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The Heaviest Oppression Print E-mail
By James V. Schall. S. J.   
Tuesday, 24 July 2012

On Saturday, August 17, 1751, in The Rambler, Samuel Johnson wrote: “Politicians remark that no oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and the exorbitance of legal authority.” We might wonder: “Why is this?” Surely crooks and tyrants are more dangerous than legal authority?

No: “the robber may be seized and the invader repelled whenever they are found; they who pretend no right but that of force, may by force be punished or suppressed,” Johnson continued. “But when plunder bears the name of impost, and murder perpetrated by judicial sentence, fortitude is intimidated and wisdom confounded; resistance shrinks from alliance with rebellion; the villain remains secure in the robes of the magistrate.”

This insightful passage of Johnson antedates the American Revolution by a quarter of a century. It is remarkably pertinent when “legal” abortion and tax-powers have few constitutional limits. No oppression is more dismaying and more difficult to confront than civil power gone wrong. We can deal with robbers and invaders. But unjust judges, legislators, and executives are another thing. They represent the law on which we rely to carry out our lives in justice and good sense.

We hate to embrace rebellion. Are we wiser than the rulers? Yes, impeachment, recall, grand juries, elections, civil and criminal suits were designed to deal with such aberrations. Looking about the world, including at ourselves, we often conclude that civil corruption in constitutional bodies may well be the world’s principal political issue. Ultimately, the problem is virtue, not political structure.

Decades ago, while I was teaching at the University of San Francisco, a university directive came out stipulating that all campus clubs must be open to everyone. I do not remember the motivation for such a requirement. The decree was controverted by the school’s Filipino Club. With some logic, it thought that opening their club to non-Filipinos would make it a “Non-Filipino Club.” Why a non-Filipino would want to join such a club is beyond me except perhaps to disrupt it. The odd logic of such a requirement remained in my memory.

This last year, the Catholic Club at Vanderbilt University, a recognized university organization under the name “Vanderbilt Catholic,” decided to leave campus and give up its name. The university imposed a rule that all university clubs had to have a non-discriminatory policy. Anyone could be a member of any club and run for offices in that club. It does not take a genius, even in academia, to imagine what such a policy means. No club can be itself. We are in the age of what must be called “non-discriminatory discrimination.”


       Dr. Johnson by his friend Joshua Reynolds

This move at Vanderbilt, a private university, might seem a private affair except that the university claims to be following a court decision about groups at a University of California Law School. So behind it all are the robes of the magistrates as well as those of the compliant academics.

We have become used to states that have open elections so that one need not be a member of the party to vote in its primary elections. We are beginning to see indications that one does not even need to be an American to vote in our elections. With the doctrine of non-discrimination, nothing holds, not even the center. Logically, on this basis, we can all be members of Phi Beta Kappa. Excellence is by definition discriminatory. So is just about everything else.

A common good, however, means not that everything becomes everything else, but that the parts of the society have the authority and duty to remain what they are. When everything is absorbed into a non-discriminatory mode, nothing is really left. Most of this thinking, as in the case at Vanderbilt, originates in homosexual problems. A Protestant group expelled a gay. The response of the university was that everything must be open to everyone. I suppose the homosexual clubs must be open to non-homosexuals. One could conceive, on this hypothesis, of a homosexual club taken over by right-to-lifers or vice versa.  

Were not the whole thing absurd, we could let it go. A university president who imposes a rule whereby any club can be controlled by anyone must have a philosophy of complete relativism. Nothing much matters.

But distinctions do matter. We were once allowed to be what we held. Catholics were Catholics. Jews were Jews. It was all right. We now have an overarching “law” that tells us that we cannot be what we are. The university, once a place that respected distinctions and diversity of ways of life, is now an engine that allows nothing but its own definition of diversity. And diversity means that nothing can be diverse.

Johnson would be amused at what the colonials have wrought, though the same thing happens in his Britain.

 
James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
 
 
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Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by Gian, July 23, 2012
Are the university clubs subsidized by the university?

The Right to association was nationally circumscribed in 1965. Do you agree or disagree with the justice of it?
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written by Jon S., July 24, 2012
Should those of us who disagree with "non-discriminatory" policies such as at Vanderbilt practice them to their absurd conclusion? Should believers flood the atheist club? Should heterosexuals flood the LGBT club? Should Christians flood the Muslim club?
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written by G.K. Thursday, July 24, 2012
Thank you Fr. Schall for an illuminating post. Of course, what Dr. Johnson assumed in his Rambler piece was that there was a villain behind the "perversion and the exorbitance of legal authority.” But as we often see in the U.S., laws have unintended consequences. A law passed to defend "civil rights" in one case, is used to destroy religious freedom in another. The framers of the original law in no way intended the "perversion and the exorbitance of legal authority” which distorted it. As you note, "Ultimately, the problem is virtue, not political structure." A public sphere where virtue is discouraged and people are expected to behave like sheep, will end up with a bureaucratic judiciary attuned only to professional group-think. As you once wrote of Maritain's aim of wisdom rather than mere cleverness, how rare for a judge to aim for wisdom rather than group-think-correctness these days!
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written by Jim, July 24, 2012
every club can become like every other club; every university can become like every other university. Where is the prized diverstiy?
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written by TaylorKH, July 24, 2012
Thank you Fr. Schall. Americans must look to develop, encourage and elect/promote leaders who are ethical and moral...and instruct, deny, impeach/fire those who are falling short. The nation needs to turn in that direction. Teachers need to teach by example in this regard as well.
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written by Manfred, July 24, 2012
I see a great opportunity for you, Fr. Schall. As Georgetown is in the process of accommodating an LBGTQ club on campus, it would be ideal for you to drop by and submit an application to join. Once in, you could run for office and possibly serve as its president. I am being neither sarcastic nor facetious. Your presence would serve as a monitor of any activities which might otherwise occur at meetings. You could even offer to hear Confessions and to serve as the Spiritual Director for the Club. After all, Fr. Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame served as the Chairman of the pro-abortion Rockefeller Foundation.
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written by Grump, July 24, 2012
"I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." - Groucho Marx
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by Richard G Evans, July 24, 2012
The one statement I question in this article is the following: "A common good, however, means not that everything becomes everything else, but that the parts of the society have the authority and duty to remain what they are. When everything is absorbed into a non-discriminatory mode, nothing is really left. Most of this thinking, as in the case at Vanderbilt, originates in homosexual problems." He seems to imply that its basically LGBT pepple who are behind this entire phenomena. That could certainly be true in cases, and is, but without further clarification it sounds a bit like "blame it on the gays" when the issue is deeper. The author rightly points out that groups should be able to be who they are. At issue are court decisions that affect every group, and not just LGBT versus straight people. A much better example is the Filipino club mentioned earlier. But to generalize that "most" of this kind of thinking comes from homosexual groups is kind of slanderous methinks.
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written by Richard G Evans, July 24, 2012
I would add that I am a same-sex attracted Catholic man who lives celibately. My issue is not with the majority of the article, just the statement I quoted. Perhaps the author is also not intending this as a generalization but rather a specific example in the case of Vanderbilt, in which case I agree fully with his point. God bless.
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written by Dr. Raymond Grabert, July 25, 2012
The issue, as I see it, is in trying to correct the system which in itself was intended to protect our distinctiveness. At some point the system will break down because standards will be so vague that everyone will be right and no one wrong. While I don't believe homosexuals have started this mess, I do believe that sinful mankind started this by trying to avoid dealing with the ethical standards set forth by God the Father. The only way to correct the system is for mankind to be made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. Then the system will self correct by virtue of godly men and women living the way God intended.
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written by Darrell, July 26, 2012
Whatever happened to the right of association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution? Doesn't this give organizations like clubs the right to set their own rules for who can be a member? Forcing broad diversity on such clubs violates this right. The Boy Scouts already reaffirmed this right via a decision handed down by the US Supreme Court. Why should the opinion of a lesser court trump that decision?
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written by Tim Eiler, July 26, 2012
A=A - Aristotle

A thing can only be itself.
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written by Mark, July 27, 2012
"Universities were once places that promoted very narrow viewpoints."

Were? Sounds as if little has changed except against whom discrimination will be tolerated.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 27, 2012
To Mr. Evans:

Fr. Schall is pointing out the obvious, rather than denying the obvious. Forcing denial of the obvious, and and forcing Judeo-Christian value-holders into 'submission' (i.e., dhimitude) is the objective of the progressive Leviathan. Progressives are waging open war against those who are trying to obey (i.e., show their love) to Our Lord.

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