This week’s edition is being brought to you by the letters A and Z.
Update, 3/20/15: The link to Twitter below is incomplete due to John Zmirak deleting his Tweets. A number of them are, thankfully, archived at The Mitrailleuse here.
I am a tad bit embarrassed to say this, but “friendly fascism” — sometimes used on social media as #friendlyfascism — isn’t real. That is to say, it is not an actual tag which can be meaningfully applied to any political, social, or intellectual position that I am familiar with. Although it has been used as a gag expression before, it seems to have entered the stream of Catholic quibbling due to a tongue-in-cheek line I deployed in my Front Porch Republic piece, “Illiberal Catholicism One Year On.” I have also, jokingly, made reference to it here on Opus Publicum. Now comes John Zmirak and Elise Hilton of the Acton Institute to both treat “friendly fascism” as if it were a real thing and then, amusingly, misapply it to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. My apologies to Ms. Stoker Bruenig. I think it is safe to say that her brand of Christian socialism is not what I had in mind when I first used the term.
Mark Lilla has done little to endear himself to Christians, specifically Catholics, over the past decade, but that doesn’t mean he should be ignored. The Stillborn God, Lilla’s less-than-complete account of the role of religion and politics in modernity which largely failed to include Catholic thinkers, earned him some chastising words from George Weigel: “[W]riting any part of the history of the Western debate over religion and politics without a serious wrestling with Catholic sources is a bit like writing the history of baseball without mentioning the National League.” More recently, Lilla’s polemical review of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation was unsurprisingly ill-received despite having a few insightful words to offer on meta-narratives of spiritual-intellectual decline. Lilla, for reasons which remain foggy, hasn’t done much in the academic sphere since transferring from Chicago to Columbia. Happily, however, that has left him with sufficient time to keep running reviews and commentaries in various publications, including The New York Review of Books which just published Lilla’s three-part series covering, inter alia, France, Islam, and the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Comprised of two book reviews and an independent reflection, Lilla’s “trilogy” deserves to be read in full, not because everything he says is spot-on, but because unlike most commentators on “things political and religious,” Lilla has a surprising, even enchanting, way of detaching himself from secular-liberal commitments even if, at the end of the day, he appears dedicated to holding on to them.
Ross Douthat’s recent New York Times blog post on Pope Francis’s critics contained an unfortunate but all-too-common mischaracterization of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as “schismatic.” Like many who suggest that charge, Douthat backed it up with neither an argument nor a citation to an official decree. Both Frs. John Zuhlsdorf and John Hunwicke—two canonically regular priests in good standing with the Catholic Church—have explained why the “schismatic” label is improper; so, too, has the Society. The thing is, if the SSPX were truly schismatic, Catholics like Douthat (and countless others) would likely have no problem with Rome playing nice, as evidenced by the adulation and cheers which accompanies the brief, insubstantial, and soon-forgotten meetings between a pope and hierarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Never mind of course that unlike the SSPX, the Orthodox do not accept concrete tenets of the Catholic Faith such as Papal Primacy and appear hostile (though not absolutely so) toward others (e.g., Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, and the Filioque). The Society’s “crimes,” according to its critics, are threefold: rejecting modern liturgical reform; criticizing Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty; and opposing ecumenism. But where does Eastern Orthodoxy come down on these three issues? A brief, but informative, glance at Orthodoxy’s largest canonical body, the Russian Orthodox Church, reveals no measurable deviation from the Society’s positions.
Baylor University Professor and noted author Alan Jacobs has some words of his own concerning Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s (ESB) polarizing article on Pope Francis for The New Republic. Jacobs mainly echoes criticisms already leveled against ESB’s overly broad and uncharitable caricature of conservatives (political and religious), before closing with this curious paragraph:
Despite many requests, I have never finished drafting a piece concentrating on why I chose to leave Eastern Orthodoxy for the Catholic Church four years ago. Some of my reasons have been woven into various blog posts, comboxes, e-mail exchanges, and Facebook threads, though I have kept several things to myself. When asked, either in person or privately online, to say a few words on the topic, I am usually willing to do so unless I get the sense that it’s nothing more than an invitation to a pointless back-and-forth. There may come a time when it is appropriate to write in more detail on what happened during Lent 2011, just as there may come a time to engage the more complicated questions about why I fell away from Catholicism in college, how I came back to Christianity, and what brought me to the Orthodox Church in the first place. The only reason to discuss those matters at all is if it might be of benefit to someone who is struggling to hold on to their faith amidst a storm of understandable, though ultimately unpersuasive, doubts. As for the question of choosing Rome over Constantinople (or Moscow), that’s harder to engage in a fair-minded manner. Most conversions occur for reasons which are neither easily explained nor objectively clear. Some compensate by peppering their tales with store-bought piety. Others opt for boldness, claiming that their intellectual rigor has brought them to the indisputable truth of Catholicism (or Orthodoxy). Maybe that’s happened a few times since the Great Schism, but I have my doubts.
Three for Friday
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s (ESB) recent article on Pope Francis for The New Republic is receiving the critical pushback it deserves. Following last week’s posts which, inter alia, took ESB to task for castigating the Pope’s critics as fear-mongering reactionaries (see here and here), Professor Adam DeVille offered some hard hitting, but necessary, correctives over at Catholic World Report.
Now comes J. Arthur Bloom, an editor for both The Daily Caller and Front Porch Republic, to deliver what I hope amounts to a final blow against ESB’s sloppily composed, ill-researched article — one which has done little more than feed ongoing media myths concerning Francis, the papacy, and contemporary Catholicism. Bloom doesn’t hold back, and nor should he. For more than a year, orthodox Catholics have watched with understandable disappointment (if not horror) as the media has used its vast resources to craft a false narrative of Francis’s pontificate in order to set the stage for another liberal revolution within the Catholic Church. The fact secularists have engaged in these antics is understandable; to see a fellow Catholic engage in the same reckless behavior is lamentable. Bloom has done a great service for the truth, and I for one applaud him for it.
Only today did I stumble upon Patrick Deneen’s online seminar, “Liberalism and Conservatism,” over at The American Conservative. This week’s edition examines the (in)famous “Austrian Economist” and social thinker Friedrich Hayek; a full overview of the course, along with a syllabus, is available here. Deneen offers a lot for readers to chew on, including — I hope — whether or not his political taxonomy is adequate. Deneen breaks both liberalism and conservatism up into three parts each, with liberalism represented by Classical Liberalism, Progressive Liberalism, and Libertarianism and conservatism represented by Natural Right Conservatism, Traditional Conservatism, and Radical Catholicism. Although he recognizes that there is some overlap between these groups, there isn’t any explicit acknowledgment that all six groups (including perhaps even Radical Catholicism as well) are part of the liberal tradition.
The seminar isn’t over yet, and so it would be premature to say too much about it at this juncture. It will be interesting to see if Radical Catholicism can be positioned beyond the horizon of liberalism or if it represents just another “option” for negotiating the liberal order. Another way to approach these matters is to start with a piece like Thomas Storck’s “What is the Christian Understanding of the Social Order?” (and its antecedent articles) and then ask if any of the liberals or conservatives Deneen analyzes fit within that understanding at all.
Time constraints prevented me from putting together a “Weekly Reading” post over the weekend. Had I been able to, topping the list of recommendations would be Professor Adam DeVille’s incisive critique of Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig’s article, “Fear of a Radical Pope.” (For my own critical comments on this rather troubling piece, see here and here). From DeVille’s piece over at Catholic World Report:
When I was a graduate student, a professor once said to me: “watch your adverbs.” I offer the same counsel here to Bruenig because her careless usage offers very fat targets ripe for ready rejoinder: wildly successful evangelism? Obviously superior approach? Relative to whom—the Westboro Baptists? Such lazy, tendentious and noticeably fact-free generalizations have no place in the writing of any would-be serious scholar—and the fact she’s writing for a once-popular magazine does not excuse this evidentiary burden.
Be sure to read the rest.