It’s Raining in Grand Rapids

The New York Review of Books has a new essay up by Sue Halpern reviewing a recent documentary on Julian Assange. Proactively titled “The Nihilism of Julian Assange,” Halpern—through frequent references to the film—isn’t a big fan of Mr. Assange. In fact, she appears to downright despise him, which only makes sense since Assange, much to the chagrin of the Left, helped cost Hillary Clinton the American Presidency through a series of calibrated leaks. When Assange was releasing documents that embarrassed conservatives and exposed American misdeeds at home and abroad, he was a hero, a man of principles that risked all for the greater good. Now Assange is an unprincipled monster, an opportunist who keeps company with toxic nationalists like Nigel Farage, neo-Nazis in Australia, and allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin. As her praise of Edward Snowden reveals, Halpern is all for leaking classified material, just as long as it helps the “right causes.”

This is not surprising. Over the years, (in)famous leakers like Assange and Snowden have been praised or demonized across the political spectrum. When their work shows how liberal democracy is being compromised, then praise be; but if their work—specifically the work of Assange—apparently undermines the democratic process, then there are not enough condemnatory phrases in the English language available. While sideline legalists have various opinions on what, if any, laws a leaker like Assange has violated, it’s doubtful that his work will stop anytime soon. What’s unclear at this point is if that work will continue to assist the political Right or provide some new cover for the Left. Maybe it will be a bit of both. Either way, democratic legitimacy will continue to be bruised as those holding the reins of power are shown to be the hypocrites, opportunists, and unscrupulous careerists many already suspect.

And why is this a bad thing? Only those still wedded to a belief that liberal democracy has been anything other than a manifest failure should want to see it stand; those with eyes to see are starting to anticipate its long overdue demise. The worry in the air is, “What comes next?” And this is something leakers like Assange cannot assist in answering. The gulf between providing shocking intelligence and proposing a way ahead is radically wide. Assange and other leakers can unsettle the foundations; it is up to those exhausted by the Enlightenment’s lies to start writing the next chapter of the West. And to do that in a manner which is detached from the tenets of liberalism will be an impossible task so long as people insist on keeping some vestiges of the liberal order. Such reformist impulses are understandable, but betrays an absence of nerve and a lack of vision.

This a point missed by secular anti-liberals who believe the imminent plane can be transformed without reference to the transcendent. Talentless to the core, they advocate for steady-to-progressive reform that will meet their personal needs rather than accord with any higher conception of right. Whether motivated by fear or some base desire, those committed to a secular worldview have nothing to propose but ideas that will fail under all circumstances. No commitment to change, no longing for what must come after liberalism, can be actualized if it is motivated by little more than what makes us anxious in this life. Indeed, that is a pathway back to liberalism, as Leo Strauss demonstrated in his review of Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political. Fear, specifically fear of a violent death, becomes the basis for liberalism—an order that makes no demands while providing living space for frivolity, distraction, and discussion. Death is the foreclosure of existence-as-entertainment, not the pathway to eternity.

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.

2016 – 10 Most Popular Posts

With 2016 drawing to a close, I thought I would put together a list of the 10 most popular posts on Opus Publicum this year based on WordPress’s accounting. Although Opus Publicum is far away from ever being a “major web-log,” several posts managed to caught far more eyes than I anticipated. Overall, however, 2016 was a “down” year with respect to traffic, likely due to the fact that other endeavors occupied a large chunk of the year. Befoe proceeding with the list, I should note that the most popular post was not an original piece by yours truly, but rather an unofficial translation of Patriarch Sviatoslav’s comments on the “Joint Declaration” signed by Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba earlier this year.

  1. Patriarch Sviatoslav on the Joint Declaration
  2. More Francis Effects
  3. Francis Effects
  4. Heaven Forbid
  5. A Few Comments on “Life in the Orthodox Church”
  6. Council No More?
  7. Shea, Zmirak, and Catholic Politics
  8. Review: Christ’s Descent into Hell
  9. Another Traddie Sin
  10. Some Thoughts on the Recent Tridentine Mass Dustup


Theologizing as an Eastern Catholic


My previous post, “Some Brief Words on the ‘Orthodox in Communion with Rome’ Phenomenon,” along with a recent unedifying discussion with certain extremists from that camp, prompted me to revisit Fr. Andriy Chirovsky’s provocative 2014 talk, “Theologizing as an Eastern Catholic After Orientalium Ecclesiarum,” which was delivered at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of that document.

I don’t want to attempt summarizing the talk; I doubt I would do it full justice. However, let me say that Chirovsky represents a balanced understanding of what it means to be an Orthodox in communion with Rome, even if he does not use that particular expression here. That is to say, he understands that it is both necessary and proper to be both fully Orthodox, and fully Catholic while recognizing the historic difficulty of this position from the time of the Union of Brest onward. Moreover, Fr. Andriy puts on the table the reality that unlike the Orthodox, Eastern Catholics cannot simply dismiss Roman doctrines (or the formulation of those doctrines) as wrongheaded but must instead endeavor to understand them in a complementary fashion that remains true to the Christian East’s theological patrimony.

Some will, of course, harbor reasonable disagreements with some of Chirovsky’s observations, though even he admits that the talk is an exploration rather than a final declaration. He embraces, without apology, the need for Eastern Catholics, specifically Ukrainian Greek Catholics, to confront Roman teachings with an authentically Byzantine understanding, even at the risk of conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr. Andriy asserts this not in the interest of stirring up needless controversy or rejecting settled dogma, but as part of the Ukrainian Church’s larger witness to the importance of unity with Rome without falling prey to a subservient mentality.