What type of philosophy personalism is

Personalism is a philosophy, it is not merely an attitude.  It is a philosophy but not a system…its central affirmation being the existence of free and creative persons, it introduces into the heart of its constructions a principle of unpredictability which excludes any desire for a definitive system.  Nothing is more repugnant to it than the taste, so common today, for an apparatus of thought and action functioning like an automatic distributor of solutions and instructions; a barrier to research; an insurance against disquiet, ordeal and risk.  Moreover, a movement of original reflection should not be too quick to tie up the sheaf of its findings.

Emmanuel Mounier


Katie van Schaijik

The Dreyfus affair and clerical sex abuse

Apr. 7, 2010, at 4:14pm

Dismay over the recent defensiveness of the Vatican and lay Catholic spokesmen like George Weigel and Bill Donohue regarding media reports of clerical sex abuse cases and cover-ups has got me thinking again about the Dreyfus Affair.

I hope those who know it better than I do will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there is a clear parallel with the situation we face today.

In sum, in 1894 a Jewish captain in the French army was falsely accused and imprisoned for treason.

Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a [Catholic] French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. However, high-ranking military officials suppressed this new evidence and Esterhazy was unanimously acquitted after the second day of his trial in military court. Instead of being exonerated, Alfred Dreyfus was further accused by the Army on the basis of false documents fabricated by a French counter-intelligence officer, Hubert-Joseph Henry, seeking to re-confirm Dreyfus’s conviction. These fabrications were uncritically accepted by Henry’s superiors.

The officers involved evidently persuaded themselves and each other that if the truth were known, it would bring scandal on the military, the most important institution in Catholic France after the Church. In using Dreyfus as their scapegoat, they banked partly on the natural prejudice of the French public in favor of Catholics and against Jews.

It was the fiery public denunciations of the cover-up by the left-wing writer Émile Zola that forced a re-examination of the case and led finally to the complete exoneration of Dreyfus. The reputation of the Church in France never recovered.

The moral of the story is multi-faceted. Of course scape-goating is immoral. It also backfires. We cannot serve the reputation of the Church by covering-up injustice. (Can a skin graft heal a gangrenous wound?) Not only will the truth eventually come to light, but in the meantime, the infection is spread further throughout the body. More injustice has to be committed to keep the original one hidden. Those who are seeking the truth have to be vilified or silenced; those lying have to be protected, even favored.

Dreyfus was a Jew and Zola an anti-clerical secularist, yet, is it not obvious that every Catholic ought to stand on their side against the Catholic conspirators?

For how long did we Catholics shut our ears to the accusations we heard against priests and bishops, attributing the scandal to an anti-Catholic media culture?

It is with all this in mind that I read two recent articles by Jason Berry, the Catholic journalist who wrote the 1997 Hartford Currant piece that first made public the accusations of sex abuse against Legion of Christ founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. (He is also one of the authors of Vows of Silence, a book and DVD about the Legion.) Berry and the newspaper were widely vilified at the time by conservative Catholic Legion sympathizers for publicizing baseless, scurrilous attacks against a manifestly good and holy priest. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Bill Donohue, and Mary Ann Glendon, among others, publicly defended Maciel. By all accounts, Pope John Paul II himself trusted Maciel and refused to listen to his accusers.
But they were telling the truth; Maciel was lying.

This week Berry has a piece in the National Catholic Reporter revealing that Maciel paved his way in Rome by lavishing cash and gifts on certain key Cardinals and Vatican officials, including the late Pope’s personal secretary. He has another rather disquieting piece in Politics Daily today about “the Vatican’s point man” in the scandal, Cardinal William Levada, whose background does not inspire confidence.

I believe Pope Benedict is serious about “cleaning up the filth” in the Church. But there’s a awful lot of it, and I fear we will have to come to grips with more bad news before we can be confident that we’re on the side of truth and right when we defend the Vatican against journalists, not all of whom are anti-Catholic. I wish our intuitive solidarity in this matter were more readily with those who have been proven right rather than with those who have been proven wrong.

Joseph Bottum’s brief response to Berry’s NRC article in First Things’ Public Square is disappointing in its grudgingness. He takes some unnecessary swipes at the competition and fails to acknowledge either the role his magazine, among other conservative Catholic outlets, played in delaying justice in the case of the Legion, or the yeoman’s work Jason Berry has been doing, in the face of fierce opposition from fellow Catholics, to bring the truth to light.

Katie van Schaijik

Recommended reading

Apr. 5, 2010, at 11:21am

It’s not pleasant reading, but it’s worthwhile.

Václav Havel, the great Czech playwright and essayist, whose book The Power of the Powerless is on our short list of great readings in personalism, today calls on the international community to notice and unequivocally condemn the latest act of incipient tyranny in Venezuela.  When, after years of being a leader of the anti-communist cultural resistance in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, Havel was elected President of the emerging Czech Republic, his first public remark was, “I assume you did not elect me so that I, too, will lie to you.”

Classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hansen offers an admirable analysis of the Obama administrations characteristic postmodernism with its antipathy to truth.

Katie van Schaijik

Scruton on giving

Apr. 3, 2010, at 11:00pm

Even if you have only a little leisure for reading, try not to miss this offering by the great Roger Scruton.  He is not a Catholic, but he is a true philosopher and an intuitive personalist.  Note how like John Paul II he sounds:

When I give something I am present in the gift: it comes from me and is a symbol and an out-growth of the free self that is the moral heart of me. The gift comes wrapped in affection, an out-going of me to you that is created by the very act of giving. Even if the gift belongs to a context of ritual and reciprocity, it is something more than a bargain or a contractual exchange. It is I, going out to you.

I’d like to add many more quotes, but lack time.  Do read the whole thing.

Katie van Schaijik


Mar. 31, 2010, at 11:41pm

I am entering the Easter Triduum feeling overwhelmed as never before in my life with the tides of evil that seem to be sweeping the Church and society.

Now comes ray of light from the Vatican:

Pope Benedict XVI sees the priestly sex scandal as a “test for him and the church,” his spokesman said Wednesday, as bishops around Europe used Holy Week’s solemn call for penitence to announce new pledges of transparency in dealing with the abuse of children.

And from Cardinal Shoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at a service for victims:

“Thank you for breaking your silence,” Schoenborn told the victims. “A lot has been broken open. There is less looking away. But there is still a lot to do.”

God’s arm is not too short to save.
Full article here.

Katie van Schaijik

The priority of the personal in human happiness

Mar. 30, 2010, at 1:12pm

Interesting David Brooks column in today’s New York Times that begins by pointing to the case of Sandra Bullock (who won a Best Actress Oscar days before her marriage publicly fell apart) and asking whether readers would rather have a good marriage or a great career triumph.

Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

This is more than intuitive wisdom.

This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.

And it’s not just marriage.  It’s interpersonal relationships in general.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

Brooks proposes that our institutions begin paying more attention to the non-material factors in human well-being.  I’m all for it.

Katie van Schaijik

The personification of evil

Mar. 29, 2010, at 1:18pm

Two names given by Holy Scripture to the devil came to mind reading this article: Father of Lies and Legion.

According to some of the testimonies given to the apostolic visitors in recent months, some in this group knew about the founder’s double life, about the carnal acts he performed with many of his seminarians over the span of decades, about his lovers, his children, his drug use. But in spite of that, a fortress was built around Maciel in defense of his virtues, devotion to him was fostered among his followers, all of them unaware of the truth, his talents were emphasized, even among the upper hierarchy of the Church. This exaltation of the figure of the founder was so effective that even today it inspires the sense of belonging to the Legion among many of its priests and religious.

The cohesion of the leadership group, originating from its decades-long connection with Maciel, endures today in the bond that binds and subordinates everyone to Corcuera, and even more to Garza.

Garza concentrates two key posts in himself. He is vicar general, with control of administration, and he is the director of the congregation’s Italian province, headquartered in Rome, where the Vatican is. He took this second post shortly before the beginning of the apostolic visit, transferring his predecessor, Jacobo Muñoz, to the province of France and Ireland.

But in addition to this, Garza is the creator and absolute master of Grupo Integer, the holding company that acts as treasury and administrative center for all the works of the Legion in the world, with assets totaling an estimated 25 billion euros.

This groups with assets in tens of billions of dollars routinely send out fundraising appeals asking for money for its poor seminarians, who don’t have enough food of heat. 

I am finding it increasingly difficult to trust or respect anyone who remains affiliated in any way with this travesty of a religious order.

Katie van Schaijik

John Allen on Benedict’s handling of the issue

Mar. 29, 2010, at 12:02pm

Right after linking the Weigel piece below, I found this op-ed by John Allen in today’s New York Times. It’s good—as is a National Catholic Reporter article he wrote on the same theme a week or two ago.

The outside world is outraged, rightly, at the church’s decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.

Be that as it may, Benedict now faces a difficult situation inside the church. From the beginning, the sexual abuse crisis has been composed of two interlocking but distinct scandals: the priests who abused, and the bishops who failed to clean it up. The impact of Benedict’s post-2001 conversion has been felt mostly at that first level, and he hasn’t done nearly as much to enforce new accountability measures for bishops.

That, in turn, is what makes revelations about his past so potentially explosive. Can Benedict credibly ride herd on other bishops if his own record, at least before 2001, is no better? The church’s legitimacy rests in large part on that question.

Katie van Schaijik

Weigel on the sex scandals in the Church

Mar. 29, 2010, at 11:50am

This First Things article by George Weigel is worth reading. But I don’t find it entirely satisfying.

It’s not only those who are out to get the Church who are pushing this issue. It’s also those who love her most, and those who have been scandalized and appalled not only by the abuses themselves, but by the wretchedly inadequate response of the bishops so far.

And who can be mollified by statistics showing that the sexual abuse of minors happens as much elsewhere in society as it does in the Church? The outrage is that it was done by priests. It’s very depressing to hear bishops and the Vatican now complaining that the media is out to get them.

Katie van Schaijik

What is criticism?

Mar. 26, 2010, at 12:45am

Many and many is the time in my adult life I have tried to wave the banner for criticism—tried to rally fellow Christians to do it more, accept it more.   Socrates explained why way back: The one who proves me wrong is my greatest benefactor—because nothing is worse and more damaging to the soul than to commit wrong. It follows that those who show me where I’m going wrong do me great good.
Christians—so conscious of our imperfections and enjoined to be humble—should recognize that reality all the more, shouldn’t we? Don’t we know we are blind to our own faults? Don’t we see how many good works and good institutions have gone awry because they have shut their ears to honest criticism?
Yet, endlessly, those who criticize (I know because by vocation I’m one of them) are rejected for being “negative” and accused of “attacking” when we mean only to challenge or correct or admonish. The mention of an offense is received as an outrage—proof of non-friendship: “Obviously, you don’t like me”. The pointing out of a substantial flaw in approach is treated as Satanic persecution of a “good person” or a “work of God”. I’ve never understood this. I’ve been shocked and depressed by it. I’ve lost friends, and had to sever ties with certain causes and institutions because of it.
And, being a self-critic too, I sometimes suppose the break must be my fault. And sometimes it is. (I criticized without grace or sensitivity perhaps.) But sometimes it’s not. Regardless, criticism itself remains highly called for.
I have just come across a quote from a film critic (in a First Things article) (hat tip Arts and Letters Daily), Pauline Kael, that captures the point perfectly: “Criticism is all that stands between the public and advertising.” That’s it!
The critic plays in community the role of conscience in personal life—abuse-stopper, bogosity detector, discriminator, prophet. Without him we’re too prone to sensation and manipulation. Also, without him we’re all too likely to be content with mediocrity.

In this connection, I have to say that Roger Kimball’s Notes and Asides in the current issue of the New Criterion is worth the price of a year’s subscription to that excellent journal. Here is a sample paragraph (referring to Anthony Daniel’s critique of Ayn Rand, which I mentioned and excerpted in a post below.)

The New Criterion is primarily a journal of criticism. Anthony Daniels’s essay on Ayn Rand is a percipient exercise in that art. This is something that Rand’s acolytes cannot abide. Never mind that, early on in his piece, Dr. Daniels enumerates what he takes to be Rand’s virtues: “She was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease.” The fact that he goes on to dilate on her limitations and vices puts him beyond the pale for the Randian faithful. Dr. Daniels has assured us privately that the followers of Virginia Woolf are even more intolerant of criticism than the followers of Ayn Rand. Perhaps. If so, their intellectual sclerosis must be complete.

I am sorry to say that in my experience the brittle intolerance-of-criticism of Ayn Rand devotees is not unlike what I have found among many Christians.

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 5

Mar. 25, 2010, at 5:12pm

See below for the 5th and last part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 4

Mar. 25, 2010, at 4:12pm

See below for the 4th part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 3

Mar. 25, 2010, at 3:12pm

See below for the 3rd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience 2

Mar. 25, 2010, at 2:12pm

See below for the 2nd part of the comments elicited by Katie's post on Conscience

Katie van Schaijik

What is conscience

Mar. 25, 2010, at 1:12pm

A friendly behind-the-scenes dispute with a Linde reader on the topic of religious liberty has reminded me once again how widespread is the confusion about the nature of conscience in our day. Many take it to be nothing other than a license for religious and moral subjectivism. The duty to act according to conscience is twisted into a right to do whatever I want so long as I don’t see anything wrong with it.

So when a traditionalist Catholic hears someone (like me) claiming (as I do) that religious liberty is an imperative of human dignity, he thinks he is hearing a defense of relativism. When I say (following Newman) that conscience is the voice of God speaking in the human soul, he understands me to absurdly and dangerously identifying all sincere ideas and intentions with the voice of God.

My desire to clear up the misunderstanding sent me back to Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk section on conscience. In it Newman clearly distinguishes between a false and contemptible notion of conscience popular in his day (and ours) and the truth about conscience.

When [today] men advocate the rights of conscience, they…do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

If this is a person’s idea of conscience, it is no wonder that he thinks that the notion of religious liberty threatens the objectivity of truth! In fact, though, conscience properly understood, is nothing other than the subjective apprehension of moral truth and its implication for me as a free moral agent, answerable before God for my actions. Here is Newman again [my bold]:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding {247} the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.’”

So, as I put it to my traditionalist partner in dialogue:

The thing to do, when conscience is so widely and badly misconceived is to correct the misconception, not give in to it, and then treat conscience as something dangerous and doubtful and needing to be kept on a tight leash by authorities.

It is a great mistake for Catholics to think they can advance the cause of Truth by suppressing or downplaying or curtailing the rights of conscience. Only a laity with strong, free and clear consciences can possibly meet the emergency of our times. That’s why Vatican II made it so central a part of its teaching. A legalistic ethos that renders Catholics immaturely dependent on external authority will not answer.

Like Newman, my interest in freedom has everything to do with my interest in Truth and my interest in persons. Conscience is where Truth (highest, most momentous Truth) and persons meet, in the intimate interior of the soul. Hence, those who want to stifle conscience or limit its scope are—whether they realize it or not—calling for the oppression of persons—calling for them to be less intimate with God, less personally unified with Truth, more dependent on external authority.

You want consciences to be well and properly formed. Very good. So do I. But to do that we have to know what conscience is in the first place, viz. the voice of God in the human soul.

Katie van Schaijik

The nanny becomes a bully

Mar. 23, 2010, at 10:46am

The Australian think tank Institute of Public Affairs has published an insightful article by Patrick Basham (hat tip Mark Levin) foretelling the coming of the bully state. Governmental paternalism leads inexorably to governmental strong-arming. Concern for public health rapidly becomes demand for “healthy behavior”, quickly followed by all manner of coercion.

The past generation of welfare statism saw the unduly protective Nanny State bleed into every sinew of our daily lives. Sociologist David Marsland explains that, ‘Once you have a big welfare state in place, the excuse for state nannying is infinite in scale’, he says. ‘This ... continues the process of reducing self-reliance and handing responsibility for ourselves to external bodies.’

Yet, just when you thought things could not get worse, they did. Two years ago, Oxford University’s Nuffield Council of Bioethics published a seminal report that provided the international public health establishment with the explicit rationale for a dramatic change in the relationship between the citizen and the State.

Of course, the implications of the Nuffield Report extend far beyond health. Given the expansive way in which health is now defined, the state’s power to enforce behavioural change on individuals reaches considerably beyond the current notion of what falls within health care.

Katie van Schaijik

Power vs. service

Mar. 18, 2010, at 3:32pm

A quote from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (posted at the Corner by Andy McCarthy just now) expresses the cynical opposite of authentic personalism as well as the Christian gospel.

It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where “reconciliation” means that when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation[.]

Personalism seeks to replace the dynamics of power with the dynamics of love and service, because these are the only dynamics worthy of the dignity of persons, the ones we were made for, the ones in which we can flourish.

Katie van Schaijik

The de-personalizing Legion of Christ

Mar. 16, 2010, at 11:35am

I’ll have more to say on this article soon.

Katie van Schaijik

Christians in public

Mar. 11, 2010, at 11:51am

A friend pointed me to this recent address by Denver Archbishop Chaput on religion and public life. He approaches the subject by way of a thoughtful critique of a landmark speech by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to a group of Protestant ministers fifty years ago—a speech designed to allay fears about Kennedy’s Catholicism influencing his politics.

To his credit, Kennedy said that if his duties as President should “ever require me to violate my conscience or violate the national interest, I would resign the office.” He also warned that he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.” But in its effect, the Houston speech did exactly that. It began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties. And it set “the national interest” over and against “outside religious pressures or dictates.”
For his audience of Protestant ministers, Kennedy’s stress on personal conscience may have sounded familiar and reassuring. But what Kennedy actually did, according to Jesuit scholar Mark Massa, was something quite alien and new. He “‘secularize[d]’ the American presidency in order to win it.” In other words, “[P]recisely because Kennedy was not an adherent of that mainstream Protestant religiosity that had created and buttressed the ‘plausibility structures’ of [American] political culture at least since Lincoln, he had to ‘privatize’ presidential religious belief – including and especially his own – in order to win that office.”

The archbishop, again following Massa, points out that the secularization that followed as a consequence of Kennedy’s stress on separation of church and state is partly the fault of Protestant resistance to Catholics in public office.

[S]ome of the same people who worried publicly about Kennedy’s Catholic faith got a result very different from the one they expected. In effect, “the raising of the [Catholic] issue itself went a considerable way toward ‘secularizing’ the American public square by privatizing personal belief. The very effort to ‘safeguard’ the [essentially Protestant] religious aura of the presidency . . . contributed in significant ways to its secularization.”

Then he shifts to the remedy: A renewal of Christian action in public life—action grounded not on a theory or program, but on the personal influence of (mostly) laymen living lives rooted in a personal relationship with Christ.

Christian faith is not a set of ethics or doctrines. It’s not a group of theories about social and economic justice. All these things have their place. All of them can be important. But a Christian life begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ; and it bears fruit in the justice, mercy and love we show to others because of that relationship.

Katie van Schaijik

Satanism in the Vatican

Mar. 10, 2010, at 10:01pm

The only part of the story about the chief exorcist’s claims that Satan is at work in the Vatican (including among Cardinals and Bishops) I find impossible to believe is this comment from another Roman exorcist repudiating the charge:

“Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God,” he said.”

Katie van Schaijik

Freedom has to come from within

Mar. 9, 2010, at 11:34am

I was a supporter of the Iraq invasion at the time. But a comment by Daniel Pipes in the Corner this morning expresses well my worries now.

“It takes a cynical mind not to share in the achievement of Iraq’s national elections.” So writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board today. I’m no cynic, but my mood about Iraq could variously be described as depressed, despairing, despondent, dejected, pessimistic, melancholic, and gloomy.

That’s because the Iraqi regime (along with those of Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority) is a kept institution that cannot survive without constant American support. As long as Washington pumps money and sacrifices lives to maintain the Baghdad government, the latter can hobble along. Remove those props and Iranian-backed Islamists soon take over.

Tehran has aspired to seize effective control of Iraq since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. With many levers at hand, from mosques to schools to militias to politicians, the Iranian despots are well placed to inherit the country.

It does no good to remove a tyrant militarily if the moral conditions that allowed his rise to power remain in force on the ground.  We would have done much better, I now think, to support internal resistance.

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