Freedom and self controlMen are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity;in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
Mar. 4, 2012, at 9:39pm
The comments and questions posed on my post on the danger of the USA moving to become a totalitarian state have prompted me to ask the underlying question what a “totalitarian state” is.
By this term we can of course refer to kinds of states and regimes which are very different from the USA. Let us briefly survey the characteristics through which totalitarian states or regimes can be characterized and then ask which of these are present and which are absent in the USA:
Mar. 3, 2012, at 2:54pm
Americans are used to believing, and have thought since their beginning in 1776, that they are the freest country in the world—nay the very embodiment of freedom, and the firmest column of the “Axis of Good”, opposing the forces of the “Axis of evil,” and quite especially all totalitarian states in which human rights go without the unconditional respect they command, and in which freedom and liberty are trampled upon. It is certainly true that the US has in many situations, most notably in the disarmament of one of the most diabolical totalitarian states, Nazi Germany, lived up to the great historic mission of this country. (And I, as Austrian who was born just three months before the end …continue reading
Mar. 2, 2012, at 11:08am
Increasingly over the years I have been understanding the essential truths of Christian personalism as being radically opposed to the master/slave hermaneutic of human relations established at the fall of Eden. We are framed for love. We come from love; we're made of love; we're called to give ourselves in love and service. That's how we are fulfilled as persons, as individuals and as communities. It's how we realize through our freedom our being made in the Image and Likeness of God.
The fall of Eden was essentially a refusal to love and serve. A preference for domination and servility.
It's interesting to consider the nature of the temptations Satan posed to Jesus in the desert. …continue reading
Feb. 29, 2012, at 9:31am
The already-infamous article recently published by the Journal of Medical Ethics, defending the option of infanticide or "after-birth abortion" for pretty much any reason whatever—since, no matter how slight the reasons of the parents, "they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people" (the newborn babies) which "amounts to zero"!—is horrible not only because of its content, but also for the brazen, unembarrassed tone in which it is written. The authors clearly think that their position is perfectly respectable: controversial, to be sure, but as legitimate as any other that might be taken up in an ethical debate.
It is a deplorable side-effect of utilitarianism that no …continue reading
Feb. 28, 2012, at 11:46pm
In continuing reflection on the wonderful mystery of “Holy Sorrow” (again with the help of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Transformation in Christ), Christ tells us “Blessed are they who mourn…” even though we are commanded to “Rejoice always!”
This means that the aspect of our lives in this world which makes it a valley of tears is truly valid, even though not the final truth, “for they shall be comforted:”
To all those who have to suffer on earth—the oppressed and disinherited, the sick and the poor, the lonely, the downcast, the afflicted—this word reveals that the valley of tears is not reality ultimate and definitive. It implies that they are to come into their own in that final home …
Feb. 26, 2012, at 5:36pm
In my recent post on the superficial treatment of sex on TV, I ended up expressing basically just the natural emotions of annoyance and disgust at the situation. While valid, such responses are nonetheless inadequate from a Christian perspective. As Dietrich von Hildebrand points out in his classic work Transformation in Christ, “supernatural life represents something radically new, apart from other new aspects it introduces, in that its fullness reveals certain vestiges of that coincidentia oppositorum—that union of apparently irreconcilable opposites—which is the privilege of divine life.” In this case, the seeming opposites which the Christian is meant to combine are a deep sorrow …continue reading
Feb. 26, 2012, at 11:15am
One of the earliest lessons I learned from Alice von Hildebrand came from a talk she gave in Steubenville in my undergrad days.
"You are not responsible for the face you were born with. You are responsible for the face you die with."
Often in the years since I have heard her speak of "holy cosmetics": the beauty the human face acquires over time, by living in right accord with "the hierarchy of values."
It's the opposite trajectory to the horrible one depicted so vividly in Oscar Wilde's insightful novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. A life of evil and indulgence over time renders a person ugly, even if he was originally endowed with great physical beauty. The body displays the debauched …continue reading
Feb. 25, 2012, at 2:30pm
Theodore Dalrymple, who is also Anthony Daniels, professes to be an atheist. He is, in any case, a true philosopher—a man with rare powers of insight and expression, who reflects deeply and fruitfully on human experience, its moral meaning and implications. A doctor and psychiatrist by training, he spent many years serving badly messed up people in horrible places, in Africa and in English inner cities.
He has an article about sex selection abortion in the Telegraph today, pointing out the moral incoherence of the current outrage over the discovery that it is practiced fairly routinely in England.
The Abortion Act provides, de facto, abortion on demand, and this has been so for many …
Feb. 23, 2012, at 8:11pm
In last night's Republican primary debate, candidates were asked to describe themselves with one word. Ron Paul answered firmly: "Consistent." That struck me as both apt and telling. I haven't been paying very close attention to the race, but I gather that Ron Paul is a principled libertarian. His positions hang together in a coherent way and follow logically from the first principles to which he subscribes. He has defended virtually the same positions throughout his political career. He is not beholden to any person or any party, and not swayed by public opinion. He seems to have the integrity so needed and yet so often lacking in a politician. He can't be bribed into supporting things he …continue reading
Feb. 22, 2012, at 2:19pm
I have always liked detective stories. I started with The Bobbsey Twins, graduated to the Hardy Boys and the Ken Holt Mysteries, then began to pick up more adult fare. I read almost all of Earle Stanley Gardner (lawyer Perry Mason), Dashiell Hammett (hard-boiled detective Sam Spade), Raymond Chandler (harder-boiled detective Philip Marlowe), and even Mickey Spillane (hardest-boiled detective Mike Hammer)—I must confess with a mea culpa—who went further than the others in hardboiled sex and violence.
I’ve also always enjoyed TV detective stories, like the old Perry Mason series. Alternatively, on TV, I’ve always enjoyed a good comedy. I can go back to classics like the Dick van Dyke …continue reading
Feb. 22, 2012, at 10:25am
This article was submitted to the member forum. Since it touches on the issue of language, which Jules raised below, we're moving it here.
Language is the most powerful tool ever invented. Its simultaneous precision and malleability provide infinite possibilities of expression, whether it’s through poetry, mathematics, music, or W-2 income tax forms. People use language to define their world, explore their reality, and share in the human experience. The English language is especially fun. With over a billion words at their disposal, acrobatic English speakers can tell the same story a million different ways, exploring alternative nuances and subtle meanings all the while. Using …continue reading
Feb. 21, 2012, at 2:10pm
The recent HHS contraceptive-coverage mandate, and the lying, manipulative rhetoric surrounding it, has exposed once again the close connection between the abuse of language and the abuse of power. And maybe that's a good thing. We've become so accustomed to political spin, campaign rhetoric, partisan platitudes, etc., that it is easy to miss the manipulative and coercive elements in these forms of sophistry. But those elements, though usually hidden, are always there.
Deceit and violence are in fact very closely related. Sissela Bok calls them "the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings." They are both modes of dominating people; of using them in ways, and for ends, they would …continue reading
Feb. 14, 2012, at 11:33pm
In my earlier post on forgiveness, an interesting tangential point arose in discussion about the (possible) nature of "forgiving oneself" or "self-forgiveness." Some would deny such a thing is even possible, others would say it has a meaning, though only derivative or secondary. Herewith, a further attempt to sort out a few thoughts on the topic.
It might seem at first glance that “self-forgiveness” is a dangerous concept. Why? First, is it not substituting a relation to self for what is by its very nature an interpersonal act? Does this not imply an encapsulating self-centeredness? Second, don’t we have to ask for forgiveness and be forgiven by the one we have wronged? Otherwise, …continue reading
Feb. 11, 2012, at 9:12pm
Here's my question to the Bishops, who made a full throated defense against the Administration's effort to infringe upon the rights of Churches to teach and live their creeds--and to protect their institutional sister-institutions to be free of governmental infringement.
What about me, your Eminences?
I work for a secular institution that will enact the Administration's mandate requiring that my premiums pay for other people's contraceptions, sterilizations, and abortions. So what if the Administration has said that insurers will be the ones who will be required to do this? Isn't my compensation package inclusive of health insurance benefits in the form of my employer contributing to the …continue reading
Feb. 11, 2012, at 9:10pm
The inimitable Mark Steyn gives some historical perspective to the American understanding of religious liberty.
The president of the United States has decided to go Henry VIII on the Church's medieval ass. Whatever religious institutions might profess to believe in the matter of "women's health," their pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities and immunities are now subordinate to a one-and-only supreme head on earth determined to repress, redress, restrain and amend their heresies.
If Obama is playing Henry VIII, let's hope there are many in our ranks ready to step into the role of Thomas More.
This might be a good time for us all to watch A Man For All Seasons again.
Feb. 8, 2012, at 10:00am
Friend Justine links to this Fox news story about a college in Pennsylvania that has a vending machine where students can purchase "emergency contraception", the so-called Plan B or Morning After pill.
I was especially struck by this defense offered by one senior: "It's a way for students to get the help or care they need".
Help and care from a vending machine?!
You know what the real "message" of the machine to young women is? No one cares about you and what's happening in your life. No one wants to deal with any consequences. You're on your own.
Feb. 8, 2012, at 7:00am
Editor’s note: What follows is the last of a 10 part series on the personalist philosophy of Pope John Paul II written some years ago for Lay Witness Magazine. We asked and received permission to re-publish the series here, to give fresh occasion for discussion of timeless truths.
"Solidarity" was not only the name of the famous Polish labor union which, inspired by the person and teaching of Pope John Paul II, precipitated the non-violent collapse of Communism in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. Solidarity is also a term that expresses one of the great themes of Pope John Paul's Christian personalism.
Let us return to that extreme individualism discussed in a previous column. That …continue reading
Feb. 7, 2012, at 11:26am
The internet is abuzz with stories of the clash between the Obama Adminstration and the Catholic Church over the new healthcare mandate. And today in the Corner, I find two items drawing attention to other flashpoints in the conflict between Christianity and the Zeitgeist.
A plug for Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Newsweek cover story on Islamic persecution of Christians, in which she condemns the media's "conspiracy of silence."
An account of Eric Metaxes' speech at the National Prayer breakfast and its implicit challenge to President Obama.
And then comes the news that the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has today declared California Proposition 8 limiting marriage to one man and one woman …continue reading
Feb. 5, 2012, at 1:34pm
Pope Benedict has prepared a beautiful reflection on the importance of silence for the upcoming "World Communications Day."
It is so packed-full of personalist themes that I have to resist the urge to quote the entire thing. Instead I'll limit myself to this one rich paragraph.
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or …
Feb. 1, 2012, at 7:00am
Editor’s note: What follows is the ninth of a 10 part series on the personalist philosophy of Pope John Paul II written some years ago for Lay Witness Magazine. We asked and received permission to re-publish the series here, to give fresh occasion for discussion of timeless truths.
In our last installment we got acquainted with Pope John Paul II's teaching on the embodiment of human persons. We saw how strongly he affirms the destiny of the human body to embody persons, to be personalized by them, and to be drawn up into the lives of persons. He does not speak of the body as something "merely biological," but speaks instead of its capacity to serve as a "sacrament" of the human person. …continue reading