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Age of Unreason

If you are a political junkie, as I am (or was, I’m actually “recovering,” no longer putting my faith in princes), you need to get to know George J. Marlin. He is, of course, a bi-weekly contributor to The Catholic Thing, one of our stalwarts, who has been with TCT since the beginning. And you’ve no doubt read some of his biting commentary about the smash-ups between American Catholicism and American politics, especially about the embrace by so many, including nominally Catholic politicians, of one or another version of a self-absorbed modernism.

Well, George has a new book out that pretty much says what needs saying about the state we’re in. Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative is all about our new elites: in Washington and New York; in politics, religion, and even science. It has a wonderful Gary Locke dust-jacket illustration (you can see it a bit further down this page) of the current occupant of the Oval Office gazing at his own image in the Reflecting Pool outside the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama is not.

We’ve always had narcissists in politics (and on both sides of the aisle), and they’ve all believed the same fundamental lie. As George writes:

The ideological formulas of these elites may vary but their ends have been the same – the domination of the common man. These self-proclaimed “managers of the collective life” expect the people to submit to their notions of the good society. For them, “government by the people” has been merely a slogan to humor the masses.

He discusses the early debates about the role of elites in American governance among the likes of Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton, and then forges right ahead to the Me Generation and subsequent cadres of navel-gazers and soft totalitarians. Marlin’s work is always a delight to read, even when it makes your blood pressure skyrocket. He’s very opinionated. But he backs up his powerful assertions with apposite quotations from other superb (and diverse) thinkers: Roger Kimball, Klaus Fischer, Christopher Lasch, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to name just a few.


It’s fair to say that George cites the narcissism of Democrats rather more often than Republicans, but woe to the GOP politico who ends up in Marlin’s sights. There have been reports that former New York governor George Pataki is about to announce his presidential candidacy (but then who isn’t). They make me laugh, because Mr. Marlin has a short section in Narcissist Nation titled, “George Pataki: A Man for the Silly Season.” At a recent Republican gathering, Mr. Pataki, who left office in 2006, announced: “I’m back!”

My reaction to his declaration: Back to what? [Marlin writes] To further destroy New York’s economy? To further decimate the Republican Party? To further corrupt New York’s body politic?
And don’t even get him started on Rudy Giuliani (against whom George Marlin ran for mayor of New York City, as the Conservative Party candidate, in 1993).

But if men such as Governors Eliot Spitzer, Mario and Andrew Cuomo, Pataki and Mayor Giuliani are targets for George Marlin’s wit and criticism, nobody gets more, um, loving attention than Mr. Obama. And why wouldn’t he? He is the Narcissist-in-Chief, a man with an outsized ego the like of which one rarely sees – even in the White House.

Back to the “he’s no Lincoln” meme: Marlin specifically looks at President Lincoln’s outreach to Catholic bishops, especially New York’s archbishop, “Dagger John” Hughes. Lincoln sent him on a mission to France and lobbied the Vatican for his elevation to cardinal. (When was the last time an American president did that?) This he contrasts with Mr. Obama’s inclination to rescind conscience protections for Catholic healthcare providers, “thus forcing pro-life medical professionals to violate their moral convictions . . .”

Like Lincoln, he might reach out to the Church hierarchy to hear how proposed policy changes infringe on the rights of Catholics to act according to their consciences. Because Honest Abe had it right: conscience “is most sacred and inviolable.”

        George J. Marlin

To be an American Catholic who is loyal to the Magisterium is to be inevitably and frequently in conflict with the current direction of our political elites. It is to advocate Christianity against the gathering momentum of narcissism. It is to refute that selfishness.

One manifestation of this is the denial of Communion to Catholic politicians who have advocated positions contrary to the revealed truths of our faith, something which has happened (principally with regard to abortion), but which hasn’t happened as much as it should. When it does happen sends the media into a swoon. The late Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry – all Catholics, of course – and President Obama deserve public censure for their anti-life position, whether or not critics ludicrously assert it is a “violation of church and state.” George writes:

What these critics fail to grasp is that bishops, as shepherds, have a duty to their flocks to offer guidance on the Church’s moral teachings. They also have an obligation to correct any person – especially any Catholic . . . public figure – who misleads or sows confusion about Church doctrine.

Narcissist Nation starkly shows what’s at stake in 2012. The Narcissist-in-Chief looks to be very weak right now, but we don’t know yet who his opponent (or opponents) will be, and that matters terribly. I just wish George Marlin would throw his hat in the ring. He’s probably the only one among the potential candidates who even owns a hat.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer).