone that disagrees with them. Christianity is inherently illiberal because the bible is itself illiberal.

Lydia, the "It makes all the right people angry" argument is probably my absolute least favorite rationalization I hear from conservatives, and I do hear it a lot. Just yesterday on the radio, I heard a talk radio personality claim that as his biggest reason for being ga-ga over Chris Christie: 1), he "fights," and 2) he makes the liberals insane, so he must be alright.

By #1, he explicitly clarified that he meant Christie uses coarse language and is basically a jerk, so he likes him for "sticking it" to the teachers unions on YouTube. By #2, he admitted that making liberals angry was good enough for him even if Christie wasn't any kind of conservative at all (which he's not).

This strikes me as so obviously unprincipled that I'm shocked someone would admit to it unashamedly, and actually to invite others to consider the thrill one gets from what amounts to bad faith. But I'm belaboring the point. Suffice it to say that in contemporary society, the thrill of offending other people's deeply-rooted sensibilities attracts not a few people to reactionary politics, and I also count myself among those who have experienced the thrill and learned to like it a bit too much. Whatever the merits of Zmirak's political opinions in general, he does something worthwhile if he throws a little cold water on that.

What do you want, a cookie, Dunsany?

Kindly carry on about your anti-theism elsewhere. No one cares about it here.

By the way, I think Zmirak's wrong about what the Founding Fathers meant by "the pursuit of happiness."

This is an enormous question, and the answer is not so obvious. I think the traditions of teleology and virtue ethics in the Founding are richer than either liberals or reactionaries admit:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/03/preamble_and_compact.html

Christianity is inherently illiberal because the bible is itself illiberal.

Obvious troll is obvious.

Old memes are supposed to be allowed to die Sage. 2007 called, they wanted your post back. That said, I wasn't trolling. I just don't think that the Enlightenment can be reconciled with the bible because Enlightenment values are in direct conflict with traditional Christian values. Catholics are right to believe that any attempt to reconcile them is fundamentally absurd.

Zmirak's politics seem to have changed a lot over the years. This is just one aspect.

I think Zmirak's all over the map even within this one article. But he raises points that need to be raised, and shows up some really smelly nonsense.

It would be hard for the Enlightenment to be all bad anyway... On the philosophical side, we have everybody from Locke to Diderot and the philosophes and everything in between.

I would have to say that if one thought of the "enlightenment" as, primarily, that philosophical trend of thought initiated by the likes of Descartes and pursued through Locke to Rousseau and Hume and, (heaven help us), Kant and Hegel, one would have to be very satisfied with my preferred term, the Endarkenment. It's not just that these men darkened formal philosophy so thoroughly that for the last 150 years it has stood as an object of outright ridicule (by the average man on the street) to a complete mish-mash of incompatible theories, each one even worse than the last (looking in on the ivory towers). It is also that these philosophies, darkening the intellects of non-philosophy, have led to the destruction of so much else - liturgy, art, morals, and through these, culture.

Thank goodness, more came out of the enlightenment period than just formal philosophy, much of it useful, some of it noble. Naturally I would pick out some different items than Lydia, but one I agree on:

when we start rejecting religious liberty and condemning the American founding per se as misguided from the outset because based upon intrinsically wrong-headed "Enlightenment ideas" (such as religious liberty), then we've gone astray,

I think that the Church (both the Catholics and our separated brethren the Protestants) havs already learned from the example America sets. If it were not for America, arguably we might not yet have had official Church documents mentioning (ever so gently) subsidiarity.

I'm probably more positive than you about Locke and Descartes, Tony. :-) For that matter, I'm probably more positive about Locke even than Zmirak is (I don't think he mentions Descartes). I definitely see them both as strongly different from Hume and the French philosophes. For that matter, they're very different from one another. But I'm glad that we agree about religious liberty.

It wasn't clear to me whether Zmirak meant as an historical matter that, say, Jefferson did mean eudaimonia by "happiness" or whether Zmirak was saying that, whether Jefferson did or not, we should if necessary restate or reinterpret the Declaration in those terms.

At a minimum, it seems to me overwhelmingly unlikely that Jefferson or any of the other Founders would have said, "Yeah, we said we were in favor of the pursuit of happiness, so pornography (striptease bars, etc., etc.) should be legal in our new country." As a purely historical matter, that kind of blatant, unregulated hedonism was nowhere even on the radar at the time and was not allowed, nor did anyone interpret any American documents or rights as requiring it until that was done anachronistically circa two hundred years later. So the "Hugh Hefner view" of "the pursuit of happiness," which is what Zmirak contrasts with eudaimonia, definitely was not what was meant.

I knew Lydia would get a good word in for the early moderns ;-)

Here is Professor Feser on the same topic:

In 1642, the Senate of the University of Utrecht issued a condemnation of the new Cartesian philosophy, which was intended by Descartes to replace the Aristotelianism of the Scholastics. Among the charges made against the new philosophy was that:
it turns away the young from this sound and traditional philosophy, and prevents them reaching the heights of erudition; for once they have begun to rely on the new philosophy and its supposed solutions, they are unable to understand the technical terms which are commonly used in the books of the traditional authors and in the lectures and debates of their professors. (Quoted in John Cottingham, Descartes, p. 4)

Whatever one thinks of Descartes (who was a very great genius, albeit a catastrophically mistaken one, in my view) this charge is spot on, and it applies to the moderns in general. Their re-definitions of various key philosophical terms, along with their sometimes ridiculous caricatures of the Aristotelian and Scholastic ideas they were attacking, have (however inadvertently) made it nearly impossible for modern readers correctly to grasp the arguments of medieval writers. This is no less true of educated people, and indeed even of professional philosophers (unless they have some expertise in ancient or medieval philosophy), than it is of students and general readers. Whether it is your average New Atheist hack or your average local philosophy professor teaching Aquinas’s Five Ways or natural law theory in a Philosophy 101 class, you can be certain in the first case, and nearly certain in the second, that he does not even understand the ideas he is presenting and criticizing. Key philosophical terms like “cause,” “nature,” “essence,” “substance,” “property,” “form,” “matter,” “necessary,” “contingent,” “good,” etc. simply have very different meanings in the works of Scholastic writers than they do to contemporary ears. Since they do not grasp these meanings, modern readers systematically misinterpret the Scholastic arguments in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and ethics that make use of them.

The categories within which modern philosophers have tended to think have thus shrunk their intellectual horizons rather than expanded them, effectively closing off the possibility of considering all the alternative ways at looking at questions of metaphysics, philosophy of science, religion, and morality. This is only exacerbated by the modern tendency to ridicule the allegedly pedantic distinctions made by Scholastic writers, distinctions which when properly understood can be seen to mark genuine and important features of reality. Modern philosophy thus functions (again, however inadvertently) the way Newspeak does in Orwell’s 1984: It makes certain thoughts effectively unthinkable, by massively shrinking our vocabulary and redefining the words that remain. This is why so many modern readers can no longer even understand why anyone should think it remotely plausible that something’s being contrary to nature entails that it is bad, or why anyone should think that it is metaphysically impossible for causation to exist at all without a divine First Cause. What the Scholastics meant by “natural,” “cause,” and the like in the first place is something of which these readers have no awareness. And being ignorant even of their ignorance, they have no means of remedying it.

This is why so much of The Last Superstition is devoted to general metaphysics and conceptual stage-setting – to making clear what classical thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas really said and to clearing away the vast piles of intellectual rubbish that lay in the path of understanding (as John Locke might put it). Nothing less will do if the traditional arguments for theism, the immortality of the soul, and natural law are even to get a fair hearing. Obviously this just makes things that much more difficult for the defender of classical theism and traditional morality. He is like a visitor from the present trying to explain himself to a denizen of Big Brother’s world.

Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Moliere, Locke, and the other moderns who ridiculed crude caricatures of substantial forms, final causes, and the like before banishing them from the philosophical lexicon altogether, afford a parallel of sorts to Orwell’s Syme, who, working on the 11th edition of the Newspeak dictionary, chillingly assures us: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” And every time you hear one of their intellectual descendants, like Daniel Dennett, dismiss “the niceties of scholastic logic” or “ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of ‘cause’” (Breaking the Spell, p. 242), think of Ingsoc, Minitrue, and “Ignorance is Strength.” For Mr. Bright, “scholastic logic” is so Oldspeak.

I just don't think that the Enlightenment can be reconciled with the bible because Enlightenment values are in direct conflict with traditional Christian values. Catholics are right to believe that any attempt to reconcile them is fundamentally absurd.

So, an avowed anti-Catholic is a good judge on whether Catholicism is or is not compatible with something that even a Protestant like Lydia describes as a monster, with disparate ideas sticking out all over the place? Amazing!

Actually, Dunsany, given that all but about 6 out of 2000 bishops at Vatican II voted to approve Dignitatis Humanae, the document approving religious liberty, it seems really, really unlikely that what you think constitutes Catholic teaching really is Catholic teaching. More likely what you imagine is Catholic teaching is a faint shadow of the reality.

One of the flaws of the official "Enlightenment" theories of history, which Zmirak seems to have accepted with too little critique, is the pretense that the movement of ideas during after the Renaissance toward liberty and freedom of speech and conscience in public was due pretty much entirely to non-Catholics (and therefore mostly former Catholics and anti-Catholics). That simply isn't true. And the neo-reactionaries don't seem to be aware of this either - unless they are so neo-reactionary as to be on the outs with popes like Eugene IV and Paul III condemning slavery, and on up the road.

Perhaps Zmirak's historical error there, Tony, if it is an error, is a result of his knowledge of ultramontane ideas and their promulgation in some pretty high circles during the 19th century. ("Error has no rights," and all that jazz.) I think you have to admit, there was a problem there. It may be that that was itself a reaction on the part of the Church and that going back earlier would uncover strands of Catholic thought that were more pro-liberty. And perhaps that is the point you are getting at.

And, Tony, I hate to put it this way, but my reaction to the fact that the Inquisition was almost up and running full-bore in New Orleans in the 1780's is more or less, "What the heck???" Correct me if I'm wrong, but by that late in the game, it does not seem that there was _any_ good Protestant parallel to such religious persecution. No Protestant body was sending agents around the world looking to hunt heretics. In the early 1600's you'd have a case but not by the late 1700's. So that change does seem to have taken place within a pretty identifiable time period and, I have to say, more in Protestant than in Catholic circles, for some reason. Presumably that is what Zmirak is cueing to.

Yeah, I am not aware of any Protestants doing that as late as the 1780s either. On the other hand, I am not aware of any of the Inquisition local authorities actually carrying out investigations leading to condemnations, imprisonment, and any corporal punishment of any sort, much less burnings, even remotely that late, either. During the 1700s and early 1800s, as far as I know, the only thing the Inquisition actually did was condemn works and get them banned in Catholic places. Not quite the same sort of threat as Mary to Protestants or Elizabeth to Catholics. So, first guess is that the instance in New Orleans is an example of a person trying to use an (old, failing, nearly toothless) institution to push his own personal position, not expecting to revive burning of heretics (which probably never happened in Louisiana to begin with). But that's just a guess. It's not like it was running full bore in Spain at the time.

No Protestant body was sending agents around the world looking to hunt heretics.

True, but all Protestant countries had tests for public office and plenty of other restrictions. My impression is that Catholic countries may have lagged behind the changes, but not by all that much.


Number of legal abortions performed in the religious-freedom-loving U.S.: 58,000,000
Number of legal abortions ever performed in an officially Catholic country: 0

Any questions?

Lots, Rad Trad. I'm as fierce as anyone in opposition to abortion, but you don't have to be a Catholic or even a Christian to see that murdering babies is wrong. Nor do we have to have, say, religious tests for public office, strict limits on Protestant "proselytizing," much less heretic hunts by the public authorities in order to prohibit the murder of the unborn. In fact, abortion was illegal for a long time in the U.S. _without_ all of those things.

So, no, I don't accept that as an argument against religious liberty. It's an extremely poor attempt at an argument.

Tony, I can't now chase down the links I looked up yesterday, but instruments of torture, believed to have been collected by Antoine for inquisitorial use, have apparently been found. He never got started, of course. Now, I haven't been able to chase down exactly why they think he's the one who collected the torture implements, so perhaps that part is conjecture, but he definitely was asking that soldiers be made available to him for his work, so that looks like the use of force, at a minimum. Zmirak states that the Inquisition in some form or other (he doesn't go into details and perhaps doesn't have them) existed in the New World in Cuba and Florida until the very early 1800's. Again, I don't know the details on that. But again--the Catholic _thought_ of the 19th century was pretty strongly against the move to religious freedom, and undeniably against it as regards freedom to publish religiously erroneous ideas.

I'm as fierce as anyone in opposition to abortion. . .

Evidently the 'fierceness' of the religious-freedom lovers is not getting it done. Maybe we should go back to the ways that resulted in 0 legal abortions, instead of plowing forward on our glorious path toward 100,000,000.

I must say I sympathize with you quite a bit, Rad Trad.

I am not going to say we *cannot* have religious liberty in a system with criminalization of abortion. But, I still have no great attachment to religious freedom. If getting rid of that helps us put traditional morals back into place, I am in favor of that.

Rad Trad, even supposing that the use of force were a good way to suppress abortion, there is no reason to think that it needs to be religiously motivated or religiously directed. The state is sufficient unto the task merely by enforcing the natural moral law. Of course, there might be some other ill effects that might come about as a reaction, so you might want to factor those into account.

Anymouse, I think you would find it incredibly unpleasant to find yourself under *some* of the previous forms of religious restriction, not so unpleasant under others. That's part of the problem: the expression "religious freedom" stretches over a very wide range of different scenarios. It's one thing to be told you cannot publish a work because it doesn't meet the test, quite another to live in constant fear of prison for stating your beliefs a little too publicly.

But again--the Catholic _thought_ of the 19th century was pretty strongly against the move to religious freedom, and undeniably against it as regards freedom to publish religiously erroneous ideas.

Right, but if the entire weight of suppression in the late 18th to mid 19th century rested on suppression of written works, (as witness the Syllabus of Errors), then that's consistent with what I have read and doesn't suggest an active, viable torture program in the 1780s. I am not a historian and don't have all the facts, but I gather the torture and death scenarios faded out only a while after it did for Protestants. Torturing ANYONE for a confession is horrible, of course, even if it happened back in the nasty 1500s.

The connection to abortion is incredibly bogus. Let's look at abortion laws in historically Catholic Quebec. Oh, yeah, thought so. And a lot more restriction on religious freedom *in general* in Quebec than in America, including on Catholic freedom. So, joy: Abortion is legal _and_ your Catholic school, which parents sacrifice to pay to send their kids to, has to teach a standardized curriculum on ethics and comparative religion in which the teacher isn't allowed to teach Catholic doctrine. (That is actually true. I can provide links on the "controversy" over forcing religious schools to teach a state-mandated curriculum in Quebec.) Guess _that's_ not going to help the pro-life cause much, is it?

Of course abortion should be illegal in the U.S. and everywhere else for that matter. That it is not illegal has nothing to do with the fact that the U.S. has built in religious freedom from its founding. Why anyone should be impressed by the "Oh yeah, and America has legal abortion" pretense of an argument is really quite beyond me. It's actually no argument at all.

And I'm not quite sure what "going back to the ways that resulted in 0 legal abortions" is supposed to mean, since as I pointed out any degree of restrictive abortion laws are completely consistent with religious freedom in the U.S. and were known to be so for a long, long time. Indeed, even the jurisprudential hocus-pocus behind Roe v. Wade did not _pretend_ to be making reference to religious freedom. It was all about a penumbra of privacy around the 4th amendment and substantive due process. Not about religious liberty.

Anymouse, let me point out that you probably would be happy with ditching religious freedom only if "your guys" were the ones in charge. On the assumption that you are Catholic, I'm just going to guess that you wouldn't want some anathema-throwing fundamentalist Protestants I know of the Rush-Dooney-ite school of thought to be the ones running the show if we got rid of the religious freedom to which you are not very attached. You might find things getting kind of close to home if you and your priest were arrested for committing idolatry by attending Mass or venerating the Blessed Sacrament. Or if Oliver Cromwell and his gang got to vandalize your church and its "idolatrous images."

Rad Trad's argument reminds me of Lawrence Auster's arguments: We have to do X to solve problem Y, where X is some extreme measure that's politically inconceivable today. The problem with that argument is that if America were to change so that X were politically possible, then X would no longer be necessary to solve problem Y, because problem Y would then have already been solved.

For Rad Trad, X is for America to become an officially Catholic country. For Auster, X was (for instance) for America to ban the practice of Islam.

Lydia, It didn't even occur to me that Zmirak might have meant reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence ahistorically. But if he meant that, then he'd have to justify his own Thomist interpretation, against even Hugh Hefner's interpretation of "pursuit of happiness." (And I think it's beyond debate that the founders did not mean what Hugh Hefner means.)

And I'm not quite sure what "going back to the ways that resulted in 0 legal abortions" is supposed to mean, since as I pointed out any degree of restrictive abortion laws are completely consistent with religious freedom in the U.S. and were known to be so for a long, long time.

Do I really need to point out the weakness in this argument? Yeah, "any degree of restrictive abortion laws are completely consistent with religious freedom," -- but so is abortion on demand! On the other hand, any abortion whatsoever is completely inconsistent with the officially Catholic State. See the difference?

In short, the Catholic state is obviously an efficacious bulwark against the infection of legal abortion, whereas religious freedom obviously isn't. Is this really even debatable?

That's like saying, "Cutting off your head is obviously efficacious against respiratory flu, whereas getting a flu shot sometimes works and sometimes doesn't." Or, "Outlawing all stores is completely efficacious against sales of Cosmopolitan magazine in stores, whereas countries that allow stores to exist will sometimes allow the stores to sell Cosmo." Or "Killing all the people in the inner cities will stop inner city violence, whereas any policy that allows them to go on living may or may not work." Or, "Controlling all travel so that people cannot leave their own towns is completely effective at preventing people who don't live in Las Vegas from going to Las Vegas and losing all their money. We'll also kick out everybody who presently lives in Las Vegas." I could go on and on with examples. Simply to say that some draconian measure will, inter alia, and if run by the "right people," and if carried out in the way one envisages, stop some wrong or bad behavior or outcome is *no good argument at all* for that measure. One has to decide whether there are gazillions of other measures, far less extreme or problematic (or even flatly wrong or unjust) that would have the same effect. One has to decide whether the proposed cure is worse than the disease. That's a responsible debate over policy. Your approach isn't.

Notice, too, that George has to define a Catholic state as one that _definitely would_ outlaw all abortions. Now, if that isn't simply built in by definition, then it is merely probable. Even Poland, for example, which still has a real Catholic ethos, has succumbed to pressure from the EU to loosen its abortion laws somewhat.

But if George gets to define the exact kind of Catholic state he wants, which would, with probability 1, outlaw all abortions, then what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I can define a "just state" or a "natural law state" which has freedom of religion but also follows the natural law to the extent of outlawing all abortions.

Fantasy baseball punditry has its uses for thought experiment purposes, but if it is going to be used in argument, then the playing field has to be level. If one side is allowed to imagine an idealized version of its own preferred mode of government, then so is the other.

I see a persistent double standard of this kind in conversations with those pining for authoritarian government. They consider that _they_ are allowed to stipulate the Wise King, or the Real Catholic State, or what-not, which does exactly and only what they actually want, what is actually good and right, while the advocate of constitutional democracy or religious liberty is obliged, at most, to make do with real-world probabilities or even with a worst-case scenario. This is blatantly poor argumentation.

You have a point.

My only response (heavily conditioned by my own intellectual framework) that what has historically happened, which is that all advanced, urban, and modern states with centralized bureaucracies and a general unwillingness to clearly define religious truth have generally come to support legalized abortion as well as other violations of natural law. That suggests we ought to look at these things with at least some suspicion, and we should not be too eager to defend and support them.

Anymouse, that's a valid observation. Certainly some of our commenters like al would say that this result of supporting legalized abortion is not only an effect of the liberalizing of politics from the Enlightenment, but that the effect is a desirable result thereof and would be a designed feature of any good political order. Others, and possibly Zmirak going by appearances, would say that legal abortion is an unfortunate side-effect of the Enlightenment's change in the political landscape, but that the side effect is well worth what the Enlightenment means overall. A third group would suggest that the Endarkenment's after-effects included both good and bad, but the good was achievable without the dark part of the Endarkenment at all, and this particular bad effect is neither a necessary side effect of the liberty at the root of the changes initiated during the early modern era, nor one that we need tolerate in the present in order to maintain (or further promote) liberty properly understood.

It is indeed possible to come up with a notion of real liberty that both allows for religious liberty AND that allows a state to profess a specific religion - Dignitatis Humanae cautiously describes it at least in part. Possibly that idea is one that we would never have arrived at had we (the human race) not already tried a number of failed attempts at the same, running from theocracies to anarchies to confessional suppression to everything else that was tried from 1520 to 1970. I would side with the trads with respect this one part of their complaint about the Endarkenment: the strange notion that a plural community as such is more desirable than one that does not harbor a plurality of (pick one) religion, ethnicity, moral framework, language, or other culturally central aspects of life. In my view, a community that is singular in religion by the free choice of each member is (all other things being equal) superior to one in which the community is divided in religion, for the former may take for granted certain behavioral norms, and encourage such behavior without harming the freedom of its members. Given that there is a God who came to Earth as the man Jesus, it is better for all members of the State to be Christians by free choice than for some to be Christians and others to be Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc, all other things being equal.

Abortion laws in countries with some form of representative government have historically varied quite widely. It's also worth pointing out that in the U.S. our present abortion regime was imposed from above by an oligarchy--namely, the Supreme Court. That oligarchy lawlessly overturned previously passed laws on abortion. I really don't see any connection at all between *religious liberty* and legalized abortion. I think you have to put everything in soft focus and kind of do some Zen free-associating to think that freedom of religion causes legalized abortion! There's no argument.

It would make *much more* sense, and I think would be an argument, to point out that, where there have been strongly centralized governments, even if originally religious, those have largely been taken over and anti-religious measures imposed by way of their structures. It's the virus principle: A power center is a target for the leftist virus. The leftist virus hopes to take over the power center and use the structures already in place for its own ends. Note the point I made above about Quebec. And, shamefully, the bishops in Quebec did not vigorously oppose the violation of religious liberty against their schools. I did a post on this back in '08 and now, this year, the issue is continuing up the food chain to a higher court in Canada from one lonely Catholic school that wants to retain its Catholic identity. Throughout Canada and also in a number of European countries, the absence of a strong principle of freedom of speech has also, now, been consistently used _against_ Christians.

By these vain and impertinent elisions one might as well say the Catholic State that Rad Trad pines for is precisely to blame for the Dred Scott usurpation because Taney was a Catholic. Or might as well lay substantial portion of blame for the very abortion regime of which we speak, having been asserted and defended by Kennedy, a Catholic, at the feet of dear Ol' Catholic State, run my elite American Catholics.

Well, as a Baggins might say, bebother and confusticate that rubbish.

As a fact we can all see that the hammer blow against liberty will fall on Catholics. A priest will likely be the first to be frogmarched for Tolerance. I encourage my Protestant brothers to be prepared to defend and uphold our Catholic friends. Franklin may have been an infidel, but he was quite right about the choice of hanging together or hanging separately.

That this radical traditionalism which has Christian against Christian in a narrow dusty room, would present such cock-eyed lunacies as that a Catholic State in America will end abortion, is pretty compelling evidence of its fatal rational weakness.

As a fact we can all see that the hammer blow against liberty will fall on Catholics. A priest will likely be the first to be frogmarched for Tolerance. I encourage my Protestant brothers to be prepared to defend and uphold our Catholic friends.

As, indeed, the hammer has already been swung at Catholics already by the left-most regime in our history - the abortion/contraception mandate. It remains to be seen whether the blow was on target or will miss its mark. My guess is that this will indeed make it to the Supreme Court, and it will again be a 5-4 decision, and again the only uncertain vote before, during, and after oral arguments will be Kennedy. After Casey, Lawrence, and DOMA, what a horrible position for Catholics to be in.

While overall I tend to agree that taking over the institutions of state power and using them to impose traditional and Christian concepts on people is not the solution to the social, cultural, moral, and civilizational decay that the Left likes to call "progress", I don't really see a cause for alarm, offence and getting one's knickers in a knot when someone proposes such a solution. But then I refuse to make an idol or even a fetish out of classical liberal concepts, no matter how worthy they might happen to be.

In his most well-known article, Michael Oakeshott said that a political ideology, such as Lockean liberalism, is what you are left with when a political tradition, such as the English tradition, is reduced by rationalism to its merely technical knowledge. I think that is more or less correct and it stands to reason, therefore, that if the tradition you start with is a good one, the resulting ideology will contain much that is good as well. The problem is that much that is equally or more valuable from the larger tradition is discarded by the rationalist and this tends to distort the good that is left. The reactionary's job is not to rebuild a lost age or civilization but to recover for the present and future, as much from the older tradition that was foolishly discarded, as possible.

Having said that, let us consider the liberal concept of "freedom of religion". It seems to be inseparable from two other concepts, "the separation of church and state", and the idea that religion is or ought to be a private matter, something that is between each person and God. The separation of church and state, is recognizably a secularized version of the Christian concept of the distinct spheres of authority granted by God to His church and to the civil authority, a concept whose seed is in Jesus' saying "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's", which sprouted in St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, and later fully developed in the tradition of the doctors of the church, albeit in quite different ways in the East and the West. The Christian origins of the idea are recognizable, even if the form after secularization is not one that is acceptable to Christian thought because it involves a denial of God's supremacy over the state and the ultimate source of all legitimate authority, civil and ecclesiastical, in God.

The other idea, that religion is a private matter, between the individual and God, would almost seem to be a secularized version of the evangelical slang in which Christianity is described as a "personal relationahip with Jesus". It is more likely, however, that the latter is the product of a form of Christianity that developed in a liberal age. Whatever the case, the idea that religion is a private matter, concerning only the individual and God, is utter nonsense. From time immemorial, religion has been at the heart of all culture, as the institution that performs the vital social role of binding the community and larger society together, giving it a sense of a larger meaning, purpose, and identity. This function of religion is suggested by the very word itself and so the liberal concept of religion as a "private matter" is extremely socially and culturally corrosive.

That which is good in the liberal concept of "freedom of religion", would appear to me to be left over from the Christian concept of the distinct spheres of church and civil authority, after that concept was secularized into the "separation of church and state", whereas that which is bad in the concept is pretty much summed up in the idea of "religion is a private matter". The task therefore is to set that which is good in the idea of freedom of religion, in a context where it no longer evokes the concept of a purely private religion, and can be integrated with that which we can recover from the older, greater, tradition.

I do not agree that the concept or even the phrase "freedom of religion" or "religious liberty" is inseparable from the idea that religion is a private matter. As for the "separation of church and state," that entirely depends on what one means by such a phrase, and it is not a phrase that I myself use, because I think it evokes a lot of false ideas. While I do, quite freely, use "religious liberty" or "freedom of religion." Therefore, I also disagree that the concept of the "separation of church and state," particularly as understood by the ACLU, is itself inseparable from the concept of freedom of religion.

As for getting one's knickers in a knot, I suggest that you re-read some of the actual anecdotes in question. We are talking here about people who literally want to lock up heretics (or those they deem heretics) in prison. We are talking about a lust for power (see the comments on driving the tanks in China and on wearing jackboots) that is extremely unhealthy. So, yes, I think that is worth getting "one's knickers in a knot" about, because we Christians ought to be joining together in common cause, and we're now talking about trying to make common cause with people who are openly lusting for the power to lock up or suppress their co-belligerents, the Protestants. I've seen and heard actual defenses of burning heretics at the stake. That's not a good recipe for working together, to put it mildly, and it is also really creepy.

It's my opinion that we need to retain the ability to be creeped out by things people aspire to, even when those aspirations are coming from those we would like to have for allies. A "no enemies to the right" policy is a blinkered policy and therefore an unwise policy.

As long as we're talking about how reactionaries aren't all bad, or Catholics aren't all bad (the vignettes and anecdotes about reactionary Catholics saying nasty anti-democratic things haven't matched my experience of reactionary Catholics online, and I do hang out with some crazies in that regard:) we may also volunteer that those who have to shoot at 'democracy activists' aren't all bad, and that firing into a crowd is sometimes necessary to maintain peace.

Actually, I'm pretty sure Ann Coulter, mainstream conservative, said as much, publicly, in her popular book DEMONIC, a fairly standard screed that nevertheless went over the use and abuse of mobs to cause chaos, and how those mobs eventually ate their own leaders. Using the national armed forced to put down mobs was a fairly standard practice of the Founding Fathers for a long time, at least before the coming of a recognized authority in the rebelling states.

The systematic frustration of normal male ambition leads to its expression in twisted forms. This does not mean that those who currently rule are more qualified to do so, just better at getting the media to hide, excuse, or downplay their own twisted statements (Hi, Chris Christie!)

Regardless, despite the fact that I am also a Protestant, that I also believe that the speed at which a culturally Catholic country like France can embrace both democracy and dictatorship evinces a hollowness in the shell of Catholic practice that too often is filled by vain ambition for power (credit where it's due-in Protestant countries one must lie much more assiduously, much more comprehensively, and much more readily to gain power through corruption of public institutions, aside from those achieving it through racial set-asides,) I do not believe that these anecdotes should be taken at face value without attribution, nor that they are at all unprecedented or worrisome among the young and ambitious, especially those who discover that they have been lied to.

In my experience, reactionary Catholics have generally not funded, aided, and sanctioned the armed racist criminal militias that haunt America's inner cities, nor have they fed the nation's innocent and trusting children an incoherent hedonistic philosophy dreamt up by bored rich women masquerading as common knowledge. Nor have I seen them among those who pushed outsourcing as an economic necessity, destroying my country's industrial base and the working poor's most realistic hopes for a better future.

And if they did, they would not have laughed about it, saying that such things were deserved by those who suffered for them. Those who understand that crowds occasionally need firing upon(as did the so-called 'Boston Massacre', which was nothing but a drunken mob and treated as such by the mature Revolutionary leadership) are generally honest, wise, and experienced enough in worldly or Godly wisdom to state their reasons for performing such dark deeds clearly.

But the longer you transparently defend the status quo merely because your particular familial and social arrangements benefit from it, the greater cause these people have to swear off dialogue with you, and go their own way, whether it's a path to power or quietude.

At that point, you may have console yourself with ol' Moldy himself for what was actually defensible in the Enlightenment:

http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2013/11/mr-jones-is-rather-concerned.html

In short, the Catholic state is obviously an efficacious bulwark against the infection of legal abortion, whereas religious freedom obviously isn't.

An ironic comment since most of the Christians who would actually support carrying out the death penalty against women and abortionists for abortion are Protestants. Not a single Catholic commenting here has ever supported my stance that abortion should be treated as first degree murder and punished accordingly. However, it's very easy to find conservative Protestants who support that position.

In the Tehran Conference of 1943, the first time Sir Winston Churchill met with both of his distasteful colleagues, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator suggested that at the end of the war, 50,000 German officers should be summarily executed. Churchill expressed his disgust at such a sentiment and the Yankee President, in an unsuccessful attempt to lighten the mood, made the counter-suggestion that they only execute 40, 000. Churchill stormed out of the room, and it was Stalin who cajoled him back into the dinner, by saying that the whole thing had been a joke.

There is a difference between the reaction of this old world, reactionary Tory to the flippant remarks about mass murder made by two progressive world leaders and the idea that we ought to be disturbed, worked up, or creeped out by other traditionalists who express fantasies about restoring the Inquistion to its full heretic-burning power. Stalin and Roosevelt, as leaders of the countries that would emerge from the war as the two new superpowers of the world, were in the position to turn their gruesome joke into reality. There is not the slightest chance, despite the paranoid delusions Jack T. Chick repeatedly publishes in his little comic tracts, that the Inquisition will be burning heretics again anytime in the forseeable future.

Perhaps "no enemies to the right" is too uncritical but it has been my observation that those who reject a "no enemies to the right" policy end up devoting much of their time and resources to policing the right and excommunicating those who express ideas deemed to be too extreme, time and resources that would be much better put to use combatting our common enemy on the Left. William F. Buckley Jr., towards the beginning of his career, famously pointed out the disparity between liberalism's professed support for tolerance of other points of view and their attitude of suprise upon discovering that other points of view exist. Unfortunately Buckley did not himself learn the lesson contained in his oft-quoted remark and by the end of his career had earned the reputation of being the man who would throw other conservatives under the bus for saying things he himself had been saying for decades once liberalism had declared those things to be beyond the pale. The only ones to benefit from this were progressives for it taught them that conservatives like Buckley were quite willing to allow them to dictate where the paramaters of acceptable opinion lie and that they would even police conservatism and expel those who transgressed those boundaries.

But the longer you transparently defend the status quo merely because your particular familial and social arrangements benefit from it.

Kind of like the unwritten rule that blacks are not allowed to reject affirmative action.

Gerry, I could not disagree more.

The fact that a man is powerless to put into place his crazy ideas doesn't make the ideas un-crazy. Nor does it mean that we should all be yuck-ing it up with him or keeping our mouths shut about his crazed ideas because a) he's on "our side" and b) powerless. No, no, and no. Grownups are responsible for what they say and should be held responsible.

Without getting into a discussion of "Buckley did this" and "Buckley did that," it's one thing to say that he changed his own mind on what was or was not beyond the pale and another thing to say that nothing should be beyond the pale as long as you're a member of our club. Moreover, changing one's mind might be a good thing and needn't be a form of hypocrisy. Speaking for myself, I think that I've been pretty consistent since I've been writing on-line as to what is and what is not crazy and beyond the pale. Nor do I kow-tow to liberals nor decide that things are beyond the pale because liberals have declared them to be so. If I have become less tolerant of crazed ideas to the right than I was, say, twenty-five years ago, that's the result of several decades of reflection, not a result of morphing to be thought well of by liberals. Heaven knows, that will never happen anyway, and a good thing, too.

I don't want anyone to apply the "my friends are powerless to enact their crazed plans anyway, so I won't criticize them or think they are creepy" standard. I don't want Muslims to do it, for example. Christians shouldn't do it either.

There is also the fact that it's always possible that if an idea reaches a certain level of visibility and public support, someone may try to actually put it into practice semi-confident that they won't be summarily run out of town.

Yes, Mike T., I agree. Ideas have consequences. If we don't excuse leftists for their unhinged rants--wishing to assassinate a Republican president or what-not--then we have to consider that all ideas have consequences.

A related point is that these are teachers of the young. Zmirak lists college Presidents, administrators, and priests among those completely rejecting the American founding and the very concept of religious liberty. I scarcely think that these people themselves would be flattered at being told that their ideas are of no more consequence than the rantings of a crazy uncle whom no one listens to. And they would be right. In their own circles, though those circles are small, they have influence. It is their goal to train the young people and the faithful within their orbit to think as they do. Reactionaries take their own ideas very seriously indeed and teach others to do so. I don't think anyone should be deliberately teaching that burning Protestants is a good thing and that freedom of religion is a bad thing.

As a liturgical musician, I value Zmirak for his devastating critiques of the nursery-room ditties that plague virtually every parish in the country. And he has one of the best zingers I've ever heard when he took on Tim Hoopes' Neo-Cat blatherings and titled it "The Age of Hoopes". Here he's cherry-picking and writes as if he gets his history from Errol Flynn swashbucklers, but rather than argue it, I'm going to profit as someone in the quagmire of that combox made me want to check out Patrick Deneen's writings.

DM, the idea that I "defend the status quo" is laughable if that phrase is taken at face value. I advocate some fairly drastic changes in American politics, including the most drastic of all, which is returning the federal government to its limited powers per the 10th amendment.

Of course, someone from your perspective may mean by "defend the status quo" something very much different from its face value, such as "defend religious liberty" or "refuse to reject the American founding as illegitimate." But that is an extremely twisted use of the phrase, all the more so as many conservatives, including me, would say that one major reason that we criticize and want to change the actual status quo is because it is not true to the original constitutional government set up at the founding of this country.

As for your litany of leftist secular evils, such a litany is simply unresponsive. You and others on the hyper-reactionary side can keep intoning such litanies as if they excused blood-thirstiness and power-hunger on the right, but that doesn't make it so. Life isn't a computer game in which, for every evil perpetrated on the left, the right gets a certain number of "goofball points" that allow members of the right a pass for a certain number of public comments wishing for totalitarian power or excusing or advocating burning heretics.

Perhaps "no enemies to the right" is too uncritical but it has been my observation that those who reject a "no enemies to the right" policy end up devoting much of their time and resources to policing the right and excommunicating those who express ideas deemed to be too extreme, time and resources that would be much better put to use combatting our common enemy on the Left.

Now we can't walk and chew gum at the same time? As Paul might put it, channeling Bilbo, "bebother and confusticate that rubbish." This blog spends most of its time detailing the problems with liberals in America (and the West more broadly) and rarely looks at the radicals on the right. I can remember a couple of posts back in the day taking Larry Auster to task for his style and that's it. Otherwise we go on our merry way highlighting the culture of death, what to do about Islam, and all manner of liberal madness.

P.S. Lydia's computer game metaphor should be widely distributed in neo-reactionary circles -- that is a message those folks need to hear.

Allow me to observe, that Spain under Franco, was far more tolerant of conservative protestants, then the republican regime he overthrew. The same was true under Allende in Chile. The Catholic right and the paleo-con right protestants can unite to oppose the political agenda of the secular left. This happened in the Netherlands when Abraham Kuyper led a catholic right/anti revolutionary reformed protestant coalition to victory in the beginning of the 20th century.
Would you oppose a constitutional amendment; that declared America to be a Trinitarian Christian nation, that recognized Christ is our nations King, and that said that no legislation should be passed that contradicted the Ten Commandments?

Lydia,
I did not say that crazy ideas are no longer crazy if the person who holds those ideas is powerless to put them into practice. The point I was making, in contrasting Churchill's walking out on Stalin and Roosevelt with the position you are taking here, is that the likelihood of an idea being put into practice is a very good measuring stick for determining the extent to which we allow ourselves to get worked up over that idea. That is a very different idea from the one addressed in your response.

Having said that, there is another point I would make, drawn from another difference between Stalin and Roosevelt’s ghoulish humour at the Tripartite Dinner and the nostalgia for medieval suppression of heresy on the part of some right-wing Catholics. Before I make that point, I need to explain my understanding of capital punishment, so there is no misunderstanding of where I am coming from in what I am about to say. I believe that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for some crimes, that government has divine authorization to impose the death penalty, and that in some circumstances justice demands nothing less than the death penalty. I also firmly believe that no government existing today, or any government likely to exist in the foreseeable future, deserves to be trusted with the power of life and death over its citizens. Even if that were not the case, I would still prefer to err on the side of having too few crimes designated as capital than on the side of having too many.

Having got that out of the way, consider again the joke that made Churchill walk out on Stalin and Roosevelt. They were joking about the summary execution of thousands of officers of their soon-to-be defeated foe. While victors have treated the vanquished in this way, and often worse, throughout history, it is considered barbaric by civilized standards, a fact Churchill recognized, Stalin had no use for, and Roosevelt ignored if he was at all aware of it. What Stalin and Roosevelt were joking about then, was wartime barbarism at best, and outright mass murder at worst.

Now, apart from the remark by the fool priest Zmirak mentioned who expressed a wish that he could have driven the tanks at Tiananmen Square, the sort of comments we have been discussing belong in a different category altogether. Several of the other examples Zmirak gave were examples of Catholics showing disrespect for the United States, her liberal traditions, her Puritan roots. Needless to say, as a Canadian patriot, a Tory royalist, and an Anglican with absolutely no sympathy for Puritanism, these examples will not evoke the same emotional response in me as they do in you. Even so, these examples generally did not involve a wish that people be put to death and so we can disregard this class of remark as not really being germane to the subject at hand. You referred to people who wish to imprison heretics and even burn them at the stake. While I do not share those sentiments myself, I do not see them as falling in the same category as the jokes that disgusted Churchill because, while they were probably poorly worded, what I suspect they were ultimately expressing was an understanding of capital punishment that, while different from my own, I would not regard as being entirely without rational defences that it can call upon. Heresy, as the term used to be understood, was not just a matter of “wrong opinion” per se, but of wrong opinion that posed a threat to the unity and authority of the church. In a period like the medieval period, where the church was the institution maintaining the order that the Empire had once maintained, and which would later be maintained by the post-Renaissance national states, heresy was a serious matter indeed, somewhat along the nature of treason. In such a period and under such circumstances, an argument that heresy was a threat to the order of society and should therefore be treated as a crime would be an entirely rational one. That does not mean that such an argument would hold in the present day, of course. It does mean that the consideration of this option, misguided as I think it is, should not be automatically dismissed as “crazy”.

The question then is what if anything should be considered to be beyond the pale. I am not at all certain I agree with you that “free speech absolutism is unsustainable”, but let us assume for the sake of discussion that such is the case. If we agree that some things are beyond the pale, and if they are I certainly would agree with you that they are beyond the pale for everyone including our group just as I would extend free speech absolutism even to our enemies, then what are the criteria by which we determine what is beyond the pale?

It might be easier to start with what should not be included in such criteria. First, I do not think that ideas that have only gained widespread acceptance in the Western world in the last century should be made a standard by which dissenting views are dismissed as beyond the pale. There are many in the mainstream “conservative” movement in North America who consider the acceptance of the ideas of post-World War II social reform movements that the conservative movement opposed when they first started out to be a litmus test by which one is to be admitted into polite discussion. I find this attitude, even when it is exemplified by a man whose early writings I admire, like the late William F. Buckley Jr., to be absolutely disgusting.

Second, I would say that is only marginally preferable to the above to make ideas that are of Modern origin and which have gained acceptance over the last couple of centuries to be the litmus test. I do not mean that every idea of the last five centuries or so is a bad or wrong idea. That would be a ridiculous thing to assert. I mean that the ideas of an Age which has been characterized by disrespect for the wisdom of all ages that preceded it, do not deserve to be the standard by which other ideas are excluded from respectable discussion.

In his Commonitory, fifth century St. Vincent of Lérins put forth his famous canon which has frequently been pointed to as the standard by which that which is orthodox and catholic within Christianity is to be determined – “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. The ancients believed that the highest goods were those that men universally strove for. If we must have a litmus test, from which dissenting ideas are declared to be beyond the pale or “crazy”, ideas that have gained acceptance in all societies in all ages of mankind would make a much better litmus test, than ideas that are primarily associated with American liberal republicanism in the most recent of ages, however much merit the latter ideas may have.

Would you oppose a constitutional amendment; that declared America to be a Trinitarian Christian nation, that recognized Christ is our nations King, and that said that no legislation should be passed that contradicted the Ten Commandments?
In a period like the medieval period, where the church was the institution maintaining the order that the Empire had once maintained, and which would later be maintained by the post-Renaissance national states, heresy was a serious matter indeed, somewhat along the nature of treason. In such a period and under such circumstances, an argument that heresy was a threat to the order of society and should therefore be treated as a crime would be an entirely rational one. That does not mean that such an argument would hold in the present day, of course. It does mean that the consideration of this option, misguided as I think it is, should not be automatically dismissed as “crazy”.

Messrs. Yeutter and Neal would carry on this dispute into never-never-lands where such hypotheticals have entered the realm of political possibility. Were America so dramatically reformed in her morals and reasoning that her Constitution could be crowned with a symbolic statement of Christian orthodoxy, in my lifetime, would I oppose it? The very question reeks of flight from reality. I rather think for that hypothetic to actualize, other more glorious and compelling events would surely precede it. "And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'"

If we were more like the medaeivals, Mr. Neal assures us that Modern errors would wither and perish, and heresy be afforded less room to maneuver. With this I have no disagreement. But he too has taken us from the realm of extant politics. New errors and agitations (or rather old ones) would arise. In St. Vincent's age, which was not free of controversy, disputation and oppression, I suppose followers of that Frankish saint might discuss on a blog whether to tolerate Augustinian opinion, with some maintaining that hypothetically desiring their torture and murder is not so very Christian an attitude, and others demurring.

This whole line of speculation is idle. The actual liberty of actual Christians is actually at stake in the real politics of our age. To plunge into fantasies about how an authoritarian Christian State could relieve us of the toil and trouble of our days does no everloving good.

For the record I feel little guilt about America allying herself with authoritarian regimes against the Commies, even while I lament the necessity that made America also align with Commies against Nazis. The Cold War was nasty one, even if (thank God) we were spared the full furious evil of a hot war. We can lay a good portion of the praise for that achievement of peace at the feet of that dirty modern Republican Ronald Reagan.

There is some question as to how much weight should be given to Zmirak's particulars. This is a legit objection: which is completely disarmed and trussed for many of us by reflection on the many instances where we have been auditors to similar flights from reality into bloody-minded authoritarianism. Most of us have even felt this temptation as well -- but, as Lydia has repeatedly blogged about, we must fight that temptation, for it leads to the sin of despair. And fighting temptation begins with recognizing it as such.

There is much to respond to here, and I don't have time to respond to all of it now, but I want to say in response to Gerry Neal that he seems to me to be engaging in a kind of _reverse_ chronological snobbery. Normally chronological snobbery is the view that only what is contemporary is wise and that older views are foolish merely because no longer held today. GN, in saying that we should never use an idea that has merely become accepted more recently as a yardstick for what is "beyond the pale," is reversing this judgement. But neither type of chronological snobbery shows sufficient reverence for the truth *as such*. If something has been gotten _right_ only more recently that was _wrong_ before, we should take that into account as well.

Let me clarify that by "beyond the pale" I wasn't necessarily referring to locking people up for expressing such a view. In fact, for the most part, not at all. I was referring to things like rebuking or perhaps even private shunning, not having someone to write for your journal or serve as president of a college for whom you were hiring, or what-not. So my use of the phrase "beyond the pale" was not really connected to my statement that free speech absolutism is unsustainable, because the statement about free speech absolutism was more directed to government action (e.g., against pornography or outright sedition).

But here is an example of a case where I think we _should_ use a more modern standard to declare what is "beyond the pale."

Even in the mid 20th century, mentally disabled people, including people with Down Syndrome, were casually and widely spoken of with contempt and regarded with contempt. The assumption that they were to be "put away" was partly a result of ignorance as to how they could be cared for by their parents but was also partly a result of the horror with which they were regarded. It is now widely considered "beyond the pale" to say that, "Poor Mrs. So-and-so gave birth to an idiot child. It was a monster, really, and of course it will have to be in an institution for the rest of its life, because you couldn't expect them to raise it." And in my opinion that sort of disgust for the mentally disabled _should_ be beyond the pale. It is one of the _few_ ways in which our culture has really progressed.

Now, I'll say it instantly so nobody else beats me to it: Yes, yes, and yes, it's a great irony that in the same time period we've developed ever-more-sophisticated search-and-destroy techniques for killing children with Down Syndrome before they are even born. That does indeed represent an ideological schizophrenia in our society. I acknowledge that fully. But *the fact remains* that the ways of thinking and speaking of "monsters" and what-not concerning the disabled have *become* socially unacceptable only relatively recently and nonetheless *should* be considered unacceptable and beyond the pale. So applying a "modern standard" of such things is not always incorrect.

Apropos of the subject of "_reverse_ chronological snobbery", I thought you'd all enjoy this quote from GKC, on the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is the enemy of new ideas:

It probably did not occur to him that his own remark was not exactly in the nature of a new idea. It is one of the notions that Catholics have to be continually refuting, because it is such a very old idea. Indeed, those who complain that Catholicism cannot say anything new, seldom think it necessary to say anything new about Catholicism. As a matter of fact, a real study of history will show it to be curiously contrary to the fact. In so far as the ideas really are ideas, and in so far as any such ideas can be new, Catholics have continually suffered through supporting them when they were really new; when they were much too new to find any other support. The Catholic was not only first in the field but alone in the field; and there was as yet nobody to understand what he had found there.

Thus, for instance, nearly two hundred years before the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution, in an age devoted to the pride and praise of princes, Cardinal Bellarmine and Suarez the Spaniard laid down lucidly the whole theory of real democracy. But in that age of Divine Right they only produced the impression of being sophistical and sanguinary Jesuits, creeping about with daggers to effect the murder of kings. So, again, the Casuists of the Catholic schools said all that can really be said for the problem plays and problem novels of our own time, two hundred years before they were written. They said that there really are problems of moral conduct; but they had the misfortune to say it two hundred years too soon. In a time of tub-thumping fanaticism and free and easy vituperation, they merely got themselves called liars and shufflers for being psychologists before psychology was the fashion. It would be easy to give any number of other examples down to the present day, and the case of ideas that are still too new to be understood. There are passages in Pope Leo’s Encyclical on Labor [also known as Rerum Novarum], released in 1891] which are only now beginning to be used as hints for social movements much newer than socialism. And when Mr. Belloc wrote about the Servile State, he advanced an economic theory so original that hardly anybody has yet realized what it is. A few centuries hence, other people will probably repeat it, and repeat it wrong. And then, if Catholics object, their protest will be easily explained by the well-known fact that Catholics never care for new ideas.

Nevertheless, the man who made that remark about Catholics meant something; and it is only fair to him to understand it rather more clearly than he stated it. What he meant was that, in the modern world, the Catholic Church is in fact the enemy of many influential fashions; most of which still claim to be new, though many of them are beginning to be a little stale. In other words, in so far as he meant that the Church often attacks what the world at any given moment supports, he was perfectly right . The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away; and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away. But to understand exactly what is involved, it is necessary to take a rather larger view and consider the ultimate nature of the ideas in question, to consider, so to speak, the idea of the idea.

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. The truth about the Catholic attitude towards heresy, or as some would say, towards liberty, can best be expressed perhaps by the metaphor of a map. The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

On this map of the mind the errors are marked as exceptions. The greater part of it consists of playgrounds and happy hunting-fields, where the mind may have as much liberty as it likes; not to mention any number of intellectual battle-fields in which the battle is indefinitely open and undecided. But it does definitely take the responsibility of marking certain roads as leading nowhere or leading to destruction, to a blank wall, or a sheer precipice. By this means, it does prevent men from wasting their time or losing their lives upon paths that have been found futile or disastrous again and again in the past, but which might otherwise entrap travelers again and again in the future. The Church does make herself responsible for warning her people against these; and upon these the real issue of the case depends. She does dogmatically defend humanity from its worst foes, those hoary and horrible and devouring monsters of the old mistakes. Now all these false issues have a way of looking quite fresh, especially to a fresh generation. Their first statement always sounds harmless and plausible. I will give only two examples. It sounds harmless to say, as most modern people have said: “Actions are only wrong if they are bad for society.” Follow it out, and sooner or later you will have the inhumanity of a hive or a heathen city, establishing slavery as the cheapest and most certain means of production, torturing the slaves for evidence because the individual is nothing to the State, declaring that an innocent man must die for the people, as did the murderers of Christ. Then, perhaps, you will go back to Catholic definitions, and find that the Church, while she also says it is our duty to work for society, says other things also which forbid individual injustice. Or again, it sounds quite pious to say, “Our moral conflict should end with a victory of the spiritual over the material.” Follow it out, and you may end in the madness of the Manicheans, saying that a suicide is good because it is a sacrifice, that a sexual perversion is good because it produces no life, that the devil made the sun and moon because they are material. Then you may begin to guess why Catholicism insists that there are evil spirits as well as good; and that materials also may be sacred, as in the Incarnation or the Mass, in the sacrament of marriage or the resurrection of the body.

Now there is no other corporate mind in the world that is thus on the watch to prevent minds from going wrong. The policeman comes too late, when he tries to prevent men from going wrong. The doctor comes too late, for he only comes to lock up a madman, not to advise a sane man on how not to go mad. And all other sects and schools are inadequate for the purpose. This is not because each of them may not contain a truth, but precisely because each of them does contain a truth; and is content to contain a truth. None of the others really pretends to contain the truth. None of the others, that is, really pretends to be looking out in all directions at once.


I'm not sure why you are refusing to answer his question Paul. Philosophers often use hypothetical situations to examine and clarify their moral beliefs, and the fact that such situations are not going to be actualized is irrelevant. It's really quite simple: either you believe in the principle of freedom and religious liberty or you don't. There's no middle ground.

In any case, your refusal to categorically reject a Christian amendment to the US constitution speaks volumes about which side of the question you fall on.

And your incapacity at reading comprehension speaks volumes about your powers of reasoning.

Would you oppose a constitutional amendment; that declared America to be a Trinitarian Christian nation, that recognized Christ is our nations King, and that said that no legislation should be passed that contradicted the Ten Commandments?

Yes, I would oppose that.

Short further explanation: I think that the content of several of the ten commandments (such as "thou shalt do no murder," "thou shalt not steal") is accessible to the natural law and should, in fact, be reflected in positive human law, including that of a non-confessional state. Others, such as "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" are specifically enjoined by revelation and not accessible to the natural light, and I do not think there is any good to be gained by requiring government entities to abide by them. Still others, such as "honor thy father and mother" are sufficiently general that it is unclear what it would mean for legislation to "contradict" them, and therefore legislation in that general area should be judged good or bad on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of some sweeping criterion such as "whether it contradicts the Ten Commandments." I suppose that some (think the Bill Gothard crew) might say that if legislation recognizes a woman to be an adult at age 18 and refuses to return a 20-year-old female runaway to her father's house, such legislation is "contradicting" the command to honor thy father and mother. I would oppose a legislative regime in which women (or for that matter men) are under their parents' formal, legal authority until they marry, even if such a regime were allegedly based on the Ten Commandments.

Also, Christ is not currently our nation's king, and declaring it to be so legislatively is a kind of pretense on the order of the Woody Allen movie in which they say "The nose is cloned." You can't make such a thing de facto the case by saying it. My own eschatology holds that Christ's de facto _earthly_ rule is predicted for the end of all things, though of course individual Christians are called upon to apply Christian principles *where appropriate* to earthly matters and earthly policies. "Where appropriate" is of course the subject of a great deal of debate, and as far as I know the vast majority of cases where it is in fact appropriate are also cases where the same points are accessible to the natural light.

Further to Gerry Neal:

--It depends on what you mean by "worked up." As Jeffrey has astutely pointed out, this is one of the _only_ articles here at W4 which I or any of us have devoted to any of these bizarre trends or to anything remotely like "policing" the right. My fairly short posts at my personal blog have been explicitly directed to a very small audience--namely, that narrow group of people attracted by neoreactionary ideas but still capable of being warned of the potential ill effects of those ideas upon their own hearts and minds. I consider that worth doing because I care about those people as real individuals. Also, the posts at my personal blog were addressing a wider variety of phenomena than what Zmirak is discussing or than I am discussing in this post. The wider "family" of phenomena I was addressing in those posts is a sufficiently large grab-bag of bitterness and creepiness that perhaps even you would find something you considered worth getting "worked up about," though I'm not holding my breath. (Since you seem determined not to get "worked up" about anything to the right of yourself.)

--I completely disagree with you that desiring to burn heretics at the stake is not that much of a biggie, provided one supports capital punishment, because heresy was historically sorta kinda related to sedition. No dice. Advocating the death penalty, much less so gruesome a death penalty, for heretics *who are not in fact leading rebellions nor engaging in acts of terrorism or other public crimes* is simply blood-thirsty and should be called out among conservatives.

--Zmirak's examples cover a big range and include things that are very creepy beyond the one about Tianamen Square. For example, burning a Puritan in effigy is, to my mind, an endorsement of burning Puritans. That interpretation is also supported by other conversations I have had and have seen, and I bet you've seen such endorsements of Protestant-burning as well. (See previous paragraph.) Desiring a Catholic coup d'etat is hardly a matter of mere well-bred difference of opinion concerning means. And, yes, gloating over the prospect of throwing Lutherans in jail ought to earn at least a rebuke and a "You're a nut," though perhaps you think even that is "getting too worked up."

--You seem rather pleased to be a Canadian and hence to have no tradition in your country, as America historically does, of freedom of speech and of religion. Be careful what you wish for. Your own country is well-known for suppressing so-called "Christian hate speech," including criticism of homosexuality and of Islam. More than one Canadian province seeks to force home schoolers and private Christian schools to teach the government-approved ideas concerning sexuality. You could perhaps use a little more of the American tradition. If anything, the differences between Canada and the U.S. are instructive regarding the real value of the American traditions that these reactionaries seek to do away with. Their wishes are therefore all the more worth getting "worked up about" because they are so blinkered as to the actual effects of doing away with American-style freedoms.

It's really quite simple: either you believe in the principle of freedom and religious liberty or you don't. There's no middle ground.

And here I thought we'd move passed the point of having to make people like Dunsany answer whether religious liberty includes religions like the Aztec or Phoenician state cults in their original forms. I mean it's all fun and games until you realize that those devil worshippers are really serious about how they want to express their supplication before their deities.

That's an idiotic argument Mike T. Most liberals (and I use that term in a broad sense) think of liberty in the negative sense, of being free to do what you please in your own life. You seem to think that believing in negative liberty means you have to believe that we have a positive right to play a part in our religious lives, and that's simply not something I agree with. I don't really think my view is hypocritical either. That said, I am in favor of allowing ritualistic suicide and other "icky" things that are currently banned.

Further to Gerry Neal. Here is his argument for not being too worked up about reactionaries who express a desire to imprison or burn heretics:

You referred to people who wish to imprison heretics and even burn them at the stake. While I do not share those sentiments myself, I do not see them as falling in the same category as the jokes that disgusted Churchill because, while they were probably poorly worded, what I suspect they were ultimately expressing was an understanding of capital punishment that, while different from my own, I would not regard as being entirely without rational defences that it can call upon. Heresy, as the term used to be understood, was not just a matter of “wrong opinion” per se, but of wrong opinion that posed a threat to the unity and authority of the church. In a period like the medieval period, where the church was the institution maintaining the order that the Empire had once maintained, and which would later be maintained by the post-Renaissance national states, heresy was a serious matter indeed, somewhat along the nature of treason.

What GN does not seem to recognize the importance of is this: The true reactionary (and say what you will, there are such) looks back with nostalgia on precisely that Medieval period and would, if he were able, reinstate precisely that relation between church and state in which they are so intertwined that the promotion of Protestantism is regarded by the government as de facto as borderline treasonous or seditious. While it is not practicable to bring that state of affairs about once again, it is extremely detrimental to Christian unity in the here and now to be advocating that as the ideal to which one wishes to return. What this says to one's Protestant friends, who ought to be one's Protestant brethren and allies, is, "If all were as it should be and as I wish it to be, in the sort of country to which I have more nostalgic attachment than my attachment to our actual, religiously free country, you would not be able to go about freely spreading your heresy. For in the Catholic state for which I yearn, which did exist long ago, the state and church would be so related that your doing so would be considered contrary to the good order of the state, because it would pose a threat to the unity and authority of the Church. You would therefore, if I had my way, have to keep your religion private or face jail or even death for unsettling the country by preaching and proselytizing for your heretical doctrines."

It should be evident that it is unhealthy in the here and now for Christians to be saying or implying this to one another.

I add, too, that there are suppressive laws in the here and now in other countries against so-called "sects" which include, e.g., Baptist children's clubs run by missionaries. We have debated these here at W4 some years ago. These laws are supported by the state church in that country. Therefore, the question of religious liberty is not entirely hypothetical. It can determine whether one allies oneself in considering current legislation with a state church that wishes to suppress religious competition from smaller and less established Christian bodies or whether one considers such legislation badly misguided. This morphs out further into our position concerning Islam, Hinduism, and other religions in other countries that _also_ suppress religious freedom. On what basis does the person who rejects religious liberty object to laws in Muslim and Hindu countries against conversion to Christianity? Is it really merely that Christianity is true? Some non-mainstream Christians, recognizing that that is by itself not a very convincing argument (since the Muslim or Hindu governments obviously don't realize that Christianity is true) have tended to take a "They can do whatever they want and you're just an American imperialist if you criticize them" line of thought--thus effectively _supporting_ the suppression of Christian conversion in foreign lands! Since the U.S. state department does rank countries in relation to issues like religious freedom, which may influence matters like foreign aid, such criticism or opposition to criticism becomes relevant here in the U.S. as well.

So even though it is not now practical in America or in Canada for Catholics to outlaw, say, Protestant evangelism, the principles in question are highly relevant to current events. I could also give an in-country example of that relevance for the U.S., but for the moment, I think I will not go into that example.

the principles in question are highly relevant to current events

That's the core of the problem. It is despair that leads one to side with the enemy, in careful rhetorical phrasings, in order to get back at those among your allies who made mistakes in the past. The aloofness to the raised axe underscores the dangerous resignation.

Lydia, do you think religious liberty is intrinsically good? You seem to be arguing that Christians should care about religious liberty because of Christians living in countries controlled by other religious groups. Let's pretend that doesn't matter. Are religious liberty and political pluralism things you would support if that wasn't a factor, or do you think it's acceptable for Christians to use the state to control non-believers and heretics.

Dunsany,

Really, can't you just try and read for once:

Religious liberty is a good and important thing, and it is a part of our American heritage to which we should cling and for which we should be grateful, not a part that we should be looking to get rid of. Are there interesting questions that can be asked about the precise range, limits, and implementation of principles of religious liberty? Of course.

Lydia then goes on to elaborate in the comments to others about the dangers of power, which is what personal liberty is all about (including religious liberty). In other words, it is a good and important thing that folks be brought to Christ of their own free will and that once we start using the State to force them to church (or to 'confess their sins'), bad things happen all around (and we generally don't end up winning over many souls for Christ, at least in the long-run, or at least without a lot of blood-shed along the way).

I must confess that I too have a historical fondness for medieval Christian society -- but that society assumed a cultural cohesiveness that eventually broke down and/or would be basically impossible to recreate from scratch today. Which brings us back to Lydia's concerns about how we think about wielding power and the importance of protecting individuals against the State.

I didn't say she wasn't defending religious liberty, I wanted her to clarify her justifications for it. That statement is perfectly consistent with the view that religious liberty is an important good for instrumental reasons.

If you thought that you could win more souls by forcing people to conform, would it be good to get rid of religious liberty?

Dunsany, since on religious liberty yer either for it or agin it, we can all rest assured that, on the legal issues, you're with the Little Sisters and Hobby Lobby against the Administration on the current SCOTUS docket, right?

Dunsany,

As usual, you miss the point entirely. You agree that religious liberty must be confined to a realm of reasonable limits. You as a point of fact would quite strongly deny freedom of religious practice to anyone attempting to revive an authentic religious practice analogous to what I reference. You just hate to admit that that makes your disagreement with many here a matter of degree, not kind.

Geez, Dunsany, you're hard to please. So, because I brought up as an application to our present day the issue of religious liberty in other countries, and clearly brought it up for the purposes of showing that these issues are not merely moot discussions of practical irrelevancies, and did that in response to Gerry Neal's "This is all impractical anyway so don't worry about it" position, you're now coming after me on suspicion of having an insufficiently pure and disinterested commitment to religious liberty???

Despite the fact that I expressly stated that I value religious liberty as a good in the main post? (Jeff quotes this.)

Sheesh, buddy, it's like you just can't bring yourself to agree with anybody whom you happen to know to be a Christian.

Lydia, Dunsay is asking whether you believe religious liberty is an intrinsic good. As opposed to a contingent good. I think it's a fair question. A good Catholic can agree that religious liberty may be, in some circumstances, a contingent good and perhaps even a political priority. But the Church condemns the idea of religious liberty as some sort of absolute, non-negotiable, instrinsic good regardless of circumstances.

My guess is that Dunsany is disappointed by the fact that I answered straightforwardly the question of whether I would support Thomas Yeutter's proposed "Christian nation" amendment to the Constitution and thereby robbed him of a stick with which to beat the Christians. He was getting himself all up into high dudgeon about our alleged caginess and how it "speaks volumes" about our theocratic hearts, and then, darn it, along came Lydia and answered the question unequivocally for her own part. Now he has to find some other insinuation regarding my deep, dark, Christianist motives, which he is trying to wring out of my practical examples of the *application* of religious liberty questions in our own day.

Reverse chronological snobbery, eh? I’m tempted to work that into a tagline at my site.

More seriously though, Lydia, it had not occurred to me to take your remarks about views being “beyond the pale” in any other way than what you have described. I did not think you were advocating legal penalties for the expression of such views. What the phrase “beyond the pale” usually suggests, however, is that the idea so described has been deemed to fall outside the parameters of what is acceptable to be discussed or debated. In other words, it is to be rejected as unfit for discussion rather than evaluated as to its merits or lack thereof. Whether this is accomplished by legal fiat or by the kinds of social pressure you suggest, it is the removal of ideas from the discussion board, as opposed to demonstrating their flaws within a free discussion, that I find to be questionable. It can easily be used as a means for silencing ideas that one cannot beat in a free discussion. That is why I suggested, that if there must be parameters that limit acceptable topics of discussion, those parameters should not be determined by what happens to be the prevailing set of beliefs at the moment. That does not mean that there is nothing good in that prevailing set of beliefs or that that they are all wrong, just that if we must take the step of ruling dissent from an idea to be outside the realm of acceptable discussion, the best qualities to look for in such an idea are antiquity and universality. If taking that position amounts to “reverse chronological snobbery”, then I would gladly accept the label “reverse chronological snob”, noting, as I do so, however, that in counselling caution before attempting to limit the parameters of discussion and expressing a preference that these be as wide as possible, I am taking a very modern position which I do not see as contradicting my own because I have never said that being modern or recent renders an idea unworthy or wrong, just that it dos not have the qualities that one should look for in a concept with the kind of prescriptive authority that all dissent can be ruled out without evaluation.

Yes, Lydia, I am proud to be a Canadian. The United States does not have a monopoly on patriotic affection. Nor does it have a monopoly on the concept of freedom. The attacks on freedom of speech in my country, of which I am well aware - http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2011/05/long-war-against-free-speech-in-canada.html - can largely be traced back to the decision of the Liberal Party – the Canadian party founded on the platform of moving Canada away from her traditional, British roots and closer to the orbit and model of the liberal United States – in the 1970s, to introduce anti-discrimination legislation based upon the model introduced by the United States in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I am also aware, that a large part of the reason this decay of freedom of thought and speech was allowed to go so far here, was because our conservatives, both big and small c, took the position that since the progressives had begun their campaign of silencing thought and expression by going after people who had unfashionable, extreme, and yes, a little nutty, ideas about the Jews and the Holocaust, any conservative who opposed this campaign would be tainted with those views himself, and thus undertook to police the thinking of such matters. When, after about fifteen years of this, the progressives then turned the same guns they had used against John Ross Taylor, James Keegstra, Ernst Zundel, and Malcolm Ross against fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and traditionalist Roman Catholics in the 1990s and against supposed “Islamophobes” like Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant in the 2000s, the conservatives were in a far more difficult position from which to defend the latter, then they would have been if they had not been so concerned about their respectability in the 1980s. Which is another reason I find attempts by conservatives to police right-wing thought to be distasteful.

I have always believed that making Holocaust denial illegal is stupid, aside from being contrary to the broader principle of freedom of speech. I'm not ashamed to say that and would say so about a great many other nutty views, including, e.g., 9/11 conspiracy theories.

You have also dodged my point, which is that if Canada had that dreaded 1st amendment you would be in much better case. That's why Mark Steyn came here, y'know.

But I tell you what, Gerry: If you happen to encounter someone calling a mentally disabled person a monster, be sure to debate him respectfully rather than distancing yourself from him. You wouldn't want to use a mere modern standard for considering a view despicable and beyond the pale. I could give other examples, but perhaps you can think of those yourself.

Jeff C., I find Dunsany's question more briefly worded and hence easier to answer. Your inclusion of phrases like "regardless of circumstances" make me wonder if this is going to start being about the infant sacrificers, again, which is an issue I've already addressed.

So: Dunsany's question is, if I believed I could save more souls by violating the principle of freedom of religion I'm now defending, would I do it. The answer is no, I would not. For example, suppose I became convinced as a matter of consequences that more souls would go to heaven if we forbade Mormon missionaries from going door to door and locked them up for doing so. (I don't know how I could become convinced of that, but we're supposing.) I would nonetheless not lock up the Mormon missionaries.

Let me add that I don't consider parental discretion regarding what their children or other dependents (who are using their money and property for the purpose) read and view to be a violation of the principle of religious liberty I am articulating. I don't hold some silly idea that a five-year-old girl who wants to be a Wiccan must be allowed to "explore all options" by her parents. I'm talking about government action when I discuss this issue.

Lydia, Dunsany is asking whether you believe religious liberty is an intrinsic good. As opposed to a contingent good. I think it's a fair question. A good Catholic can agree that religious liberty may be, in some circumstances, a contingent good and perhaps even a political priority. But the Church condemns the idea of religious liberty as some sort of absolute, non-negotiable, instrinsic good regardless of circumstances.

Jeff, I am not confident you put that quite right. Or maybe I am misunderstanding you. Of course, one of the major problems with this whole discussion is what people mean by "religious liberty," and it is unfortunate that it simply is being used in different senses. Dunsany is using it a purely negative sense:

of being free to do what you please in your own life. You seem to think that believing in negative liberty means you have to believe that we have a positive right to play a part in our religious lives, and that's simply not something I agree with.

Whatever that means - if anything at all. Others use the term more as Mike is using it, more "completely" I might put it. And then the Church applies the term in yet a different sense, but harking back to what freedom actually (and correctly) refers to, the sense that Christ meant when he said "and the Truth shall set you free."

I have said this before, but I will try to do it again succinctly: since the nature of religious faith is, inherently, voluntary, all true (all completely true) religious faith is and must be voluntary. In addition, truth is a common good - in 2 senses, but the pertinent one here is that a man is led to the truth by hearing the truth (or some parts of the truth) from others, such as his friends, and by trying those new truths on for size, sometimes fumblingly, until he sees how they fit, the expression of truth, even imperfectly stated or with an admixture of error, is an unavoidable step toward the holding of truth cleanly, and is thus an inherent human right. We can't get to the truth without the right to err (honestly) sometimes in the process. What is certainly not an inherent human right is the expression of error known to be error, (a man lying through his teeth), and the expression of error which a man ought to know is error (such as a newspaper editor running rumors as if they were verified, when he hasn't bothered to check), and OTHER similar offenses against your neighbor's right to hear your truth.

But then there are errors that you hold without moral defect - invincible ignorance. Do you have an inherent right to speak them to your neighbor? Yes, and yet no. In a sense yes and in a sense no. But more yes: First, because without displaying your (defective) truth, you cannot be corrected by those who know better; and second, because even in the error you speak you also speak some portion of truth, and THAT truth you have a right to speak on. Thus, for the sake of the truth that you hold and speak, even your error is tolerated. But not because you have an INHERENT right to speak error, rather because you have an inherent right to speak truth.

This implies that if your spouting error is causing excessive harm to the common good or to the public peace, the state MAY cease to tolerate that public expression of error - even when it is mixed with partial truths. (Shouting "fire" in a crowded theater without cause is something the state doesn't have to tolerate. Same with fraudulent religious "fire!") But the presumption is with the right to speak and hold your "truth", the state must overcome that presumption with evidence of excess public harm before it may cease to tolerate.

So when you corral "religious liberty" within careful boundaries, the natural as well as the political application of religious liberty is, indeed, a fundamental human good. Of course, that sort of meaning could not reasonably be called "absolute", at least not without altering meanings.

Our liberal opponents would like us to believe that the state CANNOT have the capacity to judge between religiously claimed "truths" and therefore the state can have no role in suppressing one religious truth as harmful to the common good or the public order while leaving other religious claims alone. Such a view is of course embedded in deep skepticism, a denial of the capacity of reason to correctly reason even about things within its own proper sphere, for some religions are, simply, unreasonable. The view is also embedded in the strange modern (dare I say Endarkenment?) view that the state ought to be wholly secular without a twinge or thread of religion in it. I have no problem with disputing such a thesis, I think that in the right conditions the state should indeed harbor threads of religion, though I admit our own state is sorely, grievously lacking in most of the required conditions. As are most modern states, though not all.

However, I think that "saving more souls" and "religious freedom" are unlikely to be negatively correlated. In point of fact, I think that it's highly unlikely in the long run that we are going to lose more souls by refuting false views rather than banning them. The Catholic church might consider as a purely historical matter that persecuting Protestants made martyrs of them and did not, in fact, work to prevent the long-term spread of Protestantism. Their stake-burnings lit such a fire as was never put out.

So: Dunsany's question is, if I believed I could save more souls by violating the principle of freedom of religion I'm now defending, would I do it. The answer is no, I would not. For example, suppose I became convinced as a matter of consequences that more souls would go to heaven if we forbade Mormon missionaries from going door to door and locked them up for doing so. (I don't know how I could become convinced of that, but we're supposing.) I would nonetheless not lock up the Mormon missionaries.

Fair enough, but there is a need to go further. Abstraction can help sort one's priorities. Let's move from mere "belief" to moral certainty. If it were morally certain that violating the principle of religious freedom would save more souls - assuming that natural and divine law were not transgressed - would you approve of violating this principle? Or do you hold that religious freedom is enshrined in the natural and/or divine law? If the latter, how do you defend that as a Christian?

My answer: yes, all things being equal, I would violate the principle of religious liberty. Religious liberty is merely a contingent good. But epistemologically speaking, moral certainty about the salvation of souls is extremely hard to come by. If admitting degrees of certainty is not self-contradictory, I would say that the weaker the certainty, the less willing one should be to infringe religious liberty. Furthermore, while restricting religious liberty without violating the natural or divine law is certainly possible, the attempt is fraught with dangers that also need to be considered.

Personally, I settle on a best case scenario of a confessionally Catholic state with as much liberty for non-Catholics as possible without undermining the established cult.

Gerry,

You say:

What the phrase “beyond the pale” usually suggests, however, is that the idea so described has been deemed to fall outside the parameters of what is acceptable to be discussed or debated. In other words, it is to be rejected as unfit for discussion rather than evaluated as to its merits or lack thereof.

So here is an interesting question -- you start hanging around some neo-reactionary, throne and altar types when all of the sudden they tell you in no uncertain terms the Holocaust was a hoax. Unfit for discussion or time for tea and debate?

Again, Jeff C., let me emphasize that I'm not talking about the abuse of religious freedom to, for example, teach people how to build bombs, directly incite them to acts of terrorism, promulgate pornography, murder or rape children. You get the picture. There can often be _other reasons_ related to the state's just and rightful functions for prohibiting behaviors that are, or are said to be, religiously motivated. That whole idea is enshrined, rightly as far as it goes (if only it were consistently applied) in the idea of "strict scrutiny" of laws that impinge upon religious freedom.

That's why I chose the Mormon missionary concrete example, because there is no question of any of that in the case of Mormon missionaries going house to house. Or you could pick Jehovah's Witnesses, if you prefer. I think a concrete example here is useful, because it helps to clear some of the fog that can otherwise surround a phrase like "religious liberty" and all its complexities, which I alluded to in the main post.

Now, you simply are sliding the slider on the epistemic level. I think you are asking, in effect, whether I would imprison the JW missionaries (for example) if I could be morally certain that doing so would result in the salvation of more souls. My answer is that even if you slide that slider up to a degree of moral certainty, I would not imprison the JW missionaries. Though again, I think it extremely unlikely that any such thing is the case, at least not taking the long view.

Now, this is because I do think that the wrongness of imprisoning otherwise peaceable people merely for trying non-violently to convince others of their religious views (where, again, those religious views don't violate the other types of standards I've discussed) is indeed part of the natural law. And, since part of the natural law, also part of the divine law, since the latter contains the former. It is unlikely that I will convince you of that. The reasons are mostly explications. One reason is that truth is such that it does not need to suppress mere error. Rather, truth is justified and hence can be defended by argument against error. Another reason is that the JW missionaries are being coerced against conscience to cease to promulgate what they believe to be true, and the arguments for doing so (namely, that they are going to lead others to believe their theological error) are not such as to justify the use of forceful coercion against them contrary to their own consciences. To do so is to do an undeserved wrong and a harm to them on consequential grounds.

Again, I do not expect that to convince you, but it is my answer for what it is worth.

Lydia,

In Canada, the old tradition, an extension of the British tradition, holds that the best guarantees of rights and liberties, are not writtern charters but long-standing traditions full of ancient precedent. The was felt insufficient by the Liberal Party of Canada, and so, when the British North America Act was repatriated in 1982, a "Charter of Rights and Freedoms" which drew inspiration from your Bill of Rights was added. As a matter of fact, "freedom of religion", "freedom of thought" and "freedom of expression" are among the freedoms identified as fundamental in the second section of the Charter. This did not prevent the use of "human rights" legislation against conservative Christians and right-wing journalists like Steyn and Levant. Your first amendment may have so far prevented this sort of thing from taking place in the United States. It remains to be seen how long it will continue to do so. The same amendment, in the hands of your Supreme Court, became a weapon used to drive Christianity out of the public schools decades before our courts followed your example.

Jeffrey S.,

The idea that the Holocaust was a hoax began with a French socialist (Paul Rassinier) in 1949 and was spread by an American classical liberal small-r republican (Harry Elmer Barnes) in the 1960s. Outside of the riff-raff that would like to see a revival of National Socialism, it has always been most popular among people of Germanic extraction who are understandably sick and tired of the way the land of their ancestors is continually portrayed as the source of all evil. Hence its popularity in certain Lutheran circles. While I do know of some extremely traditionalist Catholics who also accept this idea it is hardly typical of the reactionary, throne and altar, mindset. Having said that, to answer your question, by all means I would consider it a time for tea and debate and furthermore, while I would definitely take the opposing position in the debate against the Holocaust-hoax position, I would expect a far more interesting and perhaps even intelligent discussion than I would ordinarily expect from people, even Christias and conservatives, whose ideas are more in keeping with what is fashionable.

So here is an interesting question -- you start hanging around some neo-reactionary, throne and altar types when all of the sudden they tell you in no uncertain terms the Holocaust was a hoax. Unfit for discussion or time for tea and debate?

I think that this is a helpful example. It seems to me that this example shows up just what sort of evil is possible in speech. There is no doubt that when people like Rassinier and Barnes first start to spout their nonsense, they do so with a kind of disregard for the truth that is an offense against their neighbor: they refused to make the effort to gather the full facts, or (worse yet) they themselves knew of facts that did not support their nonsense so they conveniently pushed those under the rug in discussing the matter with the uneducated, the simple, the naturally naive. Thus there are 2 morally defective ways in which their actions (not interior beliefs) were objects of state concern: they did not check and evaluate all of the truth available to them, and they disguised portions of the truth in speaking to those who could not be expected to provide their own testing, checking, and evaluating. (One has different moral obligations with the truth in speaking to experts and in speaking to the inexpert.) Thus, in some cases (depending on the preponderance of the population) the state might have a role to swoop in and suppress such actions contrary to public order. Not merely because of the error itself, but because of the injustice to others and the disturbance to public order.

There can often be _other reasons_ related to the state's just and rightful functions for prohibiting behaviors that are, or are said to be, religiously motivated. That whole idea is enshrined, rightly as far as it goes (if only it were consistently applied) in the idea of "strict scrutiny" of laws that impinge upon religious freedom.

That's why I chose the Mormon missionary concrete example, because there is no question of any of that in the case of Mormon missionaries going house to house. Or you could pick Jehovah's Witnesses, if you prefer.

I think that's fair. And I also think that there could be some situations where such Jehovah's Witness types going door to door would arise to a matter of state action. Here in America we are used to a plurality of religions, and of all sorts of claims being made in the "marketplace of ideas" so we are well on our guard to sift and examine before we "buy". Not all times and peoples were so habituated, and thus would be more trusting (gullible?) of strangers' claims. In a situation like that, having Jehovah's Witnesses going around the neighborhood distributing their defective bibles and their half-truths about Christianity, this could in fact be an offense against truth that merits state action to stop them. It wouldn't be automatically, at least not merely by reason of their errors alone, but it could be due to their lack of just regard for completeness in the truth in spreading their ideas.

Let's look at another example of dealing with proselytizing. Isaiah took on the prophets of Baal directly. He wasn't just going around to the "little guy" in the street below the radar of the public authorities and pushing the traditional Judaic faith to people who didn't know any better, he hit back at the men should have known better. And, regarding these crazy cults, there is almost always someone at the center or beginning who either really does know better or who ought to, who is guilty not of merely making errors but of disregarding their obligations to seek the whole truth and to speak the whole truth when they speak, whose sincerity is not a defense against the offenses of their objective actions.

The point is that there is more than one virtue at play in publicly spreading your version of the truth, and sincerity in your beliefs is only the start. You can still be in the wrong in trying to spread what you hold to be true, if you fail to account for the other aspects of justice in handling the truth.

What is certainly not an inherent human right is the expression of error known to be error...

Tony,
You're contradicting Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae. DH says that, yes, men are bound to seek the truth, but if they choose not to, they still have the inherent right to hold and promulgate lies. Here's the text:

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

Hmmm, I'm afraid there's one point at which I will have to go in a different direction from you, Tony. I don't think that the mere gullibility of the audience or the society could require the government to lock up the JW missionaries. Now, if the JWs radically changed so that they were recruiting for terrorism, of course that would be a different matter. But I do not think it would be right to make a law prohibiting them from sharing their "faith" because too many people might believe them and become JWs!

Gerry Neal, when you start disdaining people who don't hold crazy HOlocaust-hoax views as boring and you start grooving to the boutique craziness of Holocaust deniers, I think your taste in friends has a highly misguided twist to it. You might want to watch that.

Actually Tony, the proposition that men like Rassinier and Barnes begin with a "kind of disregard for the truth that is an offense against their neighbor" is entirely doubtful. Rassinier, a leader of the French resistence had been himself interred in the camps, and the motivation behind his writings was the conviction that the reports of Nazi atrocities committed in the camps were exaggerated because they did not match his recollections. One does not have to accept his version of events as the truth to see that this motivation is a kind of concern for the truth rather than a disregard for it. In Barnes' case, his libertarian mind was the kind to distrust reports governments publish during and after war about atrocities commited by their enemies, a distrust that is hardly irrational, and so his acceptance and propagation of Rassinier's rendition of events, was also motivated by a concern for, rather than a disregard for, truth. A concern for truth does not guarantee that one will arrive at it, and in Rassinier and Barnes case I believe they were misguided as to what was the truth, but I see no validity to the accusation that they were guided by a morally offensive disregard for the truth. Ironically, Rousas J. Rushdooney, who like Barnes accepted Rassinier's account, in his Institutes of Biblical Law, pointed to the mainstream account of German atrocities, as an example of breaking the commandment against bearing false witness against one's neighbour. I don't think much of Rushdooney's brand of Calvinism, but I see no reason to think he was motivated by a morally offensive disregard for the truth either. Where I would question a person's commitment to truth is when he feels that his opponents views should be excluded from discussion without debate

Lydia, I don't disdain people for not holding to the view that the Holocaust is a hoax as that would involve disdaining myself. I do disdain people who have turned the Holocaust into a new episode of salvation history and made the questioning of it the equivalent of heresy: http://www.thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2013/11/man-and-machine-part-four.html

Gerry Neal, do I understand correctly that you are super-duper concerned that we debate everybody and not engage in _private_ shunning or ignoring or rebuking except when supported by ancient standards of beyond-the-paleness, but that at the same time you are sympathetic to the idea that the government should lock people up in, say, a Medieval society for "disrupting the state" by "challenging the authority of the church" by promulgating Protestantism? You're losing me. Surely locking up and burning Protestants, yes, even in a medieval society where the state is highly intertwined with the church, is a far more radical disdain for the need to defend truth as opposed to suppressing error than merely refraining from having private conversational tea over the question of Holocaust denial!

Lydia;

I agree with Jeff Culbreath; that religious liberty is a contingent good.
Allow me to illustrate this by asking a question.
If a nation required employers to provide medical insurance for their employees; should Jehovah's Witness cult members be exempt from providing coverage for blood transfusions?
Should Jehovah's Witnesses be coerced against their conscience to finance something they believe to be evil? Or should they be exempt; because to require them to provide insurance covering blood transfusions would amount to "an undeserved wrong, and a harm to them on consequential grounds"?

Lydia,

I think there is something in our discussion that you have overlooked. I do not support locking people up or burning them at the stake for heresy, much less for Protestantism, being a Protestant, albeit a fairly High Church Protestant, myself. What I said was that in a medieval context, where the church was responsible for the order that had previously been maintained by the Roman Empire and would later be maintained by the nation states of Europe, a rational argument could be made for treating heresy as a crime because it was a threat to society itself. Saying that a rational argument can be made for something is not the same thing as saying that I myself would support or even sympathize with it. The point of this argument was that the idea of suppressing heresy is not intrinsically crazy. Saying that something is not intrinsically crazy is not the same thing as saying that I support or sympathize with it. I do not support or sympathize with it, and have said as much from the beginning. I don't think it is the answer to civilizational decay today, and I think that from a historical perspective, it did a lot more harm than good when it was actually practiced in the Middle Ages. Several posts ago you wrote:

The true reactionary (and say what you will, there are such) looks back with nostalgia on precisely that Medieval period and would, if he were able, reinstate precisely that relation between church and state in which they are so intertwined that the promotion of Protestantism is regarded by the government as de facto as borderline treasonous or seditious.

I don't think that saying that the true reactionary wishes to reinstate the Medieval Period is any more valid than saying that the true conservative wishes to maintain the status quo whatever that happens to be. "Reactionary", is of course, a term of abuse used by progressives, who mean by it someone who does not accept the idea that lies behind their slogan "you can't turn back the clock". If a clock is running too fast, turning it back is exactly the appropriate action to take, just as if you are driving down a road that will lead you over a precipice where the bridge has been destroyed turning around and going back the other way is the only sane thing to do. Like all metaphors this only goes so far. What a reactionary wants, is not to re-shape society according to the model of some past "Golden Age", but to recover for society in the present and future, the good which has been cast to the wayside in the name of progress in the past. To do so, options from the past must be considered. That does not mean that they should all be ultimately implemented, and in the case of the burning of heretics, I would say that it should not be implemented.

Gerry,

Thanks for answering my question. I think, to be charitable to Lydia, she accidentally used a double negative when she said, "when you start disdaining people who don't hold crazy Holocaust-hoax views as boring." She meant to say "people who hold crazy Holocaust-hoax views as boring."

However, as Lydia points out, it seems strange for you to be arguing that:

"I would question a person's commitment to truth is when he feels that his opponents views should be excluded from discussion without debate"

while at the same time you argue that heresy should be punished by the State? So maybe the State will lock up all the heretics, but then hold trials in which they are allowed to debate their position? What happens if they convince a jury of their peers of their innocence? Or will you make sure the Inquisition is run only by authorized churchmen?

Jeffrey S.

As our last two comments were six minutes apart, I think it is safe to assume you did not read my last comment before posting yours. As I pointed out to Lydia in that comment, I do not actually support state suppression of heresy. I don't think the idea and those who propose it ought to be summarily dismissed as crazy, neither do I think it to be a good idea which ought to be implemented.

"Reactionary", is of course, a term of abuse used by progressives,

Whoa, not so. The terms "neoreactionary" and "reactionary" are adopted by such people themselves, these days. Perhaps you have not actually run across them, but Zmirak, Jeff S., and I and a lot of others definitely have.

Gerry, myself, I would say that saying there was a "rational argument" for burning Protestants at the stake, and excusing (and say what you will, you did excuse) people in the here and now who express a wish to imprison or even kill Protestants *on the basis* of this supposed "rational argument" in the Medieval period is a lot more "sympathetic" than I think anyone should be. It's very nice and all that you, personally, don't think we should bring back heretic-burning, but I still find a real tension in your comments. On the one hand, you evidently deem me intolerant (!) simply for expressing dismay at the self-styled reactionary right and their bloodthirsty comments, and for deeming some of their positions (such as support for heretic burning) to be "beyond the pale" in a purely private sense. Yet at the same time you excuse, downplay, and mitigate the far greater intolerance for ideas they disagree with expressed by those reactionaries themselves! You are bothered at the very existence of this *one post* and call it "policing" and see it as part of a trend you view as "disgusting," simply because a conservative post exists defending religious freedom and condemning the rejection of religious freedom. This despite the fact that what they are advocating is something truly repressive, enacted by the state, while what I'm saying is not! To me, this is strange in the extreme.

If a nation required employers to provide medical insurance for their employees; should Jehovah's Witness cult members be exempt from providing coverage for blood transfusions? Should Jehovah's Witnesses be coerced against their conscience to finance something they believe to be evil? Or should they be exempt; because to require them to provide insurance covering blood transfusions would amount to "an undeserved wrong, and a harm to them on consequential grounds"?

Well, why the dickens should it be so darned important that all employers be required to provide health insurance anyway? I cannot for the life of me see that the supposed "need" to force employers to provide health insurance is a deep and compelling state interest in the first place. Hence, however misguided (and they are misguided) the JW's views regarding blood transfusions, of course their conscientious objections should not be overridden simply because the state wants to require every employer to provide health insurance! I think it's state meddling and a misconceived law to require employers to provide health insurance anyway, so it doesn't override anything whatsoever. But we certainly should have enough of a sense of perspective to see that it isn't so important as to be worth overriding conscientious objections.

I'm a strong supporter of the 2nd amendment, and I think pacifism is completely wrong, but I don't think Quakers should be required by law to buy ammo for their employees, either!

Is it beyond the pale to say that the Geneva City Council was right in confirming the sentence of burning the unitarian heretic Servetus at he stake; a sentence already which had already been handed down by the Inquisition?

You're contradicting Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae. DH says that, yes, men are bound to seek the truth, but if they choose not to, they still have the inherent right to hold and promulgate lies. Here's the text:

...In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

George, you did catch that last phrase, didn't you? "just public order be observed"? That's what I was pointing out: it isn't enough, for the state to restrain someone, that he be in error, or even that he be in error and spreading his error, it requires ALSO that he be doing something that offends just public order. A sample of what would offend just public order would be publishing lies or half-truths designed to harm an individual's (or a community's) good name. That is, something over and above the mere fact that what you are spreading is erroneous must be applied before the state can overcome the presumption in favor of the right to speak your mind. That something else gets at things that violate just public order. Generally, the acts of speech that violate just public order are, also, acts that constitute offenses against the virtues related to truth. But it's not a one-to-one relationship, the former is a smaller set than the latter.

Hmmm, I'm afraid there's one point at which I will have to go in a different direction from you, Tony. I don't think that the mere gullibility of the audience or the society could require the government to lock up the JW missionaries.

Lydia, you cast the issue as "mere gullibility", but there is nothing "mere" about it. We all know that there are at-risk subsets of the population who bear more protection than others: children, obviously. Children are hoodwinked into kidnappings and child pornography and child prostitution because of their gullibility, things that can kill them, damage their psyches and emotional health, their physical health, and in some sense destroy their souls. There is nothing mere about that. In recent years, "Elder Law" makes provision for protecting the old and gullible from sharks who would prey on them, at least to some extent. There are any number of stories of old people buying all sorts of stuff over the phone, sometimes real items of no use, other times outright scams selling nothing real at all. And it isn't just monetary risk. In addition to these groups, obviously the mentally handicapped should be protected from those without compunction. In my opinion, the kind of protection we afford those who are mentally handicapped would ideally be a matter of degree, just as mental disability is a matter of degree, so that those who are mostly capable of independence (but not quite) would be afforded only a few explicit protections under the law. But even aside from that, we all know of people who are at risk from their mental shortcomings whom the law should protect.

In certain circumstances even healthy, normal adults may be at risk for particular sorts of predators and thus may bear civil protection. One of the reasons we do things like have state-granted medical licenses is that it is difficult to near impossible for the average joe, especially one who barely got out of high school (or like my father who did not finish 9th grade) to tell which guy is a REAL doctor and which one just put up a shingle with a fake diploma or a diploma-mill diploma. To an illiterate and thus almost wholly uneducated populace, there is perhaps still more room for charlatans to succeed in a pretense of scholarly authority. And thus perhaps more room for the state to see to it that an unrestrained liar does not damage public order by his speech.

As I indicate above, the test of whether a person's error bears state attention and action is not whether he is trying to spread error, or even whether his attempts are successful and he is managing to convince people. It is whether such errors are damaging the public good in a way that is even more grievous than any attempt to suppress his action would chill free speech and thus contract the public good. Surely, Lydia, you don't mean to suggest that normally the Johovah's Witness missionaries are likely to be damaging the public good to that extent? And if they are, then I suspect that with me you would want the state to take an interest. The place where my explanation intersects with Jeff C's is that I believe that there IS such a thing as speech (even religious speech) so damaging to the public good that the damage is more grievous than state suppression of it.

Gerry,

Yes, we did miss each other my minutes ;-)

O.K., so now you have clarified your position on burning heretics and Holocaust deniers. One more question, related to the original post:

Let's say it was you and not Zmirak who encounters this gentleman:

Just after the Chinese government crushed the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square, a seminarian explained to me that he wished he “could have driven one of the tanks” that ran over the demonstrators and their makeshift Statue of Liberty. “Americanism is a far greater threat to the Church than communism,” he explained.

Now I know you aren't American, so let's say for the sake of argument there was also a statue of John Bull in Tiananmen (or maybe a giant Maple Leaf for Canada?) and the seminarian mentioned something like "British ideas of liberty". Again I ask, do you recoil in horror (or at least issue a rebuke) or again is it tea and debate? Or are there simply no political ideas beyond the pale for you (I'm assuming that all sorts of ethical ideas touching on morality are repugnant to you, i.e. cannibalism, suttee, sexual perversions, etc.)?

Maybe someone else brought this up, but one of the most scathing arguments against the punishment of heretics is how men like Jan Hus were executed when they weren't heretics. The punishment of heresy was often a means of disposing of dissidents, not actual heretics. Rad trads would do well to actually consider a similar case: treason. The reason our founding fathers constitutionally defined treason and limited it to where it is was due to the historic tendency of treason to be a catch all crime by which the inconvenient could be "legally murdered" by the authorities. But then as Lydia pointed out, we're talking about people who hate modernity so much that they would ride down peaceful protesters in tanks rather than turn said tanks on a Communist regime.

It is whether such errors are damaging the public good in a way that is even more grievous than any attempt to suppress his action would chill free speech and thus contract the public good. Surely, Lydia, you don't mean to suggest that normally the Johovah's Witness missionaries are likely to be damaging the public good to that extent?

But that's just my point, Tony. I take it to be pretty definitional that the JW's don't damage the public good to that extent because I don't take the public good per se to be concerned with the types of non-violent religious beliefs we're talking about with the JW's. (Again, no terrorism, etc., etc.) So this is why it makes no sense to me to say, "Well, maybe they could still be JW's just doing the JW thing and, because of some fact about the gullibility of the populace, they would be damaging the public good to a very great extent and warrant state action against them." That makes no sense to me. They would have to change their teachings so that they were teaching things that are directly relevant to what I view as the public good with which the state is rightly concerned, examples of which I've already given, before it would be a case for the state to step in. Purely "religious fraud" in the doctrinal sense (e.g., teaching people falsely that there is no Trinity or something like that) is a very different matter from sales scams.

As for people who are particularly gullible, I think that when it comes to religion that is best dealt with by guardianship. A mentally disabled person will usually have a legal guardian, for example, whose job it is to keep him out of trouble and who has authority, like a parent, to control his associations. If a person has no legal guardian and does not warrant one, then I would be extremely leery of any move for the state to control his religious associations lest they be somehow religiously fraudulent.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that Xu Qinxian, the commander of the 38th Army group, People's Liberation Army actually refused to follow orders to use force against the Tiananmen Square protesters. That priest should be ashamed of himself that a Communist general behaved more like a Christian than he would if given similar power.

Is it beyond the pale to say that the Geneva City Council was right in confirming the sentence of burning the unitarian heretic Servetus at he stake; a sentence already which had already been handed down by the Inquisition?

Unless you know something about Servetus that I don't know, something a lot worse than his being a unitarian heretic, then, yeah, Thomas, I'd say that's pretty darned bloodthirsty.

All this talk of the downsides of religious liberty seems to wildly disregard that if we had no religious liberty in America today, Catholic traditionalists would be the first to suffer the consequences. It's nice to think of a time in which everyone thought the same and was a good and true Christian, but that's a fantasy. No time on Earth was ever like that. The virtue of the modern world is that you can have your weird beliefs, whatever they may be, and go freely congregate with people who share them. No you can't go and punish people who disagree, but then they can't punish you either. So you have to do the labor of actually convincing people you are right.

Be thankful neoreactionaries of the world. This is the best time to be alive and a minority.

Lydia says,

I'm a fairly strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, and I think pacifism is completely wrong; but I don't think Quakers should be required by law to buy ammo for their employees, either!

Thank you. You have provided a better example. The civil state has a legitimate interest in protecting itself. The civil state may lawfully require all able bodied males to serve in the militia. The Quaker heretic who refuses should not be exempt on grounds of religious scruples. The Cantons in Switzerland, both Roman Catholic and Zwinglian Reformed acted properly in expelling the Mennonites who refused to serve in the militia.

But that's just my point, Tony. I take it to be pretty definitional that the JW's don't damage the public good to that extent because I don't take the public good per se to be concerned with the types of non-violent religious beliefs we're talking about with the JW's. (Again, no terrorism, etc., etc.)

We all know religious speech that we are confident is NOT very much danger to the public good, such as Lydia's example of the JW missionaries. Thomas Y brings up a case where religious speech (or action, I suppose) is taken to constitute damage to the public good, and a response that seems singularly apt: if you won't protect the state, then the state won't protect you, either. There are other cases where religious speech is more than slightly damaging to the public good: Savonarola (though I don't recall the details of his case exactly, just the rabble rousing) and Jim Jones examples come to mind. Actually, Muhammad is probably a better example.

What's more, it is clearly the case that those who turn out to present very great harm to the public good were visibly bent in that direction earlier, when the evils they were causing were lesser and more containable. If one is to grant that the state must indeed have the power to act against outright Baal worship with child sacrifice and someone like Muhammad coming of the blue turning religion on its head, it is inevitable that there is a discernible crossing line with such cases that constitute a point where someone in authority can say "not only is this a clear harm to the common good, but now it is clear that the harm is greater than that of restraining his freedom of speech and religion." It doesn't need to be the same crossing point in each case, of course. Nor does it need to be the case that every single person would agree with the authority that NOW it is clear whereas before it was unclear, there is going to be some disagreement among reasonable people on that.

I think, unless I have misunderstood, Lydia, that you are in agreement that there are some religious sorts of speech / behavior that are appropriately restrainable by the state, but maybe you limit those to outright violence (and, maybe, outright incitement to violence)? Having seen the way people can propose violence without being forthright and honest about it, can urge action without seeming to ("But Brutus is an honorable man!"), I am afraid that I don't think the "outright" quite covers the full types of dangers that need attention.

And I am not sure that violence covers the range of ills that constitute threats from religion that the state needs to be concerned with. Arranged early marriage alongside of polygamy, such as practiced by the fundamentalist Mormons, seems like it needs something more of an intervention than just better preaching of Christianity to them. At least, one could see that the issue is arguable. Or one might say that the undue emotional / psychological influence wielded in those cases is a "kind of violence" (perhaps analogous to the battered-wife-syndrome-defense of her murdering her husband) but that too starts to erode the bright line difference between the violent situations and the non-violent types. It seems to me at least plausible that once it is admitted that the reason the state can interfere with religious speech / behavior is on account of such acts causing greater evil to the state than the suppression of religious speech and behavior cause, then there is no principle to preclude application of the rationale to other forms of evil that these acts bring forth, not just violence.

Though, I will admit the possibility that violence and its attendant effects constitute the only sort of ills great enough to outweigh the evils of suppression of free speech / religious speech. But I think that case has to be made, not just assumed.

Probably, most Americans would agree that the sort of evil implied by "the harm being caused to the public good exceeds the evil of suppressing the speech" cannot, by definition, be "he is converting people to a different religion." Not by itself. Lydia, is this what you meant by "I take it to be pretty definitional ..."? Would it matter if the religion doing the converting was Baal worship, even though it had not yet publicly promoted child sacrifice? Just, you know, denigrated the moral outrage most people have had against that practice for 1700 years or so of Christianity, to being "minsunderstood"? And making excuses for Baal priestly murdering as being "in a different cultural context, but I am not saying it was RIGHT, mind you" etc.? And "we wouldn't want to re-institute child-sacrifice in a pluralistic culture like this, oh no, it's only intended for a society-wide consensual act, so by definition we aren't pushing for it NOW."

I'm just not confident that the sum total, complete and total range of cases where the state should act to suppress such speech is when the violence is actual or being actually promoted in the concrete.

Whoa, not so. The terms "neoreactionary" and "reactionary" are adopted by such people themselves, these days. Perhaps you have not actually run across them, but Zmirak, Jeff S., and I and a lot of others definitely have.

As I entitled the most recent esssay that I posted on my own site(where the first clause of my descriptive blurb has read "A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak" since the day I started it up) "The Reflections and Ruminations of a Right-Wing Reactionary", I think that yes, I am aware of the fact that the term is now self-applied. ;o) In most cases, the deliberate self-application of this term involves a conscious decision to accept one of the progressive Left's favourite terms of abuse as a self-identifying badge. The origins of the term lies in the Left's concept of progress - that history is moving forwards either towards the end of a man-made paradise of some sorts or in a never-ending constant march upwards and onwards to better things, through the extension of the kind of humanistic and rationalistic thinking they consider to be "enlightened". The progressives see themselves as the men of action - or people of action now that they have invented political correctness - who are on the side of history, bringing about this never-ending improvement or social and economic utopia. Thus, they dismiss those on the right, who do not see the extension of supposedly "enlightened" thinking as leading to such a rosy future, as the men of "reaction", i.e., against their action. Taking the label "reactionary" upon oneself, therefore, is an expression of a very strong rejection of the idea of progress.

Jeffrey S.,

Earlier, when I was pointing out the differences in kind between the type of remarks Zmirak and Lydia were talking about, with the kind that made Churchill walk out of the Tripartite Dinner, I set the remark of the man who expressed a wish to have driven the Tiananmen Square tanks apart, saying that it was no different. Had I been present instead of Zmirak, I would have told the man that Red China was a bloodthirsty, godless, Communist regime and that support of its repressions is a revolting position, that is all the more revolting when taken by a man of the cloth. I would have told him that, even without the amendments to the history that you have so graciously suggested.

I think, unless I have misunderstood, Lydia, that you are in agreement that there are some religious sorts of speech / behavior that are appropriately restrainable by the state, but maybe you limit those to outright violence (and, maybe, outright incitement to violence)?

Let's put it this way: What I limit them to are things which are the business of the state to stop, and very important business of the state to stop, independent of their narrowly defined theological content. In other words, that they are religious speech/behavior is incidental to the reason why the state has a "compelling interest" in stopping them. And that independent compelling interest must be a very strong one. Hence, it doesn't matter whether someone is murdering children or inciting others to do so because of his religion or just because he likes murdering children. Similarly, it doesn't matter if someone is "marrying" a twelve-year-old girl because it is part of his religion or just because he has a thing for twelve-year-old girls. It doesn't matter if parents are deliberately starving their children to the point of emaciation because they belong to a kooky religious cult that teaches them to drive out demons from their children by starving them or if they are doing so because they are sadists. You get the picture. Whether the specific issue is violence, underage marriage, child neglect or abuse, drug abuse, or what-not, the compelling state interest that justifies imprisonment, fines, or even execution (if the act is bad enough to warrant that) isn't an interest per se in promoting true beliefs about the nature of God or suppressing false beliefs about theology.

That of course is precisely why I chose the JWs for an example, because their errors are specifically theological errors. They aren't matters of public order in the non-theological sense. And now that the mainstream, regular Mormons have formally abandoned polygamy, the same is true of them. I could pick other groups--the Moonies, for example. Presumably there are some Catholics who think of Protestants much as Protestants think of Moonies, and I'm quite sure that there are Protestants who think of Catholicism as a damnable heresy. They also think Catholics commit idolatry. But these are specifically and narrowly theological debates, and as such these doctrines, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, are not matters of public order. No, not even if promoted to the gullible, as long as in doing so guardianship and parental rights were respected.

Would it matter if the religion doing the converting was Baal worship, even though it had not yet publicly promoted child sacrifice? Just, you know, denigrated the moral outrage most people have had against that practice for 1700 years or so of Christianity, to being "minsunderstood"? And making excuses for Baal priestly murdering as being "in a different cultural context, but I am not saying it was RIGHT, mind you" etc.? And "we wouldn't want to re-institute child-sacrifice in a pluralistic culture like this, oh no, it's only intended for a society-wide consensual act, so by definition we aren't pushing for it NOW."

A couple of points. First of all, we are at this point at least in the region or neighborhood, if at one remove, of a concrete act which is undeniably the business of the state if actually performed. We have therefore moved away from considering a religious belief that is disentangled from all such connections. (Again, that's why I've selected the religions I have for examples.)

Second, while I agree that the question of what counts as incitement is a complex one and that there can be borderline cases, I am moved to a smile by a sort of irony here. Let's recall that in the context of the main post we are talking about Catholics some of whom are in pretty much this exact position vis a vis burning Protestants at the stake: "Oh, I'm not proposing that we burn Protestants at the stake now, in our pluralistic society. But I do think that the Inquisition has been badly misunderstood, and I want to correct those historical misunderstandings. Burning Protestants at the stake would be legitimate only if the society at large were to change and a true Catholic state established and stake-burning carried out after due process to convict the person of heresy. So we of course aren't pushing for it now." If you agree that arresting a man merely for, say, Protestant preaching and burning him at the stake is a heinous act, then we have here a pretty close parallel to your example concerning the attempt to "rehabilitate" Baal worship: Excuse-making for a heinous act in the past. Attempts to correct so-called "misunderstandings" about that heinous act in the past. Vague sympathy for that heinous act. The unsubtle implication that the person might very well support that same heinous act in the future if he could change enough minds and change society so that the government and society at large were "on board" with the heinous act.

So...The question sort of answers itself, doesn't it? Take your pick as to which direction you want to go on this one...

Gerry,

You are gracious to continue to thoughtfully respond to my queries. I appreciate your time here. I must confess at times myself to describing myself as a reactionary, although mostly to liberals to get them riled up ;-)

I suppose we are going to have to agree to disagree about the broader topic of heresy/the church's proper response to heretics. On the other hand, based both on the wonderful historical ancedote about Churchill (one of my heroes) and your own comments about Red China, it appears we also share some common ground when it comes to ideas that "should be considered to be beyond the pale." I should also mention I've been enjoying your website -- there is some great historical stuff there about our wonderful neighbors to the north that many of our readers might enjoy!

I want to echo Jeff's praise for Mr. Neal's blog. The common American ignorance and disdain of Canada is national offense for which the individual American can only repent of and remedy by acquired learning. Reading "Throne, Altar, Liberty" will help in that acquisition.

Unlike many American conservatives, I have never felt any desire to harass Canadians into being more like Americans. Ever since I visited Calgary twenty years ago, with my father on business, I've looked fondly on Canada and her particular people.

I am sure that Mr. Neal is well aware of the fact that, while a Canadian can be a Tory with little trouble (except with historyless modern liberals), the very idea of an American Tory means trouble historically.

Jeffrey S.

I've enjoyed this discussion. I know the appeal in getting liberals all riled up. Liberals are naturally censorious people who think of themselves as being more broad-minded and tolerant than others and take themselves way too seriously. That makes it both easy and fun to rile them up. Some rightist writers who I admire, such as Evelyn Waugh, have openly admitted that this was a major motivation for what they wrote. While that motivation has certainly been an influence in much of what I have written I don't think it had much to do with my habit of referring to my own views as reactionary, at least not initially. I picked up the habit from the examples of John Lukacs and - perhaps ironically, in light of the context of this threat - John Zmirak.

I don't think our disagreement is all that large. I am not opposed to religious liberty, but I prefer it as an established practice steeped in ancient precedent rather than as an ideal or a slogan. Religious liberty was the slogan on the lips of the English Puritans in the seventeenth century, as they demanded that King Charles severely enforce the laws against the religion of his bride, accused him of tyranny and treason for refusing to do so and put him to death, and then, having seized the reins of power, banned the celebration of Christmas and Easter, banned even harmless amusements on Sundays at a time when the majority of people worked from sun up to sun down six other days of the week, and then stripped the church of as much beautiful architecture, ornamentation, and music as they could, while putting Catholics to death in Scotland and Ireland. Religious liberty was their slogan, but as a slogan it was not worth much. The worth of religious liberty lies in its real practice and the practice of religious liberty is made healthier and more secure by its quiet inclusion in a long-established tradition than by its loud proclamation as an ideal.

Thank you for your remarks about my website, which I hope you will continue to enjoy.

Thank you for those comments Mr. Cella.

I am sure that Mr. Neal is well aware of the fact that, while a Canadian can be a Tory with little trouble (except with historyless modern liberals), the very idea of an American Tory means trouble historically.

Yes, I am aware of that indeed. Which makes it very interesting that probably the best, and certainly the most quoted, brief summation of the essence of what it means to be a Tory that was made in the last century, was made by a man born in St. Louis, Missouri. I refer, as you have probably already recognized, to T. S. Eliot's famous description of himself as "an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature and a royalist in politics".

To clarify, what I intended to criticize above (and, to be honest, still consider worthy of some criticism) was Gerry Neal's statement that as a Canadian he does not have the "same reaction" to Zmirak's examples because he regards them as merely being matters of some sort of symbolic rejection of America, specifically, and America's roots.

I believed then and believe now that it is worth stressing that this is not a mere matter of triviality. The very things that the people in Zmirak's examples were formally rejecting represented, to them, the tradition of religious freedom. Everybody, Canadian and American alike, has a stake in opposing that sort of explicit rejection. The fact that the rejection was cast in terms of, say, burning a Puritan in effigy on Thanksgiving Day or using crude terms for the Statue of Liberty does not make a highly negative reaction to them a purely parochial American reaction! Far from it. I continue to point out that things are, indeed, much worse already in Canada for the freedom to reject the leftist agenda. There were even threats several years ago to arrest members of American groups such as Focus on the Family if they visited Canada, because they had criticized the homosexual agenda. Whether they would have been carried out or not remains to be seen, but it was a scandal that it should have come up. At about that same time Focus (which was then more conservative than it has now become) reported that Christian radio stations could not read Romans 1 on-air. That is also scandalous. This sort of thing should be cause for great concern for Canadians, not for a negative reaction to criticism. In that respect--the fact that at least as yet (we shall see if it can be retained) have greater freedom from government punishment for our views as conservatives here in the U.S., yes, I do not hesitate to say that Canada should be more like America and that Canadian conservatives should not say, "Well, I'm a Canadian, so I don't react all that negatively to neoreactionary explicit hatred for American symbols of liberty." That is not simply Canadian patriotism. That is recklessness.

Christ is not currently our nation's king, and declaring it to be so legislatively is a kind of pretense on the order of the Woody Allen movie in which they say "The nose is cloned."

Those are pretty brave words, Lydia. Have you not read at the end of the parable of the talents, where Our Lord says:

But as for those my enemies, who would not have me reign over them, bring them hither, and kill them before me. (Luke 19:27)

Not my words, the King's.

Not my words, the King's.

Not the King's context, but yours...

Jesus is my king. Of that I am proud. In all that I do I attempt to follow His will that He may reign over me. We here are proud to march under his banner, as our new blog header with its quotation about going gaily in the dark declares. His being the king of the American nation qua nation is an entirely different question. I don't even disagree with extremely broad statements like, "America is a Christian country" if they are understood in an historical and/or statistical sense. But an amendment to the Constitution declaring that Jesus is king of this nation and that this must be enshrined in our laws...not going to endorse that.

I find no difficulty with not wanting Jesus declared king of America if that is to be understood politically: there is no obligation to try to erect political kingships in the human order here and now and then pretend that they are Christ's kingdoms. How are they going to be Christ's kingdoms when He won't tell them how to make specific laws and what not? Which side of the road does the Bible tell us to drive on?

On the other hand, even democracies and other models of government can have Christ as their "ruler" without ceasing to be democracies and other things - since (before the end) His Kingdom is not of this world. If a constitutional order is made explicitly based on the natural law, that's a start, because of course then it won't have anything contrary to the Divine order. If, in addition, the constitution officially recognizes its people's existing Christianity as forming the bedrock culture of the nation, (including the source of its legal expressions) it can be a formally Christian nation without demeaning religious liberty.

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