Monday, September 17, 2007

Cultural history is written by dissenters
While it is often said that history is written by the winners, the truth is that the cultural images that come down to us as history are written, in large part, by the dissenters.
In other words for every story of how awful secular and ecclesiastical life were in the 1950s there are probably at least 10 people whose stories are not heard/are suppressed, like my father confessor who was taught by black-and-white-habited Sisters of St Joseph in an eastern US city and loved every minute of it. Liberal bias in the schools is probably much to blame. Traditionalists are often accused of romanticising that era but Alan Ehrenhalt via Rod Dreher gives some needed balance to that charge.
They are still around, the true believers of the 1950s, in small towns and suburbs and big-city neighborhoods all over the country, reading the papers, watching television, and wondering in old age what has happened to America in the last thirty years.
Why I like upstate Pennsylvania.
If you visit middle-class American suburbs today, and talk to the elderly women who have lived out their adult years in these places, they do not tell you how constricted and demeaning their lives in the 1950s were. They tell you those were the best years they can remember. And if you visit a working-class [Roman] Catholic parish in a big city, and ask the older parishioners what they think of the church in the days before Vatican II, they don't tell you that it was tyrannical or that it destroyed their individuality. They tell you they wish they could have it back. For them, the erosion of both community and authority in the last generation is not a matter of intellectual debate. It is something they can feel in their bones, and the feeling makes them shiver.
Thomas Day (read his books) nails this too. He explained American RCs to me. He’s no nostalgist but points out that many/most ordinary people didn’t experience the pre-conciliar church as the shop of horrors the secular media and the house-organs in much of the official church today make it out to be.

Reaching farther back in history into my own heritage most English people in the 1500s weren’t chomping at the bit to break free from the big, bad Pope and ‘reform the church’. (Regarding the latter old King Harry intended no such thing.) AFAIK Eamon Duffy (yes, a Roman Catholic) was right. The place was taken from communion with its patriarch (the chap in Rome) and the rest of Western Europe by force. You don’t see that on PBS — the (Liberal) Protestant or Post-Christian Broadcasting System — or the walls of St Gregory’s, SF: all the people Liz I tortured and killed.

Dreher doesn’t like libertarianism:
There is no such thing as a community of strong individualists.
If he means selfishness as I understand Ayn Rand believed in he’s right, but that’s no more the breadth of libertarianism than some Irish Jansenist stereotype (like this cartoon character) all of Catholicism.

I and I think Dreher aren’t sure what the means are to his noble goals of ‘crunchiness’ (authenticity and good stewardship) and true community. A kind of (thank you, C.S. Lewis) theocratic fascism (which Ave Maria, Florida reminds me of — a revival of a very American and Protestant perfectionism you usually see now as political correctness, or Christianity without Christ) isn’t the answer.

A clue is remembering that even relativist individualists can and do share many beliefs in common, falling broadly under the harm principle (do what you want as long as you don’t harm others).

So rather like the invisible hand in economics people doing what makes sense for their own benefit end up with a good society. And the same freedom that says people have the right to be wrong also gives the church room to flourish with the truth both self-evident and converting people by persuasion — even in the form of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park as the old Catholic Evidence Guild used to do — not coercion.

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