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In God We Trust Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 16 November 2013

It is time I took another kick at the democrats. But note the small “d.” I do not mean to pick on the American political party of that name, nor on the other one. We call such parties “Liberals,” “Conservatives,” and worse, up here in Canada. They use “Social” this, and “Christian” that, and “People's” the other, over in Europe. These are brand names, for a fairly generic product.

And while I may dislike the brands unequally, I reserve a certain polite, or sometimes impolite, distaste for that product. Politics is a mean business, and it is “democracy” I am more and more inclined to despise.

This is a political position, of course, which I am proselytizing. While, as I mention from time to time, I do not propose to overthrow anyone's constitutional order, I am opposed to the deification of Caesar, even when he is transformed into a constitutional order. Given that the United States has gone farther than any nation state in the deification of a constitutional order, I might superficially appear to be anti-American. But “hate the sin, love the sinner” is my strict principle. Moreover, I can hardly hate Americans, since I'm (North) American myself.

Canadians have made a mess of everything with a different constitutional order. To my mind, every Western nation continues to make a mess, with this war cry of “democracy.” It has been the argument by which centralized bureaucratic tyranny has been imposed upon all of Nature's subsidiary arrangements; by which politics has been syringed into every material aspect of human life – and via the body, into the soul.

We are drugged by “democracy” – by the idea that every decision of importance must be collective. Voting has long since ceased to be one method among several for selecting officers and resolving disputes. It has rather become an echo of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that loud bugler of the neurotic and enervating.

It was he, it seems to me, who exactly projected the nature of modern “democracy,” in which, paradoxically, our “freedom” consists in becoming an anonymous member of the mass. It was he who went so far as to anticipate what I now see every day in places like RealClearPolitics: abject confusion between preference and prognosis.

Verily, I read it between every line of the pundits from all sides: a slur between what they think should happen, and what they predict will happen. This includes, to my mind, the most astute pundits, men like Charles Krauthammer with a gift for burning superficial nonsense away, and thereby exposing some of the harder choices.

Politics, he would surely agree, is an “art of the possible,” and any political course, whether “democratic” or not, must start from present reality. The most absolute tyrant must, to keep his job, adeptly judge the limits of his power. That is not the issue here.

Instead, I am drawing attention to the action of a spiritual drug. Once mass democracy is not merely established, but accepted as inevitable, it becomes nearly impossible to think in public, except in pragmatically political terms.


      “We the people” are on a wild bus ride.


This fact of modern life is exhibited in, e.g., debates over “Obamacare.” Like it or lump it, mandatory centralized policy on medical insurance is now the “given” in this debate, and the discussion is restricted to resolving its shape. All realistic positions must be buttressed with statistics, and all parties attempt to prognosticate which policies will massage future statistics in the direction most pleasurable to the (vast) collective.

“We the people” are on a wild bus ride. The discussion necessarily omits the destination of the bus, or who should be compelled to ride it. “Democracy” is so inclusive a concept, that we are all trapped aboard.

We elect the driver, though with a warning that he may soon be replaced. The passengers bicker among themselves about how he is driving, and which way he should turn. To the degree he listens, he is distracted from his driving. Occasionally some of the passengers scream that the bus will go into a swamp, off a bridge, over a cliff, into the trees. When the next vote is taken, we decide whether the screamers should be resisted or appeased.

But there is, and can be, no agreed destination. The discussion consists only of competing predictions of where, given the route most recently voted, the bus will next call.

Rousseau specified this system of government. In private life he was a sick man, and (as we would put it today) rather anti-social. His genius was such that he transformed his own unusually sordid moral condition, into the universal one: squaring the circle between liberté and egalité, the two contradictory Enlightenment ideals. (Fraternité would now be politically incorrect.) He brilliantly inverted Christian theological principles en route to his solution: so that perfect liberty now consists not in obedience to God, but rather in going with the flow.

We are all Rousseaux today, if I may use that mischievous plural. We all agree that this bus ride to Hell is inevitable, except a few eccentrics who, like me, are screaming to be let off the bus.

“In God we trust.” Well, yes, but to a foreign observer, there is a fatal flaw in this formula. It has become effectively Rousseauan. It implies that man proposes, God disposes.

Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit, which is true enough if we gloss it the way Thomas à Kempis did: For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.

But instead we gloss it in our modern, “democratic” way, wherein vox populi, vox Dei.

Serious thinking about our political fate will begin when we stop using “democracy” as a catch-phrase or slogan, and resume wondering again, in the old Christian way, not what we want but what God wants for us; not which way is forward, but which way is Up.

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Randall, November 15, 2013
As with the Tower of Babel, our airy Tower of Babble (our democratic system of 'government') will come crashing down. Under the rubble you'll find chapels where the Holy Eucharist is adored and life survives.
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written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, November 16, 2013
We have a flawless King, the Prince of Peace, elected by God the Father to reign forever. No longer Israel is going to God asking "give us a king like the nations have" for this King of ours is going to rule over the gentiles also. Has has conquered the world on the Cross and soon will conquer it by His might and justice. The days of all these "self-ruling" nonsense are counted.
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written by Grump, November 16, 2013
David, I like your wild bus ride analogy. Like you, I've long wanted to get off and take my chances. "Democracy" is a nice-sounding word but except perhaps in ancient Athens has never been truly practiced. Which is probably a good thing. "Collective wisdom" would be an oxymoron of the highest order.

What would I prefer? A wise king with a sharp axe.
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written by Tony, November 16, 2013
Excellent, excellent article.

Somewhere along the bus ride, we accepted the idea that the right to vote is the whole content of democracy and the greatest component of justice, and not just a mechanism for securing justice and the common good, to be judged as any other tool, according to how effective it is.

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written by St. Pius X, November 16, 2013
Charles Krauthammer has a gift for being a RINO.
That's it as far as I'm aware (he should have remained a Parliament smoking physician).

I agree though that democracy is worshiped despite being no better than any other political arrangement.

We of the West are always too easy on ourselves. We've murdered more babies than the Nazis and every kind of Commie put together and yet we still talk about being patriotic.

You know you're living in an evil society when people who defend babies are villainized and those who murder them are lionized.
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written by Rich in MN, November 16, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Warren, for your insights. I suspect that the abject confusion between preference and prognosis would not be so damaging if it were not for the confusion between "everyone has a point of view" and "everyone has an equally informed, equally thought-out point of view." Once this distinction is lost, we have no pressing need to dig deeper; we are already on "bedrock" simply because our neurons are firing enough to form the thought, "This is what I feel." And politicians, the great pragmatic chameleons that they are, often reinforce this error by acting more like mirrors than lights to their respective constituencies. Even more tragically, I suspect bishops may sometimes fall into this same trap of steering the ship in the direction the river is flowing, even if it is flowing toward a waterfall. The kind of blindness few of us would dare exhibit if we were talking about our physical health (e.g., "I don't need to take an aggressive course of antibiotics to stop this infection because, doggoneit, I know just as much as my doctor knows!") seems to be widespread, almost ubiquitous, in our politics and theology. It is the inability to distinguish between having a vote and understanding a vote, a distinction ultimately founded on and assessed from the perspective of a coherent anthropology. I can think of many adjectives to describe our present culture -- and "coherent" is not one of them....
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written by Adeodatus, November 16, 2013
Mr. Warren's rambling again, throwing a bunch of references together, trying to come up with some cohesive claim. Is he criticizing modern democracy, or Americans? If so, is it because the people are too ignorant to voice their opinion on how they should be ruled? Is it because the government has subverted individual's rights, dictating what the people's opinion should consist of? Is it because Democracy and its ambiguous ideals replace the ideals of Christian morality? I'm just picking at a few threads that I see in this essay, but they unravel if I try to pull at one for a coherent progression of thought.

Many things can be blamed for the passivity of the masses and the incompetence of our political leaders. One could blame the mistake political notions of Rousseau, an intellectual whose works are cited but hardly read by anyone today, but I could think of bigger reasons for our problems: broken families, excess of technology, and the loss of leisure. The political situation functions more as a symptom of these cancers plaguing modern Western societies than an actual cause. Americans, Christian and non-Christian alike, have become decadent, plain and simple. They shouldn't try to search for virtue in politicians; they should start cultivating it within themselves.
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written by Chris in Maryland, November 16, 2013
Adeodatus:

The theme is that "democrats" think everything is in the domain of "democracy" because "democracy" is "supreme."
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written by Rich in MN, November 16, 2013
Adeodatus,

I think you make some important points in your last paragraph (although I must admit that “the loss of leisure” stated as an empirical reality went completely over my head); and I thought your last sentence was a particularly important point. However, I think we need to be cognizant that we are social creatures, and our cultural symbiosis needs to be recognized in any process of cultivating virtue. I do not have the answers regarding how to cultivate virtue, but I suggest that it needs to include some component of “anthropology makeover” in this country (and I’m guessing in Canada, too), and I think that can only come about if we have a coinciding “hero makeover.” In the last 50 years, we have held up as cultural icons and "shepherds" artists such as John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain – all of whom strike me as lost sheep who can cry, 'We're lost!' in marvelously poetic and inspirational bleats but who find their bearings using damaged compasses and plot their courses relying on incomplete maps. They have painted a picture of Paradise that looks remarkably like an antediluvian Woodstock in which “love” is an ocean a thousand miles wide but only 6 inches deep, where 2+2=5 and where – H. Richard Niebuhr, please forgive me – random evolutionary increments without wrath bring a humanity without sin through the ministrations of philosophers (Jewish and otherwise) without crosses. As long as these men and their philosophical progeny are our guides, we ain’t goin’ nowhere but down….
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written by Bridget, November 16, 2013
What we need to do is to stop idly wishing we could now retreat from democracy, and instead see if we might not be able to push on through it. For example, maybe we could propose, for adoption by democratic fiat, an arrangement for an absolute monarchy lite with democratic checks. Eliminate the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and elect one person to be absolutely responsible for both for a term of 5 years. But in addition to this, a plebiscite would be conducted once a year to determine whether the incumbent and his next of kin should be publicly executed. This last would have to pass muster by being agreed to by at least 55% of those who cast their votes. 
 I believe that this arrangement, while not necessarily making things better - although who knows, it's hard to imagine they could be made worse - would certainly make things much more interesting, and possibly more satisfying. Those who put themselves forward for election would know that they would need to act boldly, but not too boldly, and cautiously, but not too cautiously. Can we put it to a vote please?
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written by Billy Bean, November 16, 2013
This piece is one of the finest and most succinct pieces of societal criticism I have read in a long time. It has evoked some pointedly thoughtful responses, not a single one of which I could criticize as being simply wrong or even misguided. I would, however, respectfully disagree with Adeodatus' dismissal of Mr. Warren's writing as characteristically "rambling" and incoherent. It seems to me that he agrees with Mr. Warren on the essential point that the way forward is not to be found in political leaders or systems, but in seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
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written by Seanachie, November 16, 2013
David...your article strikes me as a surrender to the "victim" syndrome (another by-product of contemporary "democracy" pandered by Democrats). Yes, people can get off the bus...catch another...one going their way. Of course, that requires knowing where you wish to go...the advantages and disadvantages of the trip and destination. And, therein lies the problem...passengers must be informed and engaged. Perhaps it is easier to be a rider on a bus going nowhere (especially when someone else is paying your fare) than an informed passenger on a bus going somewhere.
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written by schm0e, November 16, 2013
I must be in over my head here. I skimmed. I see a paragraph that appears to equate all political persuasions insofar as they are all "brands" -- stripping them of any qualitiative difference. Red wine for us, white wine for "them." Ford for us, Chevy for "them". Do I understand this right? "Conservative" is just one color, "liberal" is another?

I scroll down a bit more, I see a funny looking bus. Mockery upon mockery. I see "In God We Trust" and it seems even that is a lie, because it puts man in the driver's seat, as if it's his choice to let God dispose. Well, it is, isn't it? Isn't that what God gave to man? The choice? Isn't "In God We Trust" the right choice, the only choice, when the laws of nature and nature's God are rightly observed? What about "God Bless America"? Is that an affront to the supremacy of God, too?

Which brings us back to "Conservative." Isn't that what it means to be a conservative? No, I didn't ask, "isn't that CNN means when they use the term 'Conservative'". Isn't a Conservative one who submits to natural law and sees its right posture of state as being in submission to it? Isn't that the best man can do, when crafting his state?

Is this another highfalutin' argument by an "intellectual" Catholic to prove why the United States of America is nothing special, after all? Is this a backhanded way of saying that "American Exceptionalism" is mere arrogance? Is this another Catholic echoing all the priests I hear who say that "American individualism" is THE problem? That Americans swagger too much?

But doesn't God Almighty call us each and every one by name -- as an individual? And aren't the American founding documents the primiry articulation of the individual as an entity in God's sight -- not merely a cell in the state's domain? I think so.

I think America is very special. This nation was founded by open-ended sacrifice without prejudice. I think our Constitution and founding declarations are the very best man can do in crafting his state in the eyes of God. I think this Nation is rooted in submission to the Natural Law, and think, as such, it's a Catholic nation if ever there was one.

And as a convert to Catholicism I am disappointed beyond words and quite fed up with Catholics using high-sounding arguments and not a little arrogance of their own when putting down America, when reducing America to something small enough for them to grasp in their small minds. I think it is accurate to say that America is being destroyed from within by some Catholics who don't understand it -- any more than they appear to understand Catholicism -- and who are in some very high places here. So, if America falls short, blame the apostates, not the constitution.

Perhaps, as a foreigner, you can be forgiven for not getting America -- but maybe you ought to still your pen until you do. When you well up with tears when you sing "God Bless America" - well, I gather that you don't sing it, but nonetheless, if you were to, and were to well up with tears when doing so, then I might like to see what you have to say about my country as Catholic.
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written by Bridget, November 16, 2013
Dear Schmoe,
Have you ever thought of running for a 5-year term as master of the Universe of America? I think you should put yourself forward. Because while yes, you are, as you say, in over your head, you are still the sort of passionate, dare I say, passionate American, sort of "individual" that I would love to have the opportunity to vote for. 
God doesn't call each individual; he calls each person. It is the State that calls each man as an individual so that it may, in theory, serve each man as a person. I believe that Mr (Mr.?) Warren's point is that, unfortunately, the democratic State has lost it's way; it seeks to serve men as individual units instead of as unique persons. 
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written by Mack, November 16, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Warren, for speaking truth to chaos!
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written by Sue, November 16, 2013
Have each person accept either the vote or a (net) welfare benefit, or earned income credit. Not both. Taxation, and only taxation, should guarantee representation.

Otherwise we have a big-government spiral due to drone voters being manipulated by the government itself.
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written by David Warren, November 22, 2013
I replied to Adeodatus, above, in a piece I've posted in my "Essays in Idleness" anti-blog. It is entitled, "Hsien."

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