The Only Thing Print
By David Warren   
Saturday, 18 May 2013
 
 
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The news from those United States, reaching the Great White North this last fortnight, has been quite surprising. It could be summarized under the headline, “Sic transit gloria mundi.” Apparently the president of our neighboring republic, who appeared secure, even unassailable after his election victory last November, now floats in the mire of political scandals.

Since most of the people reading this column will be Americans, themselves, I don't think I need do more than list these scandals: 1. Internal Revenue Service; 2. Benghazi; 3. Associated Press. They combine in an exceptionally unpleasant way, for partisans of President Obama, for they do not only further outrage his natural opponents. They outrage his natural supporters, including the liberal mass media.

Journalists who could forgive Obama almost anything, so long as he remained the mascot of emancipation and progress, suddenly discover that his Justice Department thinks little of tapping their phones. I think that is why America is suddenly privy to information on the other scandals, too.

I am not in the political prediction business – at least, not any more – so will not guess where all this is going. When I was in that business, I noticed that the best predictions were simply descriptions of present underlying realities. Deviations are temporary and illusory; the safest bet is always for a return to the norm.

The media, and the American liberal establishment more generally, will not be converted into Tea Party cheerleaders in the foreseeable future. They are the party of big government, and of the secular humanist agenda, and no mere scandal is going to change that. They will scramble back aboard the statist juggernaut at the first opportunity.

And Obama is not the issue. He never was. For all his charisma, had he not served the liberal agenda, he would never have come near the presidency. Should he cease to serve it, he goes under the bus.

Here is something I think people towards the “right” end of the political spectrum seldom understand. (That the “left” don't and won't, may go without saying.) It is that politicians have little power, and arguably none. Nor for that matter have the media any power, in and of themselves. Nor will voting change the direction of public affairs.

The people can change things only by what they are, not by what they say. They may swing a few points this way or that in the face of things like public scandals, but are, underlying, set in their ways.

Like it or not, the broad majority of North Americans, even when nominally Christian, have long since abandoned the Christian worldview. It would take a very ingenious trick to make them vote as if they hadnt.


         St. Paul Preaching to the Athenians on the Areopagus by Leonard Porter, 2009

This reality is brought home by the triumph of same sex marriage – something that would have been inconceivable to public opinion less than a generation ago. But it was apparent even during the Reagan administration, that supporters of both prominent political parties had bought into what I persist in calling the Nanny State.

Indeed, the failure of opposition to the Great Society innovations of the 1960s made the “new” reality perfectly clear. And the consensus for state invasion of territory traditionally occupied by family, community, and church, is what made the New Deal possible. For that matter, Woodrow Wilson could never have been elected if a “progressive” consensus had not already formed among the intellectual elites, and was already trickling down through the masses, prior to World War I.

We were not born yesterday, and yet, it is a presumption of the present political order that we must have been, for the Christian argument against Statism is consistently presented as if it were new, and as if the fully atomized “mixed economy” were something old and inevitable.

The argument was cluttered from the beginning by a false inference. Because the state was invading “private” territory (in America as in Europe) in order to advance outwardly Christian ideals, it was taken to be vindicating them. Those opposing the state could be accused of opposing the ideals. What kind of Christian could possibly be against helping the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the old, the disabled? The juggernaut of state rolled over them: not yesterday, but a century ago.

And that is why I have come to think participation in politics is a waste of time. Or, to go full-bore Shakespearean: “Thexpence of Spirit in a waste of shame.”

The outer limit of what can be achieved is purely defensive: to obtain some form of public toleration for the practice of Christianity, so that it need not go entirely underground. Here I am thinking less of the U.S. Constitutional protections for freedom of speech and religion, than of the rather older Edict of Milan, whose 1700th anniversary we are (quietly) celebrating. This freed Christians from direct persecution throughout the Roman Empire.

Granted, the Edict is not enforceable in U.S. courts, but then, neither are the Constitutional protections. As Chief Justice Roberts made clear in the Obamacare judgment, a year ago, the courts will no longer stand in the way of government legislation. If it happens to strip some minority of their most elementary rights, hey, let the people, if they wish, vote to restore them. The law is like paper money: whatever the government wants to print.

And yet it always was. The Edict of Milan did not come down because the rulers of old pagan Rome had a change of heart. They had a change of heart because, despite their persecutions, the people of the Empire were becoming Christian. Verily, they were becoming Christian themselves.

Emperors, kings, presidents, prime ministers, are so much froth. They do not even control their own destinies, as the current Washington scandals remind us. The more I consider the matter, the more I am convinced that evangelization is not the most important thing. It is the only thing that can make a difference.

 

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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