Anti-Socialist Tendencies

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Great news for bibliophiles: The California Digital Library has now made a wide selection of University of California Press books available for free online at eScholarship Editions. Some of the books are unfortunately accessible only by faculty, staff, and students of the UC system, but many others are available to the public at large.

There are some really great titles there, based just on my relatively limited perusal . I was happy to see Victor Davis Hanson's Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece and The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (both, alas for most of you, UC access only). One that I just recently finished and recommend, and is publicly accessible, is Jenny Franchot's Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism. It explores antebellum Protestant views of and reactions to Catholicism in America, ranging from the fantastical "Maria Monk" type of breathless exposés to the tensions and self-criticism engendered by increasing exposure to a form of Christianity considered a rival to those envisioned as part and parcel of Americanness. I'm sure you'll find plenty more titles to match your own interests too.

Monday, December 29, 2003

The questionable basis for the claimed history of Wicca is probably old news for most of you, but there is a very good extended exploration of the issue here: The Scholars and the Goddess. It shows how the claims of Wicca as having its origins in a prehistoric Mother-Goddess worshipping matriarchy simply do not stand up to the historical facts, resulting more from advocacy scholarship than a rigorous examination of the evidence.

As the article points out, however, these facts really should not have much significance for the typical Wiccan believer. Wicca's eschewing of dogma and any true theology, combined with the basic irrelevance of historicity to its beliefs, renders it largely impervious to any damage similar claims might have to other religions. After all, Wicca is mainly about ritual experiences and an easy-going ethics rather than a serious, all-encompassing dedication to metaphysical Truth:

Practicing Wicca is a way to have Christianity without, well, the burdens of Christianity. "It has the advantages of both Catholicism and Unitarianism," observes Allen Stairs, a philosophy professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in religion and magic. "Wicca allows one to wear one's beliefs lightly but also to have a rich and imaginative religious life."

It's interesting to speculate how the latter may be partially a response to Protestantism's largely thorough rejection of sacramentality and occasional uneasiness with the full implications of the Incarnation. The claims of rabid anti-Catholics that the Sacraments are "pagan rituals" are in one sense not so far off in that both are addressing the human need for tangible expression of spirituality and the engaging of both mind and body in belief. Wicca thus may be in part a reaction to malnourishment of this need in later Protestant culture. Add in a post-1960s mentality and you get a turning toward esoterica and occultism instead of toward Catholicism or Orthodoxy to fill it.


Here's an interesting review of a new book on the "Doctors' Plot" in Stalin's Russia, entitled Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953. The incident involved claims by the Party that there existed a conspiracy among Jewish doctors to medically assassinate prominent Kremlin leaders:

On January 13, 1953, just six weeks before Stalin died, an ominous article appeared in Pravda: The ever-vigilant Soviet authorities had "discovered" that several Kremlin doctors, mostly Jews, were in fact killers sent by American intelligence to destroy the nation's leaders. For Soviet Jews, this terse disclosure about the "killers in white gowns" ushered in a period of fear and terror unusual even in a society where arbitrary arrests, denunciations and executions had become routine.

During that terrible winter, Jewish children came home from school bruised and beaten. Jews were assaulted on public buses, and patients shunned Jewish doctors. Dark rumors started to circulate that the government had decided to deport Soviet Jewry to the remote wastes of Birobidzhan, the Jewish autonomous region in the Far East. There were whispered reports of barracks and freight trains. Those in the know confirmed that famous Soviet Jews -- including violinist David Oistrakh and ballerina Maya Plisetskaya -- were told to sign a letter to Stalin that implored the Great Father to protect their nation from the wrath of the Russian people and noted that Siberia might be the perfect refuge from the imminent pogroms.

What is new in this book is that it goes beyond the usual interpretation of this incident simply being a dramatic instance of Soviet anti-Semitism to claim that it was an initial step in a broader political machination conceived by Stalin:

...Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov argue that the Doctor's Plot was much more than just another attack on Jews. Using government and secret police documents hitherto unavailable to researchers, Brent and Naumov assert that the plot was orchestrated by Stalin to justify a new purge of the party and the police and to prepare the country for a war with the United States. The choreography of the plot was extremely complex and tied together many different events: the heart attack of Politburo member A.S. Shcherbakov in 1945; the Lysenko affair, in which a crackpot biologist promised to revolutionize Soviet agriculture and successfully terrorized his fellow scientists; the death of Politburo member Andrei Zhdanov in 1948; the execution of the Leningrad Party leadership in 1950, and the arrest of Ministry of State Security head Abakumov in 1951. All this played out against a backdrop of rising tension with the United States and Stalin's rabid suspicion that all Soviet Jews were potential American agents.

All in all, the article is yet more evidence that in the History's Worst Criminal Pageant it is indeed Stalin, and not Hitler, who deserves the crown.

Friday, December 19, 2003
Doing Our Part to Bust the Budget!

Last week a rash of anti-Schwarzenegger graffiti broke out on campus. Included were such gems as "Defend Your Education -- Stop Arnold!", "Stop Budget Cuts!", and "Don't Let Your Education Get Terminated!" Of course, it seems to not have occurred to our brave poseurs that cleaning up after them is yet another loss of money for the university! That, and the fact that vandalizing school property is an awfully strange way to demonstrate how much you value your education.

Sociology majors, definitely.


The American Conservative (which I don't usually like) has an excellent essay on how Edmund Burke illustrates what conservatism means. An excerpt:

Conservatism does not lend itself easily to schematic, didactic exposition, and conservatives do not readily engage in it. In introducing his anthology The Conservative Tradition, R.J. White defensively (or perhaps smugly and archly) claims, "To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the atmosphere or give an accurate description of the beliefs of a member of the Anglican Church. The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living."

Bearing this resistance to formal treatment in mind, it is perfectly in character that what is widely accepted as the ablest and most influential statement of conservative views--Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France--is not a systematic statement of a position but a polemic reacting to a particular political situation: an unprecedented upheaval in the most illustrious and powerful country in Europe. Embedded therein, in unsystematic fashion, are the tenets of a political philosophy.

As longtime readers will know, I was absolutely blown away by Burke's Reflections, finding (a la Chesterton) line after line of insight that resonated with my developing viewpoint. Burke not only expresses the heart of the conservative vision but also the truths that leave utopian revolutions condemned to metamorphose into the bloody depredations of the Great Terror. If you have not yet read the Reflections yet, do so; if you are trying to convince someone else to, passing along this article would be a good first step.


Last time I forgot to add the blog of WorldNetDaily's Vox Day, Vox Popoli, and Kathy Shaidle's Relapsed Catholic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

By now you've no doubt noticed that the blogosphere is abuzz over Cardinal Renato Martino's complaints about Saddam's post-capture treatment. The Cardinal's comments were wrong and stupid. Wrong, because Saddam was not subjected to anything exceptionally humiliating, and over the long term the publicity of the capture might reduce future wrongdoing. Stupid, because by appearing to be more concerned with Saddam than his victims, he tarnishes our Church's reputation and destroys its ability to credibly voice legitimate concerns on these issues.

That said, it is true that, as Mark Shea points out, there is still a grain of truth in the Cardinal's foolish statement. Despite his crimes, Hussein is still a human being and should be treated as such, whether deservedly by worldly standards or not. Justice, after all, is subverted not only by exempting the guilty from earned punishment but from also depriving them of the protections due any man by the simple fact of his humanity.

Deus Hoc Vult?

This incident brings to mind the puzzlement I sometimes feel over the pro-war blogosphere's reactions to the Church's negative statements about the war. I support the war wholeheartedly, and think that some of these statements have been foolish and misguided, but I cannot fault the basic motive here. As Mark says:

I also don't begrudge the Church when it counsels mercy instead of humiliation. On the whole, I'd rather have the Church err on that side than have ministers of grace pump their fist in the air and say, "Burn the bastard!"

For what exactly is it that the Hawks would like the Church to say instead? Perhaps "Go forth with Our blessing to slaughter the infidel! God wills it!" would be nice? A return to the rhetoric of, say, the 11th Century? Or of today's Wahhabi imams? It is the Church's job to say instead: "Do not rush into violence. Be cautious and introspective. Do not let rage rule you. Be sure your cause is just, and if it is, do not arrogantly take that as justification for doing whatever you please in the tasks required. Above all, lose neither your humanity nor your respect for the humanity of your foe." That is a voice that any decent civilization will want in its ranks. Does the Catholic Church meet this ideal unfailingly, in each and every one of its spokesmen? Of course not. But I cannot condemn genuine attempts to do so on principle, even if they be done foolishly and ineptly.

On Schism As Solution

I pointed out Mark Shea's posts on this to Porphyrogenitus after reading his thoughts here. Regarding Porphy's comment "I will say that Catholics might start consider[ing] an old fashioned schism," I playfully responded "You are thinking like a Protestant and not a Catholic/Eastern Orthodox on that one!" to which he replied here. He makes some very good points, but it seems we had in mind different conceptions of "schism." Rather than a process of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, I had in mind more the later Protestant tendency to split off and form one's own denomination as a "solution" to disagreements, in contrast to the higher premium that the Catholics (and Orthodox, though perhaps less so) place on continued unity. The latter does tend to promote a "muddling through" situation, but practically and especially theologically is usually the more defensible path.

That is not to say schism cannot have positive effects, though they are not so beneficial as to justify the division of Christianity. Needed reforms in the Catholic Church did occur due to the catalyst of Luther. It can also be argued that the birth of Protestant denominations, with their accessible evangelical faith and easily "portable" style of religion that increasingly needed less and less of a support system, led to Christianity becoming more widespread than it might have otherwise. But keep in mind that this came at the cost of blood on both sides, a major loss of resources both human (talent, insight, intellect) and material for the Catholics, and a thoroughgoing abandonment of 1500 years of Christian heritage and increasing factionalism for Protestants.

As for the Catholic Church making the changes it needs at the moment, I see the eventual solution coming. It's not in Porphy's type of schism but rather a housecleaning of sorts through a largely voluntary attrition and exodus of liberal elements (the beholden-to-the-UN types) in Western Europe and the US combined with the continued rise to prominence of the traditionalist clergy of the Southern Hemisphere. I see it as essentially a less messy version of what is currently going on in the Anglican Communion. Perhaps expecting that is wildly optimistic on my part, but it would certainly be a better path to revitalization than the more destructive possibilities.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Newly added are Ghost of a Flea, Bad Eagle, Conservative English Major, and the hilarious Blame Bush. Check them out!


...and should be blogging again soon. After all, what better way to rest after having dug oneself out from under a major writing project than writing some more!