Author: Gabriel Sanchez

Opus Publicum on the Move

Crossposted from Opus Publicum’s new home:

After nearly six years and two resets, Opus Publicum is making a move to my personal website. While the second iteration of my web-log and its contents will remain dormant online for the indefinite future, this “version” of Opus Publicum is intended to house longer, more detailed pieces with a greater emphasis on examining law, politics, and religion through an authentically integralist lens. This decision has been made for primarily two reasons.

First, as proud as I am of much of my writing (and the combox discussions it generated) on the old Opus Publicum, the blog came to be cluttered with too many asides, ephemeral remarks, and incomplete observations for my tastes. That’s on me, of course. At this juncture, it seems best to make a semi-clean break with the hopes of attracting a larger audience likely unconcerned with what I have to say on professional wrestling and watching the movie Silence with Protestants.

Second, and more important, I have come to realize that if I have something to say on a given topic, then I should do everything in my power to say it well. Blogging, like other forms of social media, can lend itself to a certain degree of irresponsibility when it comes to truth. Although I have never intentionally misquoted, misreported, or mischaracterized any other writer’s position when responding to them critically, the ease with which a blog post can be penned and published sometimes does not allow certain ideas to percolate. I hope to rectify that matter here.

As you may notice, I have migrated some recent content from the old Opus Publicum over here and may, on occasion, populate this blog with revised archival material as need be. Fresh additions to the website as a whole will be made in due course.

Though I hesitate to seek any favors, if you enjoy reading my material, then I please ask that you do what you can to promote Opus Publicum‘s move online. And for those interested, you can follow me on Twitter @OpusPublicum.

P.S. If you notice anything wonky on the website, feel free to let me know through the Contact form.

A Followup on “Trump v. Judiciary”

To follow up quickly on yesterday’s post concerning “Trump v. Judiciary,” reports are out that Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch called President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Trump, naturally, is going after the Democratic Senator who leaked Gorsuch’s statements; to attack Gorsuch—a judge highly favored by social and religious conservatives—would be grossly inept, even for Trump.

The nature of Trump’s attacks on the judiciary boils down to the fact that the President believes the courts are political. Well, of course they are—just don’t tell other lawyers and judges that. Despite some naysayers on the sidelines, the American legal system still functions on the idea that laws can be mechanically applied by the judiciary with lawyers serving as advocates for what that application should look like. Even if this rather naïve view holds true at the local level, the bald politicization of the federal judiciary is hardly a recent development. One of the greatest disservices done to law students is to still teach them that the federal courts are legalist in nature, but I am getting away from my point.

Even assuming Gorsuch used the words “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” that doesn’t say a whole lot about what he will do when he finally gets on the Supreme Court. There are plenty of judges who believe that other judges are “political” while they themselves remain “legal”; perhaps Gorsuch will tell himself that Trump is only attacking “political” judges, such as those of the Ninth Circuit, and not “legal” judges such as himself. That is not to say that Gorscuh, once confirmed, will rubberstamp everything the Trump administration sends the Court’s way. As an Originalist of sorts, Gorsuch is probably not a fan of Trump’s expansionist views of executive power, though he may be less bothered than many liberals about Trump’s national security agenda. But in the end Gorsuch is just one man; his presence on the highest court of the land won’t do enough to change the ideological temperament of the federal judiciary, one that appears to be at odds with any attempt to target foreigners on the basis of ethnicity and culture (or religion?).

Eric Posner Throws Down the Gauntlet on “Trump v. Judiciary”

Over at his customarily insightful web-log, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner is issuing a challenge: “I’m looking for someone who will provide a legal or constitutional defense of Trump’s attack on the courts.” By “attack,” Posner means President Donald Trump’s recent statements that the judiciary (or at least part of it) is standing in the way of the nation’s national security interests. These statements come on the heels of Judge James Robart’s decision to issue a temporary restraining order against Trump’s controversial executive order (EO) 13,769, which temporarily restricts travel and immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The matter is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

I am skeptical that either “a legal or constitutional defense of Trump’s attack on the courts” is necessary given that this so-called attack is, at the moment, primarily political and rhetorical. Although Posner makes a loose comparison between “Trump vs. Judiciary” and “Reagan/G.W. Bush v. Congress,” the latter battle, although infused with political elements, was carried out at the legal level. Poser acknowledges, for instance, that “the Reagan administration . . . sought to change [constitutional doctrine concerning executive power] from within by appointing ideologically committed conservative judges and justices.” Arguably, Trump could go a similar route, though it would take a great deal of time—and even then there is no guarantee that judges who appear highly deferential ex ante their appointments will remain so ex post. As recent Supreme Court history has shown, Republican-appointed justices can and will defect from conservative orthodoxy on numerous matters, ranging from abortion to the power of the government to (apparently) mandate individual entry into the health-care market.

Now, as to Trump’s attack itself, whether it is accurate or not is an empirical question. Up until recently, few doubted that the courts are largely deferential to the executive when it comes to foreign affairs, including national security. Posner does not believe this has changed; rather, he appears to believe that the judiciary does not want to green-light ethnic or cultural discrimination. (It is interesting that Posner does not use the word “religious,” perhaps because he acknowledges that the judiciary has a long history of upholding certain discriminations against religious groups and practices.) And so, to the extent that Trump’s EO (and anticipated future national-security measures) seeks “to purify America of foreign influences in a cultural or even ethnic sense,” the courts are unlikely to budge. If so, that likely has far more to do with ideological rather than legal commitments. The Constitution is openly available to be read in a decidedly ideological manner with little-to-no immediate concern being given to legalism in the strict sense. Whatever creative legal or constitutional argument that can be constructed upholding the EO can be thwarted by equally creative legal or constitutional arguments to the contrary. Ideology, not law, is king.

In the end, there appears to be little reason to believe that a “Trumpian view of the Constitution” isn’t ideological as well. The constitutional text, along with the laws which are ostensibly in harmony with it, is silly putty; it can be twisted and stretched in incalculable ways and pressed against the Zeitgeist to take on new appearances. Maybe Trump does want to “purify” America, or maybe he just wants to keep it secure from credible foreign threats which happen to be associated in the public imagination with a particular ethnic-religious grouping. The judiciary, as currently constituted, may be uncomfortable with one or both possibilities, but Trump needn’t appeal forever to law to overcome them; there are many other less savory means at his disposal.

Poll Results: #BenedictOption

Maybe I should be surprised, or maybe I shouldn’t, by the results of my recent poll asking you, dear readers, which form of Catholic spirituality you most identify with. Although I plan on leaving the poll up, as of today — February 8, 2017 — the “Benedictines” have a 2:1 lead on the “Byzantines.” Although far less people took the poll than visit this blog on a regular basis, it would seem that those identify with Benedictine spirituality make up nearly 40% of Opus Publicum‘s readership. My best armchair explanation for this is that, historically, a fair number of “liturgy nerds” (of which I am one) populated this blog’s combox, particularly when I delved into the tumultuous realm of Latin liturgical reform and praxis (including among traditional Catholics). Moreover, I suspect that more than one Eastern reader of Opus Publicum (Orthodox and Catholic alike) find it easier to identify with the sober reverence of the Benedictine way of life than the apparent exoticism of Byzantine spirituality — a spirituality which, for better or worse, is today most identified with Palamism.

The biggest “loser” in my poll is Servite spirituality, which failed to gain even single vote. Redemptorist spirituality didn’t fare much better as it drew only one vote: my own. Admittedly, my poll was far from scientific or complete. Some spiritual forms, particularly the Byzantine, could have been subdivided by geography, and certainly Benedictine spirituality has developed an array of nuances over the centuries, leading to multiple religious orders which, though distinct, all trace their lineage back to St. Benedict himself.

Thank you to all who participated in the poll. It was a fun, if not illuminating, little exercise.

Y100B: Yes

Daniel Bryan and Craig Tello, Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania (St. Martin’s Griffen 2015, 320pgs.)

When Daniel Bryan (real name Brian Danielson) retired from professional wrestling last year, I was devastated. At 5’8″ and barely 200lbs. for most of his career, Bryan went from being a darling of the American independent wrestling scene to one of the most astonishing success stories in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Fired twice by WWE and initially looked upon as a “good hand” in the ring with limited star potential, the unassuming — and, by his own admission, unambitious — Bryan developed a cult following among hardcore fans that steadily spread to all corners of WWE’s audience, many of whom had grown numb to the uninspired, formulaic main-event wrestling the promotion became known for after the early 00s. Unfortunately, Bryan’s ring style — a blend of classic British catch wrestling, Japanese strong and junior heavyweight style, and a bit too much of American indie recklessness — had caught up with him by 2014, the year he headlined WrestleMania, working two hard-hitting and excellent matches before capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Not long after this career-defining moment, Bryan was forced to relinquish the belt as he dealt off-air with neck and concussion issues. A brief return in 2015 was cut short by similar injuries, prompting Bryan to make one of the hardest decisions of his life: retire at 35, in the prime of his career.

These sad events are not the main focus of Bryan’s autobiography. Rather, a bulk of the text focuses on Bryan’s life as a working-class kid in Washington state; the ups and downs of his family life, including his father’s lifelong struggle with alcoholism (Bryan himself has never drank); the sacrifices he made to break into the wrestling business, along with the experience of being trained under the legendary Shawn Michaels; and his rapid rise on the American independent scene, quickly going from a “nobody” wrestling under a mask as The American Dragon to being regarded as one of the best all-around wrestlers in the world. Bryan was an integral part of the early years of Ring of Honor (ROH), an independent promotion which helped change the landscape of American graps with stars such as CM Punk, Samoa Joe, and Bryan. Without those early years of ROH, it’s unlikely there would be an NXT today, nor a vibrant U.S. indie scene.

Having come to Bryan’s book with a fairly deep knowledge of his professional history, I was most interested in those parts which focused not on Daniel Bryan the wrestler but Brian Danielson the man. Bryan never shies away from the fact that he is a laid back hippie of sorts who was once awarded PETA’s Animal Friendly Athlete of the Year Award after becoming vegan. (Bryan was eventually forced to abandon veganism after developing a soy allergy.) He also chronicles, in small doses, his relationship with Brie Bella, a former WWE wrestler who is now Bryan’s wife. Despite facing a number of trials during his WWE tenure, not the least of which being the front office’s perception that Bryan could not be a genuine main-event talent, there is no immediate trace of bitterness in the book. Sure, like many wrestlers, Bryan had his share of frustrating moments and ill treatment at the hands of some promoters, but what shines through in this book most of all is Bryan’s genuine love of professional wrestling, not as a low-brow spectacle surrounded by cheap comedy and sex, but as a sport.

There have been a lot of good-to-excellent wrestling autobiographies penned over the years, but Bryan’s stands out for both its genuineness and humor. Bryan has no qualms about poking fun at himself, particularly his youthful naiveté on just about everything. Moreover, Bryan’s account of his career presents pro-wrestling as neither a hobby nor a pathway to fame and fortune; it is, rather, a vocation which, when done right, demands the same level of training, discipline, and desire as any genuine athletic endeavor. Hopefully Bryan’s example rubs off on the next generation of wrestlers.

Reeling Forward

During a bout of insomnia last night, I felt compelled to reread Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, “A World Split Apart.” Several passages jumped out at me, particularly the following.

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal frames, especially in the United States, are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such cases.

Before you assume that I intend to directly connect Solzhenitsyn’s penetrating observations with the ongoing uproar over President Donald Trump’s recent executive order temporarily banning the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, grant me a moment to explain myself. The Trump ban, which many have argued is not only imprudent but ultimately ineffective for thwarting terrorist attacks on American soil, may or may not survive a legal challenge; what has certainly not survived, even in Solzhenitsyn’s time, is our collective capacity to confront evil. Obviously a vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists per se, that is, they do not wear suicide vests, gun or knife people at random, or set off homemade explosive devices in public places. That does not change the fact, however, that all Muslims profess religious error and that these errors, like all errors, pose a danger to all societies at all times and in all places. While the political situation today demands tolerance, it is always tolerance of some evil, not a tolerance of some good. However, even tolerance has its limits, particularly when confronting a false religion that has spread violence, misery, and immorality over the globe for more than 1,000 years.

This reality is ignored by the good liberals and deluded Christians of our day. The only thing that seems to matter is the “rights” of Muslims in positive, legal sense, not the fact that Islam itself is inherently dangerous. In an effort to (weakly) combat such claims, liberals will point to the history of Christianity, claiming that A, B, C, etc. atrocity was carried out by Christians and therefore Christianity is no less (and may even be more) dangerous than Islam. What’s missing from this analysis is a fair reading of what the Church actually teaches and, from there, an evaluation of whether or not this-or-that action, carried out at some point in history, comported with Church teaching. Tomorrow, I could go out my front door naked, covered in peanut butter, flinging sacks of dog feces at people in the name of Buddhism, Hinduism, Rastafarianism, and so forth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean my barking-mad behavior has any connection whatsoever to those or any other extant religions on the planet.

Islam, on the other hand, has a long and storied history of aggression toward non-believers with periods of relative calm coming at the expense of non-Islamic persons. The Christians of the former Byzantine Empire were not all forced to convert by the sword, but their continued existence depending upon living as second-class human beings under the Ottomans and watching as their church degenerated into an ethnic enclave, cut off from the wider Christian world. In more recent times, we have witnessed the Islamic State (ISIS)—a highly organized politico-religious movement that has managed to hold significant ground in Syria and Iraq precisely because its iteration of Islam is attractive to other Muslims—carry out one of the bloodiest persecutions of Christians since the days of the Soviet Union. People protest and call it an aberration without bothering to look back over centuries upon centuries of similar actions carried out in the name of the false Prophet Muhammad and his dirt deity Allah.

Even if it were possible, by the waive of a magic wand, to distinguish the “good Muslim” from the “bad Muslim,” that is, the terrorist, the liberals of today would opine that that such wand-waiving violates the terrorists’ rights. Where is the due process? What laws are being cited and what is their proper interpretation? Is there not a way for the text of the Constitution—or any other foundational document—to be read upside down, sideways, and inside out to protect these poor terrorists from being singled-out a priori and prevented from carrying out their terrible acts? If you think such questions would not be asked, then please let me encourage you to peruse social media; the idiocy that is now running wild is astounding.

Of course, terrorism and the scourge that is Islam is not our only challenge today. And, truth be told, it may not be our biggest problem. Returning to Solzhenitsyn, it must be acknowledged that our “[s]ociety appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence,” especially now, in the digital age, where “pornography, crime, and horror” come packaged together in a single streaming video from any number of online “adult” websites. Consumerism, and the destructive capitalism which feeds off of it, is no longer condemned by Christians, even Catholics, but rather propped-up by churchmen and “think tanks” who believe, without reason, that “human flourishing” is not only an end in itself, but can be secured materially rather than spiritually. As perverse as their theology is in parts, can any of us blame the ISIS fighter for looking upon our works, our empire of smut and entertainment (or smut-as-entertainment), and feeling nothing but revulsion—the sort that easily elicits violence?

The promise of liberalism, which many believe was renewed in 1989 with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, rings hollow today, and yet those intoxicated with liberal ideology still control the machinery of society. In fact, liberals now control the machinery of the Catholic Church, meaning that the truth of things, the very truth of life and what it is for, must now take second place to securing an unimaginative, prepackaged “living space” in this fallen world. We clamor on about rights without reference to obligations, rarely contemplating the doom we have secured for ourselves in exchange for transient pleasures, many of which are not even available to those consigned to destitution and depravity by an intrinsically immoral socio-economic system.

Ours is not merely “a world split apart,” as Solzhenitsyn said, but a world gone mad. The United States in particular is not “a shining city upon a hill” but rather—to paraphrase Carl Schmitt summarizing the counterrevolutionary thinker Juan Donoso Cortes— “a ship that reels forward, piloted by a crew of drunken sailors, who dance and howl until God decides to sink the ship so that silence can rule the sea once again.” When that day comes, no doubt there will be some of us, perhaps many of us, standing before the Throne of Christ weeping about our rights.

Poll: Catholic Spirituality

Monday Mumbling

A Catholic writer who runs a fairly well-trafficked Latin traditionalist website recently tried to rebuke me on social media for inordinately focusing on “things Eastern” vis-à-vis the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church when, so the argument goes, Pope Francis is systematically destroying the Latin Church (which, as we all know, is the dominant form of Catholicism today). This came in response to my rhetorical question over whether or not the same traditional Catholics who are upset over Francis’s recent intervention into the affairs of the Knights of Malta would holler as loudly if the Pope moved to impose clerical celibacy on the Eastern Catholic churches. Clerical celibacy, mind you, was just an example; I could just as easily used azymes. My point was not to discuss the issue of clerical celibacy but to highlight a certain myopia which exists within the Catholic Church (particularly among traditionalists) when it comes to the Christian East, particularly Eastern Catholics who, for centuries, have had to endure incessant incursions into their proper autonomy from Rome for largely indefensible reasons. Why are these incursions—which still transpire today—acceptable but the one against Malta not?

As a Greek Catholic, I have no love for what Pope Francis is doing to the Latin Church; but I believe in consistency. If it is beyond the pale for the Ordinary of Rome to meddle with longstanding constructs of sovereignty, to say nothing of traditional disciplines and norms of the Latin Church, then why should the East ever be fair game for any interference from the West? Granted, most traditional Latin Catholics don’t think on such things, just as they don’t pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary either.

Now, before people start jumping down my throat claiming that I am unfairly picking on Latin Catholics, let me remind everyone reading that I am equally critical of Eastern myopia, particularly when that myopia leads to emptyheaded triumphalism. This is not an exclusively Eastern Orthodox phenomenon, mind you. Plenty of Eastern Catholics—cradle or otherwise—love reveling in the apparent differences (read: deficiencies) found within Latin Catholicism compared to the allegedly “pure East.” For some of those coming from the Byzantine tradition in particular, anything which is not “Byzantine” immediately becomes suspect, if not presumptively aberrant or heretical. Such folks also rejoice at finding instances where the Latin West broke with some (allegedly) “unbroken” tradition from the first millennium, but howl in agony when a Latin notes the many instances where the Byzantines did the same. Undoubtedly the most contentious example of this breaking involves the Eastern Orthodox condoning the practice of second (and even third) marriages when the first spouse is still living—a rather late development that emerged from the conflation of Byzantine (Roman) civil and ecclesiastical law. Make mention of this inconvenient historical truth as a Greek Catholic and be prepared to be called a “Latinizer.”

At some point one has to realize this is all very silly (if not terribly sad). There is no form of triumphalism on this earth that is in any way, shape, or form defensible. Moreover, in a day and age where mankind’s historical horizon stretches to unprecedented lengths, the ignorance which certain bands of Apostolic Christians cling to for dear life are as lamentable as they are perverse. The Church neither began in 1563 nor ended in 1054. Our Lord Jesus Christ had 12 Apostles, not one. No one thought until recent centuries that pious devotions ranging from Novenas to Akathists should displace the Divine Office. Oh, and by the way, “thought” is not a late-medieval Scholastic innovation, either.

Ephemera XVIII: I Will Not Divide You

He Will Not Divide Us (HWNDU), the unity-art project spearheaded in part by the habitually underwhelming actor Shia LaBeuof, is paying some of the best comedic dividends of 2017. Launched on January 20, HWNDU is a live stream camera positioned outside of the Museum of Moving Image in New York; visitors are encouraged to chant, “He will not divide us!” repeatedly for the next four years in response to Donald Trump’s Presidency. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for Internet trolls over at 4chan and other online forums to begin popping up on the feed, spouting everything from white-supremacist rhetoric to calls to retake Constantinople from the Turks. LaBeuof even managed to get himself arrested for assaulting a man live on camera that he believed was a Trump supporter. For an insomniac such as myself, the feed has been a beloved source of entertainment over the past few days, particularly after 1am EST when the trolls really start to come out. Granted, I would not call their behavior edifying, but the entire project — which is childish, vain, and, ironically enough, divisive to the core — was just asking for something like this to happen. And though HWNDU supporters are calling the trolls “neo-Nazis” despite the fact many of them appear to be either Asian or Hispanic, it stands to reason that most just see this as a splendid opportunity for 15 minutes of Internet fame. In this day and age, what more can anyone ask for?

For those who care, I have not given up on my “A Year of 100 Books” project; I just haven’t had time to post updates lately. After my bout with Eire’s Reformations, I am giving myself the grace to take my foot off the pedal for a bit. The problem now confronting me is what to read. Several times now I have found myself staring at my bookshelves (and mountains of books stacked up around my shelves) wondering what I ought to tackle next. Part of me wants to avoid thematic reading, but that’s hard to avoid. There isn’t a single book to be read which doesn’t call to mind a half-dozen more that I should get around to. I had thought of scribbling down 25-30 titles, placing them into a hat, and pulling from there. Knowing my luck, however, every tome I selected would be lengthy and, really, it would take me weeks to settle on a list of candidates. Better to just look-and-grab for now.

“Are you ever going to do anything in aviation law again?” An acquaintance asked me this question the other week. I quickly replied, “No . . . well . . . maybe?” It has been over two  years since Cambridge University Press published my book, The Principles and Practice of International Aviation Law, and I have had little desire to pen another word about it outside of a few random blog posts and a contribution to The National Interest. Whenever I take a glance at aviation legal scholarship, I find myself feeling much like I did when I started writing my book: underwhelmed. Though certain aviation-law aficionados took umbrage with my claim that the aviation law field is woefully under-theorized and most aviation scholarship remains unimpressive, no one has actively tried to overturn either thesis. They would prefer to leave the nasty truth alone rathe than confront it head on. After all, there are careers at stake, and if those outside of the narrow circle of aviation-law scholars knew the truth about the banality of the field, they may opt to either overtake it or perhaps even bury it. So it goes. Despite my initial protestations to the contrary, there is a part of me that feels I will go to the grave believing that aviation law, as a particular subject of study, is as absurd as the “law of the horse” that Judge Frank Easterbrook mocked so many years ago.

Part of me feels like I should say something about the ongoing Knights of Malta/Pope Francis debacle. I will limit myself to this observation. The alleged usurpation of the largely symbolic Military Order of Malta’s sovereignty by the Pope pales in comparison to the usurpation of authority the sui iuris Eastern Catholic churches have endured at the hands of the Pope and other Roman authorities for centuries. Thankfully, after more than a century of calls for the Eastern churches to effectively be themselves by governing themselves from top to bottom, things have started to change, though there is still a great deal of work to do. Latin Catholics who are concerned about the Pope meddling in the affairs of his own particular church should be doubly, even triply, critical when the Pope wandering into the jurisdictional space of other churches. It rarely causes anything but trouble. Maybe when some Eastern patriarch or another starts issuing highly ambiguous exhortations that appear to give his clerics license to commune those living in objective mortal sin, it will be necessary — following an appeal — for the successor to St. Peter to step in lest scandal and schism break loose throughout the Mystical Body of Christ. Let us pray such a day never comes.