What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Witness and the crisis of the American Republic

Here (verbatim) is what I just posted on Facebook:

It is a surreal experience re-reading Whittaker Chambers's book Witness in 2020 while watching, by sign after sign, the loss of our free republic. Chambers, after his break with Communism, was a true and intense American patriot. Though a painfully shy and intensely private man, Chambers believed that it was God's purpose that he subject himself to ridicule, calumny, and hatred, not to mention the public exposure of his own sins, both personal and national, in an attempt to waken the nation from its complacent slumber and save the republic for future generations. Witness testifies to the overwhelming pain that his testimony in late 1948 and early 1949 cost him. When one knows more of the story, not mentioned in the book, one sees this even more clearly--namely, that Chambers had to confess in his testimony to having been bisexual during his time as a Communist spy and to having had homosexual trysts, which (he said) he completely turned away from after his religious conversion and break with Communism. This moral admission was ruthlessly used against him as part of a campaign to portray him as mentally unstable in order to discredit his testimony to the Communist conspiracy of which he had been a part.

All of this he endured, to the breaking point of pressure (he attempted suicide once during the case) and beyond, because of his love for our country and his desire that it should continue to exist in peace and freedom.

Now, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, we are engaged in a great civil war (here I speak metaphorically), testing whether that nation, or any other nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

Well, we've had a good run for it. Chambers found that his greatest psychological burden was a sense of futility--the feeling that America and the ideals she stands for could not be saved, that the American people corporately did not have the will and the clear-sightedness for corporate self-preservation. And you know what? Though he succeeded ultimately, those fears may be correct this time around.

The understanding of what America is, of the founding ideas of our republic, of the preciousness of our freedoms, and of how those intersect with religious truths, moral norms, and economic goods has largely been eradicated in both young and old in this land. It has largely been replaced with an aggressive ignorance (just think of the absurd things that some on the left say about the meaning of constitutional originalism for one example among many) that has to be seen to be believed. And we have seen in this year 2020 how ready many are, too many, even many who think of themselves as conservative otherwise, tamely to give up their freedom of action, their privacy, and even their freedom of religious practice, to unelected bureaucrats or to governors acting beyond their duly delegated powers.

Can America save herself? In the long run, all earthly kingdoms fall. In the immediate run, I believe firmly that it is the duty of each and every person who sees the truth on all sorts of matters (moral matters, matters of sexuality and human life, matters of legitimate freedom and governance) to hold fast to that truth *even without* hope that "we" can ultimately prevail and prevent ruin (economic, moral, and civic). In that sense, though most of us will never suffer what Chambers suffered, we must be prepared to do something that is in a way harder than what he did--to suffer whatever is given to us to suffer (loss of job and livelihood, calumny) *without* hope of preserving the corporate entity (the United States as envisioned by past generations). For whose sake, then, would we do this? For whose sake would you speak the truth about anything from "LGBT" issues to lockdowns, if you knew it would harm you or those you loved? For whose sake would you insist that, in your own life, you will "live not by lies"?

For the sake of God. For the sake of truth. For the sake of your own integrity, and for the sake of whatever smaller or larger circle of friends you have who need the encouragement and who can be helped and guided by what you say and do. That's probably going to be it.

It is my prayer that, if we are now heading into a new era in which yet stronger pressure will be brought to bear, both individuals and at least some leaders (pastors, conservative thought leaders, seminary administrators, heads of colleges and schools) will have the courage not to compromise and not to give in, even if you are ultimately defeated in the eyes of the world.

Mind must be the firmer, heart the more firm,
Courage the greater, as our strength lessens.

Comments (7)

I should hope that some might exhibit greater courage, not only in speaking the truth wisely, but in simply defying the grosser and more grotesque abuses of authority which have become de rigueur under the new dispensation. I am still appalled and, frankly, incandescently furious that my Archidiocese capitulated so shamefully in the months of lockdown, forbidding us to worship. There was not only no legal warrant under our state constitution for such restrictions, notwithstanding the absurd partisanship of our supreme court, but the Constitutional claims against these measures were at least as strong as were the claims against the Constitutional abuses of the Bush Administration - and the two cases are analogous because both invoked extraordinary and indefinite states of emergency to annul explicit provisions of the Constitution, and the violations undertaken under the latter emergency have never been curtailed, and likely never well be. So also, in all likelihood, the powers arrogated by crusading authoritarian executives, under cover of Covid, will endure; and anytime some epidemiologist conjures some mathematically risible projection, or some social justice NGO can shoehorn its concerns under the rubrics of public health, our rights will be forfeit once more.

As I said, I am appalled that bishops would deliberately place in the paths of parents attempting to raise children in the faith a massive obstacle to that objective, severing the connection of families to something which draws them away from the routine of daily life, and bids them instead to watch another screen, something they already do in other contexts, and which they associate with those things, and not with church. Appalling. And the notion that, in the world of diverse public goods, this One Thing was the sole objective that mattered, that the business of governance was to optimize for this one variable, all else be damned... Appalling. Absurd. It was the creed and conduct of the utopian fanatic. And worse still, it was submission to a part of the political and administrative caste which has done nothing but lie and misrule for the entirety of my time on this Earth, all of its errors tending in only one direction, not at all randomly distributed, as one might expect were the errors made in good faith.

As for Chambers' prognostications, he probably is right this time, for behind the incoming administration will be a unified Borg of the three-letter agencies, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the media, the corporate elites, the NGO industrial complex, and the philanthropic world; indeed the persons of these entities not only enjoy the privileges of the revolving door, but are essentially interchangeable, except at the commanding heights were the billionaires reside. A power vertical. An American Politburo. And dissenters who raise their heads just a little too high are unpersoned, perhaps soon to be denied access to the financial system. China is the model in terms of function, albeit the institutional structures are different. But China is the model. The Totality, outside of which there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth, of the unpeople.

Well, we've had a good run for it. Chambers found that his greatest psychological burden was a sense of futility--the feeling that America and the ideals she stands for could not be saved, that the American people corporately did not have the will and the clear-sightedness for corporate self-preservation. And you know what? Though he succeeded ultimately, those fears may be correct this time around.

Well, yes, and yet no. In 1989 to 1992, when Soviet Communism fell in eastern Europe and Russia, and was exposed quite literally as "the Evil Empire" that Reagan named, I thought naively that communism would never rise again in my lifetime as a force in America, certainly not using the name of "communism". Much to my chagrin, I find that on college campuses, among those who were born after the heady days of 1990, that they not only cannot name those events, but have NO REVULSION for communism named as such, but rather embrace it openly.

In the fell days of 9-11 we witnessed a return to patriotism and a kind of unity that presaged hope for the future, but alas it was a hope soon turned to ashes as the forces for evil enabled most Americans to soon forget even the feeling of being under attack, much less the notion of unity even amidst disagreements. Well, we have been under attack, by principalities and powers, and it shows.

I have been in a class to re-study Aristotle's Ethics (and St. Thomas's commentary on them), and re-discovered something partially forgotten: certain vices are enablers of other vices. Licentiousness, for example, gravely undermines courage, and turns people into cowards. There is an intense mix of various evils that buttress each other in our culture today, but there can be no doubt that the excesses of recreation, and sexual license, and gluttony in its several forms, assist those principalities and powers in their effort to cloud our minds and making us unable even to reason properly; and this contributes to a downward spiral from which there is no natural escape short of a crisis of hitting rock bottom.

to hold fast to that truth *even without* hope that "we" can ultimately prevail and prevent ruin (economic, moral, and civic).

Right. But there IS another form of rescue, the supernatural. Thus we Christians go gaily into the looming darkness with good and true hope in rescue - if not for THIS nation, then at least for our arrival in our permanent Kingdom in the future. And with the commitment to work for the correction of this current nation of ours even as we see its great failings and know it is gravely damaged: it is our part to work and strive, not to be sure of the outcome here below.

I am still appalled and, frankly, incandescently furious that my Archidiocese capitulated so shamefully in the months of lockdown, forbidding us to worship.

Jeff, me too. Well, maybe "incandescent" is too strong a word for my condition, but I was shocked at how many bishops - including mine - simply rolled over and played dead on this. It's like they could not even imagine that there might have been another option. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend how they could be so short-sighted and/or blind.

On a purely pragmatic note: Now that people have had more than half a year (and looking like it will be a full year) of there being 0 Sunday obligation, no sane bishop can imagine he is going to get the people back in churches again like to the same degree they were before (i.e. about 25% attendance). No way. And (again pragmatically), non-attendance will convert into lower donations. Which will convert into fewer programs for reaching those in need, and missions, and... Purely as administrators, you would think the bishops would be worried about their financial futures.

On the spiritual level, of course, it's catastrophic that people haven't had access to Mass and the sacraments. I feel fortunate in that I have been able to go to Mass outside up to now, but many people don't even have that. And the hit taken to "community" is immense.

But the precedential effect of their caving in to the state demands, contrary to the Constitution, of NOT insisting on Constitutional rights, may hound us for a long, long time after this terrible year. I am simply flummoxed at the bishops' willingness to be good little sheep to the overreaching governors (and lower officials) as if temporal lives trump spiritual lives without even any debate.


As I said, I am appalled that bishops would deliberately place in the paths of parents attempting to raise children in the faith a massive obstacle to that objective, severing the connection of families to something which draws them away from the routine of daily life, and bids them instead to watch another screen, something they already do in other contexts, and which they associate with those things, and not with church.

Exactly. One would like to think that at least sacramental churches would affirm that "virtual" services are not "church" and that the Church cannot carry out her functions "virtually."

Instead of which, a Baptist minister of a ginormous megachurch in California (John MacArthur) and a Presbyterian in Idaho (Doug Wilson) have a much clearer sense of what is at stake than most high-level Roman Catholic and any Anglican prelates I have heard of. (Though there are some individual priests who know. A Roman Catholic priest in Wales just recently declared defiantly that he will not again deny his parishioners the Sacraments in the latest lockdown and that he repents of having done so the first time. Waiting for his Bishop to slap him down in 3...2...1...) I've certainly had my differences with Wilson over the years, but some of his recent posts on Christian teaching about the *human face* have been awfully good. And MacArthur has been flat-out brave.


Right. But there IS another form of rescue, the supernatural.

Chambers says (in _Witness_): "I like to think that the God of battles has this Republic in his care."


A Roman Catholic priest in Wales just recently declared defiantly that he will not again deny his parishioners the Sacraments in the latest lockdown and that he repents of having done so the first time.

Wow. That's not only courage, but humility too. God bless the man--he will need a lot of prayer to hold firm.

It is a shame Zippy is not with us anymore--he would have had a field day with this thing. What is interesting is that I don't even see an effort to justify this tyranny on liberal grounds: I would have expected to hear a lot of talk about one's "right" to be "free" of the virus and so on, but I suppose even modern doublespeak has its limits.

"this contributes to a downward spiral from which there is no natural escape short of a crisis of hitting rock bottom."

One of the things that contributes to this downward spiral is the societal emphasis on risk-aversion that results when life is valued more than truth. We'll trade freedom for "safety," even when such an exchange blatantly contradicts common sense, thus infantilizing ourselves in the process. (My governor, for instance, apparently thinks that viral transmission is affected by state lines, and he expects me to adjust my behavior to reflect that foolishness.)

I can't help thinking that on a certain level we're a nation of babies trying to protect other babies.

And the funny thing is, NM, that the more we give in to infantile risk-aversion, the worse we make. In even a natural way, "he who would keep his life will lose it". The urge toward risk aversion will lead to give up all freedom to a tyrant, and then there is nothing to protect you from risks from the tyrant.

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