Thursday, May 26, 2016

CORPUS CHRISTI: Lessons from Nature and History

(first published June 19, 2014)

Dr. Pence writes on this feast day, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (a holy day of obligation in the universal Church; and a national holiday in countries such as Brazil, Portugal, and Poland) --

The feast of Corpus Christi seldom inspires dialogue with Protestants. This is unfortunate, for much more than theological formulations of justification and faith, it is the sacral priesthood’s irreplaceable role in forgiving sins and bringing the Eucharist to the faithful that divides Catholic and Protestant.  The consecrated Apostolic Priesthood and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist are indivisible truths. The faithful Protestant with a Bible in his hand, a heart for his Savior, and the name of Jesus on his lips cannot fathom that liturgical actions of the sacramental priesthood are an indispensable means to proximity with Christ. The personal faith of the Reformers has trumped the priestly works of the Papists.

In the same way as Andrew did with Peter, Catholics run to our brothers saying: “We see the Messiah. Come and be with Him; come and be with us.” We know that believing Protestants want to hear us, but it is a hard saying. They want to be close to Christ. They say He is their personal friend and Savior, and they mean it. But especially during Corpus Christi processions and Eucharistic Adoration hours, the Catholics seem so radically different.

Catholics kneel and say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” – expressing the awe and veneration owed to the God who made heaven and earth. We join the centurion in saying that we are not worthy that Christ should enter under our roof. In the Holy Communion that immediately follows, He enters under our roof and our souls are healed in an act of incorporation beyond any act of friendship.
   from "Last Communion of Saint Jerome" by Botticelli

Why don’t Catholics display the continued unrelieved intensity of a “personal relationship with Christ”?  Because we live in a different sort of emotional universe.  At times we do not dare the familiarity of friendship, as we take off our sandals with Joshua and “fall down and worship.” Other times we know the communion of theosis for which friendship is too sparse a term.  We admire the intensity of our Evangelical friends, but we should neither envy nor imitate the one-dimensional emphasis on friendship that compensates for centuries apart from the Eucharistic presence. Receiving the Lord in the Eucharist introduces a kind of interpersonal consummation, which generates an abiding peace.  This rhythmic liturgical experience of Presence is less excitable than the enthusiasm of college friends; but like marriage, it is a deeper communion.

Corpus Christi invokes an irresistible lesson from the Book of Nature as well.  Bacteria were the first forms of physical life created 3.8 billion years ago. Bacteria live as single cells or in colonies. They consist of prokaryotic cells, which have no nuclei and multiple coverings – a membrane, a cell wall, and a capsule. Around 2 billion years ago, one of the great transformations in life-forms occurred as certain bacteria lost some of their external coverings (the capsules) and merged with other bacteria to form something new: eukaryotic cells. This type of cell was larger and had a nucleus. Most importantly, the new cells had fewer coverings, and the membranes of their cells were capable of much more complex social interaction with other cells. These cells would develop over time with a capacity to “incorporate” into multi-cellular organisms.

These new eukaryotic cells would become the multi-cellular organisms of the protist, fungal, plant and animal kingdoms.
[The protist kingdom is that of amoeba and algae; the ‘silly putty’ of the biological world, or the living goo from which emerges the more defined forms of plants and animals].


I have always pictured this event as the best biological analogy to the capacity of persons with spiritual souls to be incorporated in the Body of Christ. There is something about shedding an outer self to allow a deeper bonding in a new multidimensional organism that resonates. The sacraments of Initiation and Holy Orders seal our souls with indelible characters that configure us in a radically transformed mode of living. The feast of Corpus Christi calls us to consider this truth: that Christ is fully present in the Eucharist and being incorporated in Him (and participating in His Sonship) is the way members of our species are going to live forever in the Father’s household.  

UPDATE:  From a letter of J.R.R. Tolkien to his son (November 1, 1963) --
"But for me, that Church of which the Pope is its acknowledged head on earth has as its chief claim that it is the one which has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament and given it most honor and put it as Christ clearly intended in prime place.  'Feed my sheep' was His last charge to St. Peter… It was against this that the West European revolt (or the Reformation) was really launched – 'the monstrous fable of the Mass' – and faith/works a mere red herring."

"Oculi omnium in te spirant, Domine:
 et tu das illis escam in tempore opportune."

(The eyes of all look towards you in hope, O Lord:
 and you give them their food in due season.)

"Ecce Panis Angelorum, factus cibus viatorum."

(Behold this bread of Angels
Which hath become food for us on our pilgrimage.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Catholic Sociobiology: Feasts of Communio -- Trinity and Corpus Christi

by David Pence

The weeks after Pentecost, the Church meditates on the great communions at the heart of Catholic Sociobiology. The Octave of Easter, the Sunday after Easter, she meditates on Trinity Sunday. The Thursday after Trinity Sunday she considers the Body of Christ in the Feast of Corpus Christi. This day was chosen  to recall the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. Thursdays were also often designated by parishes as the special day for short periods of Eucharistic Adoration.

Over the last century the practice of reception of Communion by Catholics at daily Mass in the local parish has become a trademark communal prayer where Catholics "think cosmically and act locally" by uniting themselves in the Living Organism of the Body of Christ through the Liturgy.
Priest in Nigeria

Monday, May 23, 2016


An Introduction to the Geography and History of Central America

By A. Joseph Lynch

Central America is comprised of seven Christian (mostly Catholic) nations: Belize (335,000), Costa Rica (4.7 million), El Salvador ( 6.1 million), Guatemala (14.4 million), Honduras (8.5 million), Nicaragua (5.8 million), and Panama (3.6 million). Today's Map on Monday, however, will consider Belize and the five nations that had been part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Panama, due to its strategic importance as well as its historic ties to the nation of Columbia and the short-lived republic of Gran Columbia, will be treated separately.

The geography of Central America is that of a tapering isthmus, running from the northwest at its widest to its narrowest point in the southeast. While the region shares land borders with Mexico and South America, most of Central America faces the ocean: the Pacific to the west and south, the Caribbean to the east and north, and the Gulf of Mexico further north. Central America also sits on what is called the Caribbean plate, which it shares with the island nations of Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico (Cuba sits on the North American Plate). Central America is also very mountainous with the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the Cordillera Isabelia and the Cordillera de Talamanca as the three longest ranges in the region.

From 1523 to 1697, conquistadors brought the region under Spanish rule. In 1609, the area was given some autonomy in military and administrative affairs. Ruled by a governor-captain general, the region remained part of the Spanish Empire but was directed locally by a competent man with the crown's approval. Napoleon's intervention in Spanish affairs in Europe brought about independence movements in the region. On March 15, 1821, the region enacted the Act of Independence of Central America and spent the next two years as a member of the Mexican Empire. In 1823, it seceded from Mexico to form the Federal Republic of Central America, a representative democracy with its capital at Guatemala City. A lack of national identity eventually drove the region into civil war from 1838-1840 leading to the creation of five separate nations: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

The land making up the nation of Belize did not become part of the Spanish Empire due to its lack of precious metal resources and its proximity to strongly held Mayan defensive positions. The British eventually began to settle the area for use in military engagements with the Spanish. Belize was called British Honduras from 1862-1973 before gaining its independence in 1981. It is strategically located between Central America, the Caribbean, and the Mexican/American north. Belize, thus, also acts as a cultural bridge between the Anglophone Caribbean/America and the broader Spanish-speaking world around it.

This post originally appeared on Anthropology of Accord on July 6, 2015.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


(first published June 15, 2014)

"When we speak of the Trinity, we must do so with caution and modesty, for, as St. Augustine saith, nowhere else are more dangerous errors made, or is research more difficult, or discovery more fruitful."    
                    (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

by Dr. David Pence

The coming of Jesus announced a Messiah for the Jews, proclaimed a new Kingdom amidst the nations, dethroned the Enemy Prince, and revealed the mystery we contemplate on this day -- that the God-made-man is one Person in a Trinity.

"Even our God is a community," said G.K. Chesterton. Humans will overcome death only by entering into this triune God as sons of the Father, incorporated into the Body of the Son. The Spirit will bind us properly if we humbly let Him act… and He acts through the sacramental Church. He indelibly conforms our souls into Christ's Body through Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. The Trinity, marriage and the family, Holy Orders and the Church – these are the communions we know as Catholics.

Our proposal here at Anthropology of Accord is that the communal bond of men in nations is the natural polity which ensures the freedom of those more sacred bonds of Church and marriage. In different places and times in history the masculine public polity might have been fellow tribesmen and a warrior chief, or the Emperor and his subjects, or the 'polis' and its citizens. But, today, from Singapore to Germany, from Canada to China, from Brazil to Poland, and from Egypt to the Philippines the natural bond of men in public communal work and protection has developed in the form of territorial nations.  The Scriptural template of this masculine national form is the ritual of circumcision and the forging of one nation under a Law from the twelve tribes of Israel. The nation was built on a forgiving act of brotherly reconciliation.  It is our hope that Catholic theologians and philosophers would spend some fraction of their attention on history and the relationships of the natural armed authorities, which constitute public life and the legitimate State. Possibly the next three graduate students who request to study the Theology of the Body might be reassigned to a project studying how Singapore got to be the polity it is today. We could call it the "theology of the corporate body" if that would make this ancient study of the natural polity more palatable. It was such men making civic agreement and the peace of 'Tranquillitas Ordinis' whom Christ had in mind when He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Marriage is an important but not all-embracing covenant. Neither the Church nor the nations are families writ large. Christ did not found His church on a sacral marriage, nor was the bond of sacred honor which forged America the union between George and Martha Washington!  Both the Catholic Church  and the American nation are founded on sacral covenanted brotherhoods of adult men.  Religious and political public life are both defined by public communal and masculine loves which include the apostolic priesthood and the particular territorial loves of men for their fatherland.  The 20th century Catholic thinker who best navigated in the waters of Christianity and the formation of political cultures in history was Christopher Dawson:

The most articulate explanation of the dilemma of present-day Catholic political thought, scissored between the sacral relations of marriage and the Church, has been presented by Russell Hittinger.

On Trinity Sunday let us pay heed to the nature of our communal bonds – all of which in their proper order give glory to that greatest of bonds – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

UPDATE: Here is an earlier review of Christopher Dawson’s Judgment of the Nations.

And a fascinating address given by Professor Hittinger on the troubled interaction of nations and theology.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, May 21

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE COMMISSION ON FEMALE DEACONS: A commission to study female deacons - who were they? It would be a very good idea to study how the ordained male clergy of deacon/priest/bishop has developed differently than the female tradition of service through religious orders. Cardinal Mueller of the CDF would be an excellent man to lead the study since he has already written an authoritative book on the diaconate and priesthood. Here is an interview with him on the deaconess in the Church.

This Carl Olsen article has lots of excellent quoted references, but is marred by his all too familiar badgering of the pope. The good sisters were hitting the pope from every side like he was "a goalie taking shots from every side." The town-hall meeting was in good spirit which the sisters very much appreciated. However the idea that a study of deaconesses in the early church means Francis is open to ordaining women is beyond absurd. This report shows that in no way has the pope requested a study about the "ordination of women" and it gives a link to actual interview. This is another example of the pope in loving conversation; the progressives deliberately misinterpret him and the "fastidious orthodox" amplify the falsehoods. How often does one need to see this movie before he recognizes and finally tires of his assigned role?

EUROPE - A CATHOLIC REVIVAL OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE? An interesting historical review showing why Protestant Britain was not part of the first union. Now when they are considering a Brexit, the pope and many bishops urge them to stay. But some British Catholics do not see the EU as a charitable way to welcome migrants, but as the chief instrument erasing Christianity from public life. An interview with Alan Fimister on his book about one of the Catholic founding fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman of France. A very interesting exploration of papal thinking, of Jaques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the new Christendom, and of Schuman’s agreement with "the magisterium's demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith, through conversion of a 'numerical preponderance' of the electorate." The supranational democracy that Maritain dreamed of has not come to a good end. This interview is a bracing reminder that even the best of Catholic social thought cannot shape the reality of history.  As Pope Francis says, "Reality is more important than ideas." Now, we all have to recognize the reality that this supranational organization(the European Union) shaped largely by Catholic thinkers has become an enemy of Christianity and the nations.


BEN RHODES INTERVIEW AND OBAMA VS FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENTGood dissection of the interviewer and reactions by Fred Kaplan.  A response from the author - David Samuels. From Jewish magazine FORWARD - a peek into the Byzantine world of Jewish journalists. The long narrative interviews with President Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Ben Rhodes by David Samuels in the NYTimes magazine show a daring move by the President, Secretary of State Kerry and his communications aide to realign the Mideast and pull America from the Saudi/Pakistan-Sunni embrace that has made our foreign policy incoherent. They have not proposed this major alternative in public, so they too seem incoherent. These two articles are remarkable works of investigative and interpretive journalism. What seems very clear is that Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and Robert Gates had roles in all of these machinations but they were not the drivers of policy and may have been figureheads inadvertently covering a policy not made by them. Those old white folks played a similar fig leaf role in the Obama administration that Secretary of State Colin Powell fulfilled in the Bush White House.

SPACE: PROTECTING OUR SATELLITES - U.S. POSSESSIONS 22,000 MILES AWAY: A front as crucial as the South China Sea and Baltics. Except out here we have real interests.

CHINA - U.S. MILITARY ANALYSIS: A good source on China on the US military analysis of what they are up to. An understandable Chinese reaction to the US report.

SURROUNDING RUSSIA - PRESIDENT OBAMA HOSTS THE NORDICS: A Nordic Alliance? Over-sell of Russian Arctic threat? Building arms on the East Front of NATO. Arms dealer in chief - the paradox of President Obama.


EARLY TEXTS OF ISRAEL: Democracy, no religion, race, or sex discrimination. The reappearance of Israel as a territorial nation is certainly one of the great providential acts of our century. But early Zionists did not talk that way.

CHINA, VIETNAM, AND THE PHILIPPINES - CLAIMS ON THE OCEAN: Some maps and definitions of overlapping claims.



AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES -- AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LEO AND HARVEY MANSFIELD: The indoctrination on campus and the futility of the humanist Western Civilization professor.

PARODY AS POLICY; IS BRUCE JENNER REALLY ROSA PARKS? A sweeping directive - not binding but a threat enclosed. The great moral error of the Obama administration has been to portray the demonic, unnatural, anti-creation goals of Gender Ideology as a civil rights movement. Sexual confusion is not the culmination of the Christian civil rights movement, but its betrayal.

BRAZIL - THE LADY FROM THE LEFT REPLACED BY AN OLDER MAN, AN ALL-MALE CABINET, AND A GORGEOUS YOUNGER WIFE: South America’s largest nation is playing out its own version of sexual politics.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday BookReview: CRIME & PUNISHMENT -- "Raskolnikov is mad for rationality"



"The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
  The deeper the grief, the closer is God!"

Fyodor Dostoevsky's tale of the ex-student Raskolnikov, who kills an elderly pawnbroker and her sister, was published in 1866. (This followed Dostoevsky's return from long exile in Siberia).

A number of years earlier, when he was about 33, he penned these words to the widow of one of the men arrested back at the time of the Decembrist Revolt of 1825:
I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper and more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Saviour. I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more. If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth did really exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ, and not with truth.

Dostoevsky by David Levine

Who is the most insightful essayist on great literature? Hands down, it is a professor at Northwestern University: Gary Saul Morson.

Here are his thoughts on the motivation behind some of the horrendous crimes committed in the modern era. [Part 2 will appear next Friday].

One hundred and fifty years ago, when Dostoevsky published Crime and Punishment, Russia was seething with reform, idealism, and hatred. Four years earlier, the “tsar-liberator” Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) had at last abolished serfdom, a form of bondage making 90 percent of the population saleable property. New charters granted considerable autonomy to the universities as press censorship was relaxed. The court system, which even a famous Slavophile said made his hair stand on end and his skin frost over, was remodeled along Western lines. More was to come, including the beginnings of economic modernization. According to conventional wisdom, Russian history alternates between absolute stasis—“Russia should be frozen so it doesn’t rot,” one reactionary writer urged—and revolutionary change. Between Peter the Great (died 1725) and the revolutions of 1917, nothing compared with the reign of Alexander II.

And yet it was the tsar-liberator, not his rigid predecessor or successor, who was assassinated by revolutionary terrorists. The decade after he ascended the throne witnessed the birth of the “intelligentsia,” a word we get from Russian, where it meant not well-educated people but a group sharing a set of radical beliefs, including atheism, materialism, revolutionism, and some form of socialism. Intelligents (members of the intelligentsia) were expected to identify not as members of a profession or social class but with each other. They expressed disdain for everyday virtues and placed their faith entirely in one or another theory. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin were typical intelligents, and the terrorists who killed the tsar were their predecessors.

The intelligentsia prided itself on ideas discrediting all traditional morality. Utilitarianism suggested that people do, and should do, nothing but maximize pleasure. Darwin’s Origin of Species, which took Russia by storm, seemed to reduce people to biological specimens. In 1862 the Russian neurologist Ivan Sechenov published his Reflexes of the Brain, which argued that all so-called free choice is merely “reflex movements in the strict sense of the word.” And it was common to quote the physiologist Jacob Moleschott’s remark that the mind secretes thought the way the liver secretes bile. These ideas all seemed to converge on revolutionary violence.

The intelligentsia prided itself on ideas discrediting all traditional morality.

The hero of Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov, discusses disturbances then in progress, including the radicals’ revolutionary proclamations and a series of fires they may have set. But by nature he is no bloodthirsty killer. Quite the contrary, he has an immensely soft heart and is tortured by the sight of human suffering, which he cannot and refuses to get used to. “Man gets used to everything, the scoundrel!” he mutters, but then immediately embraces the opposite position: “And what if I’m wrong . . . what if man is not really a scoundrel . . . then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it’s all as it should be.” (All quotes from the text are taken from Constance Garnett’s Modern Library translation.) He means that man cannot be a “scoundrel” because that is a moral category, and morality is simply “artificial terrors” imposed by religion and sheer “prejudice.” There is only nature, and nature has causes, not moral purposes. It follows that all is as it should be because if moral concepts are illusions then things just are what they are.

As the novel begins, Raskolnikov alternates between horror at evil and assertions that evil does not exist. When he encounters a girl who has been made drunk and raped, and is being followed by another predator, he summons a policeman and gives his last kopecks to get the girl home. We know that Raskolnikov can’t pay his rent and eats only when the landlady’s servant brings him food at her own expense, yet he gives away the little he has to help a fellow creature. Nevertheless, a moment later Raskolnikov turns into a complete Darwinian amoralist: “let them devour each other alive.”

We wonder how Raskolnikov manages to hold such contradictory positions. Perhaps, as he surmises, he simply can’t shake the “dead weight of instinct” inculcated by religion in childhood. Or maybe his extreme sensitivity to suffering when he is powerless to alleviate it makes a doctrine denying evil’s existence attractive. From extreme moralism to absolute nihilism is but a step.

Raskolnikov asks: is there really any such thing as crime? He has in mind the sort of thinking familiar to us from Nobel Prize–winning economist Gary Becker and other “rational choice” theorists. In a classic article entitled “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,” Becker relates how he once found himself late for a meeting and wondered whether to park illegally. Multiplying the potential fine by the likelihood of being ticketed, he arrived at the “expected value” of the punishment, and concluded it was less than the potential benefit of timeliness. Then he reasoned: what if that is all there is to crime?

If so, there is no essential difference between illegal parking and murder. There are just different punishments. How many parking tickets equal a murder? Becker and Raskolnikov have decided, on “scientific” grounds, that there is no such thing as moral crime, just legal crime, however horrified benighted souls, clinging to nuns and religion, might be.

Even after confessing to murder, Raskolnikov does not think he did anything wrong: “Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he asks himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course, it was a legal crime, the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law . . . and that’s enough.”

Raskolnikov is mad for rationality. In addition to radical amoralism, he has also invoked another form of rationalism, then called utilitarianism, as a justification for the murder he plans to commit. His victim is to be an old pawnbroker, a greedy, cruel woman who not only preys upon her poor customers but also mistreats her kindly, simple-minded sister Lizaveta. Logic itself, he decides, prescribes her death.

According to utilitarianism, the fundamental criterion of morality is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. What if that entails murder? Sitting in a tavern, Raskolnikov overhears two students posing that very question. “On the one side,” one student explains, “we have a stupid, senseless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for and who will die in a day or two in any case. . . . On the other hand, fresh young lives thrown away for want of help by thousands.”

According to utilitarianism, the fundamental criterion of morality is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. What if that entails murder?

The conclusion is mathematically certain: “Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. . . . One death and a thousand lives in exchange—it’s simple arithmetic!” You can’t argue with arithmetic. For that matter, since the pawnbroker’s life is not just valueless but of negative value—she does positive harm—it would be moral to kill her even without using the money for a good purpose. Indeed, it is immoral not to kill her, since her death would increase society’s total utility.

Raskolnikov is struck by the coincidence that the students are discussing just what he is thinking, but Dostoevsky’s point is that these ideas are in the air. It is almost as if people don’t think ideas, but ideas use people to be thought. As Raskolnikov is aware, the city in which he lives is itself, as the first planned city ever built, an embodiment of abstract reason. Established in a swamp by order of Tsar Peter, and following the design of French utopian architects, the notoriously unhealthy Russian capital fostered the spirit of rationalism in its noxious air. That is why, on his way to murder, Raskolnikov finds himself considering a “totally irrelevant” thought about how city planning might improve the neighborhood.

Raskolnikov convinces himself that the murder he contemplates will occasion no guilt because it is not really a crime. Fifteen years later the revolutionaries who killed the tsar demanded amnesty because their crimes “were not crimes, but the fulfillment of social duty.” To think otherwise would be sheer “prejudice.”

Nevertheless, after the murder, Raskolnikov endures horrific pangs of conscience and an almost overwhelming desire to confess. Above all, he suffers from nightmares.

Nobody but Dostoevsky ever created such terrifying dreams. In one, Raskolnikov finds himself drawn to the pawnbroker’s flat, sees her seated with her back to him, and swings his axe onto her head to kill her again. But she doesn’t die. He swings again and again, and at last peers down into her face and discovers her suppressing her laughter. Evidently she has lured him to the crime in order to ruin him! He turns around only to find people pointing and laughing at him. Overcome with shame as well as guilt, he awakes in a fever.

The novel’s detective, one of Dostoevsky’s great creations, uses Raskolnikov’s feverish emotions to ensnare him. An apparent bumbler and a masterful psychologist—Peter Falk’s klutzy detective Columbo was loosely based on him—Porfiry Petrovich has read Raskolnikov’s article entitled, appropriately enough, “On Crime.” Connecting the evidence pointing to a “bookish” murder with Raskolnikov’s frantic desire to show he is not confessing, Porfiry Petrovich guesses who the murderer is. As adept a psychologist as his creator, he devises schemes to drive Raskolnikov to confess out of sheer overwrought nerves. As the murderer’s anxiety mounts, it almost seems as if author and detective are acting in concert against him, each setting traps and provoking terror.

One reason Porfiry Petrovich understands Raskolnikov so well is that he has once been like him. And so he gets inside his mind. At some moments he actually whispers to Raskolnikov the very words he is thinking as if he were a voice within. The supposed rationalist feels almost possessed. Strange to say, Porfiry Petrovich is arguably world literature’s most empathetic character.

Insanity threatens Raskolnikov, but it may have already overtaken the weird visitor who appears, almost supernaturally, in his room. Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov stands as another of Dostoevsky’s completely original characters, simultaneously terrifying and funny, cruel and generous, insane and rational. In fact, he is insane because he is so rational. Raskolnikov has already learned of him as a wealthy man trying to seduce his poor sister. To further his pursuit, Svidrigailov shrewdly takes advantage of accidental information proving Raskolnikov is the killer. But villainy is the least interesting part of his character.

Svidrigailov wholly accepts the complete amoralism Raskolnikov merely professes. Today he would be the perfect deconstructionist, one who realizes the full implications of his doctrine. Valuing nothing, he suffers from metaphysical boredom, and so has excited stronger and stronger sensations of whatever kind he can find. Sadism, gambling, debauchery, the seduction of a child, beating a servant to death: he has exhausted them all. And now he is haunted.

As Dante makes the punishments of hell appropriate to one’s sins, Dostoevsky has his madmen experience a hell appropriate to their philosophy. The ghosts who pay social calls on Svidrigailov are decorous, boring, and not the least bit otherworldly. In their triviality, they promise a world to come even more pointless than this one. “We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast!” Svidrigailov observes. “But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like an outhouse in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is?”

When Raskolnikov reproaches him with his monstrous crimes, Svidrigailov points to the oddity of a moralist murderer, but he is also ready with excuses. If, as the progressives argue, people are wholly the product of their environment, if free will is an illusion, and if crime derives solely from bad social conditions, then how, he asks, can I be personally responsible? “The question is, am I a monster or am I myself a victim?” Besides, he continues, even if I have grievously insulted others, well, “human beings in general greatly love to be insulted” because taking offense allows them to feel morally superior. Why, people even seek out ways to feel offended! My students, who know just what Svidrigailov has in mind, appreciate Dostoevsky’s relevance.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Christian Realism: An Honest man without God—the Dilemma of Francis Fukuyama [part 2]

[This is the concluding segment of David Pence's analysis of Francis Fukuyama].

In his afterword (to The End of History and the Last Man ) published 17 years later, Professor Fukuyama looks at his thesis and still holds that history has an end and the system that best offers the twin principles of liberty and equality will hail that end. What Hegel saw when that "great soul of the world" Napoleon bestrode a horse at Jena (October 1806) was a living manifestation that the monarchies were defeated, and Liberty and Equality vindicated. Mr. Fukuyama saw a continuation of the historical march toward the triumph of Liberty and Equality in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Another of his teachers, Samuel Huntington, predicted that out of the bipolar Cold War would emerge a clashing of civilizations. The West with its Enlightenment principles was one civilization among many. Fukuyama pays heed to his teacher but says they have one fundamental difference. Huntington believes that the "values and institutions" of the western Enlightenment "grew out of a European Christianity that will never take root outside the boundaries of that culture." Fukuyama sees that just as modern science grew out of a particular milieu but has been universalized, so with the institutions of liberal democracy. In the reappraisal of his thesis, Fukuyama grants that the nation state may remain the crucible for democracy rather than an international democratization. He does not see the Islamic revival as a religious refutation of his very secular paradigm. He agrees with French professor Oliver Roy (The Failure of Politicalized Islam; Globalized Islam: the search for a new Ummah)  that jihadist Islam is actually a political ideology. And while ideologies may shed blood, they will not prevail.

Fukuyama does grant a possible deficit with the triumph of  liberal democracy. Having attained the best form of polity, what kind of character will be favored? We may become well-fed animals—men without chests. We will recognize one another, but what kind of men will we have become? This is the problem of the "Last Man" in his title.


He deals with other misgivings  in subsequent books on Trust and The Great Disruption. Both deal with the formation of the social bonds necessary for democracy and some of the tendencies that break them down. In Trust he talks about the paradox of family values and the necessity to build trust beyond kinship ties. He introduces the notion of "wide radius" trust. This became a major theme of his encyclopedic world history book on the Origins of Political Order where he attributed the establishment of strong state institutions to the ability to move beyond social advancement by kinship (he called 'patrimony') to appointment by competence. Celibacy in the priesthood, Janissaries in the Muslim world, and civil service exams in China all move cultures beyond kinship to wider radii of trust. In The Great Disruption he saw individualism and the celebration of autonomy leading to the miniaturization of community. This, coupled with the social revolution in sex roles and technological revolution in birth control, disrupted the family as the first font of social cohesion. While larger political order is built on bonds other than family, the character built inside family stability is necessary for social order. Throughout these works on social capital, Fukuyama argues that the propensity for making rules to foster cooperation and sociability are inherent in human nature. And in the forward of The Great Disruption he translates the Latin epigram of Horace:

"You can throw out nature with a pitchfork,
But it always comes running back
And will burst through your foolish contempt in triumph."

The real quest of Francis Fukuyama is to tell the truth of "the whole of man." As Bloom said of him, "Fukuyama has introduced practical men to the necessity of philosophy now that ideologies are dead or dying." All of Mr. Fukuyama’s important teachers were atheists; and Mr. Bloom, whose last work was on love and friendship, was a homosexual. Mr. Huntington saw the West as an Anglo-Protestant culture. Maybe that is why the WASP professor didn’t think the West was as universal as his non-WASP student who was its defender. (Fukuyama is truly  a more global thinker than his Harvard teacher. His books on comparative political orders are unusually inclusive in treating China and India as pivotal States in the history of human development.)

Religion is treated by both teacher and student as a very powerful force which, like dynamite, can still blow things up but has been superseded in the modern nuclear age. Their disdain for nations and yet grudging recognition that they are not going anywhere should point them to their inadequate account of communal bonding and human nature. Fukuyama treats nations as irrational entities. "A political order based on Serbian ethnic identity or twelve Shi’ism will never grow beyond some miserable corner of the Balkans or Middle East…" He is kinder to "nations built on universal liberal principles." But he certainly does not ascribe the spiritual significance of the State and nation as a manifestation of the Absolute that Hegel felt so deeply in his bones.

The Harvard and Cornell and Chicago intellectuals have their disagreements. But together they do not believe in God. They have no understanding of the State or nation as a sacred male covenant under God that moves men well beyond kinship. There is no satisfactory treatment of the structure of public brotherly love which informs Apostolic Christianity. Even the French Revolution was clipped of its Trinitarian nature—liberty and equality were won by Fraternity. As good modern collegians, they do not speak of fraternity except as retrograde. That great soul on a horse, Napoleon, was buoyed by an army of men who loved him… and he loved them. The whole of man is not just about liberty and equality and being recognized. Man who was loved into existence is about loving in an orderly way and being loved back—that is the real root of man’s sociable nature that Fukuyama defends so eloquently, if incompletely. Just as surely the first seat of self-recognition is a mother’s gaze. And the next dozen events of social recognition are her willingness to decipher babble as speech and tripping as a first step. Thus, the utter social disaster of feminism—the true great disruption of nature that interrupted history. The betrayal of mother love for female autonomy was hinted at in a short chapter in The Great Disruption but, in obeisance to the inner feminist ever lurking in Ivy League males, no more was said.

Likewise, the treatment of thymos (or thumos) was divorced from its true basis in sociability -- the anger that virtuous men feel at injustice, not just toward individual rank but impiety to God or betrayal of country or desecration of a virgin. Thymos is the guarantee of social justice, not just personal esteem. It is a great contribution of Fukuyama to introduce thymos to those who have never heard of it. It elevates the discussion for "the practical man to hear from the philosopher." But the philosopher might want to learn from the theologian-philosopher if he really wants to give an account of "the whole man." Nicholas Lombardo’s The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion would be a good beginning for a fuller treatment. Dr. Fukuyama is a noble pagan who has thought about human nature and history in a much deeper way than all too many of our present-day Christian thinkers. He has corrected the brutal Hobbesian prescription of eternal war of the present day international "realists." They don’t understand his biological arguments well enough to know how well he has schooled them. In this era of religious wars and emasculated nations, however, we will need more than a noble pagan modulated by the feminist academia to explain human nature and the true end of history. Liberty and Equality without Love is no civilization at all. The dream of a West without religion or nations gives us men without chests and women without babies. Religious beings cannot rely on a pagan intellectual to appreciate the final social recognition that is the ultimate end of thymos. We seek to come face to face with the God who loved us into existence. We seek His approving gaze that will hold us forever in the state of love and communion. Just ask the martyrs and saints -- that is the ultimate social recognition.

(Note: I am still hoping someone will ask Professor Fukuyama if his father gave up Christianity for secular religious studies. Maybe we could enlist his great soul in the spiritual journey that goes in  the opposite direction.)

Fukuyama interview on End of History and Last Man in 1992 just after publishing.

Fukuyama in 'Conversations with History' -- an interview in 2011 with two decades of reflections on the book, subsequent books, and reactions.