Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Monarchism

I recently saw an article in The Remnant—one of those publications that I don’t read but of which I hear on a semi-regular basis—advocating monarchism. The author, undoubtedly correctly, observes that monarchism possesses a “prestige just a tiny bit better than fascism, but not nearly as respectable as being Amish.” At the same time, I continue to find it, monarchism, that is, strikingly popular in the circles in which I run—actually, a correction: the circles in which I read. I doubt whether a man who could think of only a single personal friend to invite to the baptism of his first child can be said to “run” in any circle, at least of the social kind. Of course, regardless of who exactly these monarchists are, there are plenty of reasons for them being such.

Catholics have been monarchists for a long time. English Cavaliers and Jacobites, Carlists, aristocrazia nera, Hapsburg retainers, the scourged survivors of the Vendée, these and others were the counter-revolutionaries from nearly every land in the West who had fought against some despotism or another that had threatened Holy Mother Church and a political system friendly to Her. Ireland, in fact, seems to be the only European land in which Catholic intransigence has identified itself with republicanism—but that must be a story for another day. The internet has done wonders for these scattered discontents, allowing their names and sentiments to creep out of the small chapels and drawing rooms in which their adherents have gathered for generations. So, like the traditional devotions of the Faith, monarchism, which played such a large role in the social views and traditions of our forebears, has attracted a small collection of converts.

The monarchist faces his chief problem in his need to critique the prevailing alternative, electoral democracy. And like any comprehensive critic, he runs the risk of becoming a crank. Now, some might point to mere disagreeability or biliousness as the sine qua non of crank status. But in reality a person can be perfectly disagreeable without stooping so low. Rather, a crank must be grumpy, in the minority, and wrong about something—not wrong in conclusions, for then crank merely becomes a moniker for “one with whom I disagree,” but wrong in premises. The crank argues that he is correct based on suppositions that are not so.

It is in this vein, then, that the poor Remnant correspondent toys with crankdom. He writes, “I suspect that if there were a real choice on the ballot, such as a box marked ‘none of the above,’ turnout would be higher, and this last choice the consistent winner.” He clearly believes that ballots in electoral democracies do not feature such an option. Sadly, he is mistaken. The state of Nevada provides such an option on every state-wide and national ballot:

Every ballot upon which appears the names of candidates for any statewide office or for President and Vice President of the United States shall contain for each office an additional line equivalent to the lines on which the candidates' names appear and placed at the end of the group of lines containing the names of the candidates for that office. Each additional line shall contain a square in which the voter may express a choice of that line in the same manner as the voter would express a choice of a candidate, and the line shall read “None of these candidates.”

Nevada Revised Statutes § 293.269(1). If one believes Wikipedia, Ukraine, Spain, France, Columbia, and at one time Russia all have such ballot options. Of course, admittedly the influence of Nevada’s option is limited by subsection (2) of the same statute, which requires that elections be decided without consideration of the none-of-these votes, making these non-votes rather like abstentions in the House of Lords. (At least the Lords as it once was; who knows what the rules there are now after the umpteenth reform act.) So it is manifestly untrue that the continuation of business as usual in electoral democracies can be blamed on the invariable absence of enough options on ballots.

The author’s oversight in that regard—his failure to do even rudimentary research before making a rather sweeping claim in an article—is all the more unfortunate because his more substantive criticisms, or at least his wider thesis, have substantial merit. The history of electoral government has not been consistently edifying and its trajectory has taken a substantially southerly appearance. Society has long since realized that they can “vote itself largesse out of the public treasury.” But society has learned that lesson before: surely the Romans developed the art of doing so to a high level indeed. At the same time, however, critics of modern democracy—a class, I should be clear, from which I by no means exclude myself—at times look too uncritically upon its flaws and upon the benefits of monarchy.

The Remnant criticizes modern democracy for its tendencies toward corporate oligarchy: elections require vast sums of money, which sums are supplied by magnates and businesses, with the invariable result that governments are composed almost entirely of men amenable in some way or other to magnates and businesses. The government thus represents not the will of the people broadly speaking, but only of a narrow elite of businesses and the wealthy. To an extent, that criticism is quite valid. But on the other hand, it perhaps overly ignores the degree to which businesses and other associations—take the NRA—are groups of people, communities in themselves, rather than merely monolithic forces opposed to individuals, a rather distastefully Marxist hermeneutic.

At the same time, those who have gone full-bore for monarchism often overlook the nasty oligarchical tendencies of that system as well. The powerful and wealthy gain access to the elected representative through the campaign process. But the same powerful and wealthy gain access to a monarch through the administrative process. For a monarchy, at least a functioning as opposed to a mere decorative monarchy, limits functionality in its concentration of power. The king---or really, I have always preferred a grand duke---makes decisions, but he has the capacity neither to accumulate for himself the vast quantity of data on which such decisions must rest nor personally to administer the decisions he makes. Thus, the functioning monarchy has always found itself dependent on small armies of ministers and attendants to bring information into the crown and direct authority out from it. Some nations have structured those administrative functions well, while others have done so poorly. A history professor of mine once assigned a book by John Brewer, The Sinews of Power, that blamed the clumsy design of France's administrative institutions for the Bourbons' decline in the struggles with England and the eventual implosion of the former in the revolucion. Alternatively, one might look to the last of the old European autocracies, the Russian Empire, to see the discord created by an entrenched oligarchy of incompetent ministers. A crown minister may not need wealth and popularity in the same manner an elected politician needs these things, be he will certainly be as willing to trade his services for them as any Congressman.

What these sorts of considerations reveal is not so much that monarchy, compared to republicanism, is or is not a good idea, or even preferable. The larger difficulty lies in the fact that the American Catholic---always, to a certain extent, and certainly since the Second World War---is irretrievably detached from the cultural context that shaped the political views of his ancestors in the old country. The bugbears and the very real threats to social stability, be they Masons, Jacobins, garibaldists, Hussites, or whomever, simply never took a place in American life as they did in European. Yes, we all know the Framers were largely Masonic deists---all the worse for them. But American Masons, as much as they may have kept Catholics out of trade unions or said inane things about the pope, have never been the anarchist mob laying siege to the Lateran. In part, the distance between American and European Catholicism in this regard results merely from our status here as a perpetual minority: we cannot sing, "Mary's prayers will win our country back to Thee," because the United States has from the beginning been in partibus infidelium.

So when Americans go becoming monarchists---not merely supporting a Bourbon or a Hapsburg restoration, but an advocate of monarchy per se---we almost invariably wade into unknown waters. The monarchist, no less than the republican, possesses the American's unique capacity for historical myopia. There was once more of this essay in my head, but it never got written; I think it will do for now as is.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Cordial Churchman

Is giving away a tie. Go hither and enter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beer From Around Here

Had a bottle of Red Brick amber ale a few weeks ago. I picked it off the loose bottles shelf at Trader Joe's because the label intrigued me. (It appears they've changed their labels since then---wonder how old the bottle I had was.) It was eminently satisfactory. I don't think the South has quite the microbrewery footprint of some other parts of the country (for instance, it became legal to operate a micro-distillery in Tennessee two years ago, and that amid quite some surprise). But being in the Midwest I've missed out on whatever there was. Good to know that there's beer from around here, though.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Purse

Who died and left a bunch of hipsters and ninnies in charge of deciding that men should now carry purses? I know, some places, like Saddleback, market some attractively rugged-looking leather bags for you to stuff things inside and carry with you. Even otherwise sensible advocates of style shill such things. But should you get one? Here are some simple rules to help you decide:

1. Are you carrying diplomatic dispatches, military orders, court filings, or something closely analogous?
If yes, you can carry a bag; if no, proceed to #2.

2. Are you carrying the bag as luggage---that is, does it hold clothing or other everyday items that you are only bringing with you because you are staying overnight somewhere or traveling beyond the convenient reach of otherwise home-bound accouterments?
If yes, you can carry a bag, but only for the duration of the trip; if no, proceed to #3.

3. Are you carrying surveying equipment, fractometer, large camera, artistic implements, or other equipment needed for a professional or hobby-oriented errand on which you are going?
If yes, you can carry a bag, but only for these purposes; if no, proceed to #4.

4. Is the bag a briefcase?
If yes, you can carry this---but not any other---bag; if no, proceed below.

If you couldn't answer yes to any of these questions, then place the bag on the ground, stand up, walk away, and be a man. Be advised that you are probably carrying, or inclined to be carrying, too many things with you.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Terrible Journalism

Terrible journalism is easy to come by, especially in "flagrant ignorance about religion" flavor. This piece, however, demonstrates a more subtle failure. I know nothing after reading the article that I didn't already know from the headline. Why do these windows violate the zoning restrictions? I certainly don't know. Do the zoning regulations prohibit tenants from opening the existing windows? Why can't the Margaritaville install windows that look exactly like the original windows but that open wider and more easily? Or do the zoning regulations simply prohibit storefronts that are only partially enclosed (in which case what windows are installed is entirely beside the point: the practice of opening them alone is offensive)?

But the article doesn't say any of that. It creates further uncertainty, rather than educating: poor writing on any level.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Prohibits?

From the Registrar:

"The size of the law diplomas (14x17) prohibits printing them on sheepskin so law diplomas are printed on a fine white paper."

Oh really? The Size came to the registrar's office and warned that someone would have to sleep with the fishes if the law diplomas were printed on vellum? I find that even less plausible than the excuse that it is simply impossible for our printing service to handle or procure such large sheets of vellum.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oh Brother

What is it about Notre Dame in the 21st century that attracts people prone to bone-headed decisions to positions of authority? Seems like we can't even go a full year in between flubs these days.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Attila at the Met

When I heard that Ricardo Muti was making his Metropolitan Opera debut this month conducting Verdi's Attila, I was incredulous. Surely Mr. Muti, one of the leading conductors of our day, and no more a young man than music director James Levine, had held the baton at the Met before. But like Verdi's ninth opera, and just as surprisingly, Muti's current trip is his first.

The Met broadcast the opening performance online last night, but I'm waiting for the Saturday matinee to hear it for myself. Like most early Verdi, Attila is fairly obscure; I certainly don't own a recording and am fairly certain that I have heard it only in snatches. After having seen Ernani at the Lyric, however, I find myself at something of a loss to explain the early works' long residence in the broom closet of opera. If these works lack the full power and dramatic energy of Verdi's later masterpieces, they certainly stand as respectable late bel canto works. Of course, the standard repertory relegated much bel canto to truncated concert pieces for many years (Lammermoor, for instance, being whittled down to only the mad scene and some bare bookends), so perhaps the early Verdi was simply shuffled along.

Peter Gelb appears hell bent on securing his place as the Earl Warren of the operatic world. As the audience booed yet another production team off the stage, one wonders just how much re-education Mr. Gelb thinks we need. By George, those new opera audiences are out there somewhere and the Met is going to find them, and the rule of law, democracy, and nature of the judicial function good taste, tradition, and the well-established preferences of 100 years' worth of audiences will not stand in its way. Attila of the Apes* comes just as the company has announced the scrapping of Zeffirelli's Traviata. To assuage any hurt, the Met promises to bring us John Adams's Nixon in China. Well, I know that I certainly have spent my entire life looking forward to hearing a work depicting events that themselves occurred well after the thorough demise of classical music as a living art form, composed by a minimalist hack whose work product (music would be too indulgent) has more in common with phone tones than with Rossini.

The only solution to things like this is the pocketbook: stop buying tickets to this tripe. Once Mr. Gelb's revolution is complete, this will require not buying tickets to the Met at all. Stop writing them checks now and maybe, just maybe, it won't come to that. I won't be holding my breath.


* Granting that the designers set out to be unhistorical, permit me to complain about the costuming, entirely apart from the question of whether Italy is being invaded here by Huns or by kudzu. The fellow in the red miter is St. Leo the Great. But why is he wearing a miter in a non-liturgical setting? Why is he wearing white? Popes before St. Pius V wear red. And why is he carrying a pastoral staff made out of two-by-fours? If the costumers desire to be unhistorical and a-representational, so be it. Dress the pope and the Huns up as aliens, or Victorians, or deranged costume designers. But weird half-measures, especially ones so inexplicable and widespread as basic inability properly to represent clerical attire, are simply uncalled for.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

35. Christ did not always possess the consciousness of His Messianic dignity. (Lamentabili Sane, 1907).

A condemned proposition, courtesy of St. Pius X. Also, incidentally, a proposition once seriously entertained by my sophomore religion teacher (who subsequently went to work for Episcopalians, explaining that they were "basically the same except for the Pope.") It's events like this that make me remember: if one ever thinks he has discovered some great, unpondered dilemma in the intellectual life of Christianity, one is probably quite wrong. Someone has likely pondered and resolved the dilemma already.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Keep Reading it Online, Please

. . . they'll go out of business.

Those were my Criminal Procedure professor's words about The New York Times. Sadly, the Times has finally realized that the internet has been beating it over the head with a hammer for a decade now and is shutting down free online access at the end of the year. So much for that route.

As fond as I am of print newspapers and print publications in general, I am sometimes surprised at how much I dislike the Times. That is, until I read pieces like this. They don't call it "Hell's Bible" for nothing.

The idea that this man writes a column under the heading "Culture" is simply risible. Granted, a lot of sex in movies is gratuitous and uncalled for regardless of who the actors or characters are. But to suggest that an otherwise worthwhile onscreen romance (not necessarily involving sex, since it was about the only thing not shown in some scene of Cleopatra) is depreciated because it involves or depicts marital acts is simply silly. Of course, a fellow of this sort is already living in his own world to a certain degree: I could have gone my whole life and not told you to whom Jennifer Connelly is married.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scarcity

Interesting observation from Prof. Smith re: police cameras. They upset the balance of the criminal justice system by removing scarcity from the prosecution of traffic violations. Ordinarily the system is predicated on discretion on the part of the police based on scarce enforcement resources. Interesting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier

The title is, of course, Bismark's famous dismissal of the Balkans. I have recently begun re-reading Robert Massie's seminal work Dreadnought. In the early chapters he runs through the important diplomatic events of the Victorian era by way of introducing the playing field on which Germans and British struggled for naval supremacy in the pre-Great War years. If you know the history of late-nineteenth-century Europe, you can skip the next three paragraphs.

A great deal of diplomatic and military fuss during these years, of course, focused on the Balkans. The story goes, more or less, as such: the Turks owned them, the Russians wanted them, the Austrians meddled with them, nobody got them. The Russians were motivated to interfere in the Balkans by twin concerns: pan-Slavism and opposition to the Turks. The Russians tried for centuries to exert enough pressure on the Turks so that the Porte would not be able to close the Bosporus and Dardanelles to Russia's Black Sea Fleet (the Baltic anchorages froze in the winter, and besides, battleships at Helsinki are not much use in protecting or menacing near east shipping).

Austria, on the other hand, had spent even more centuries wresting back north Balkan territory that the Turks had overrun in the 15th through early 17th centuries. The Balkans were her backyard, in which the Sick Man was enough of a trouble: other Great Powers surely couldn't be allowed to run free in it. Britain didn't particularly care whether the Balkans existed or not. She simply desperately wanted the straights closed to the Russian fleet, which could cut vital supply lines across the Mediterranean if loosed. The Prussians only cared about maintaining all the European spheres more or less in their present orbits, which happened to favor Germany.

So when in 1877 the Russians crushed the Ottomans in a war and extracted an independent (Russian-dominated) Bulgaria that filled most of the southern Balkans in the peace, the other powers were concerned. Ultimately Bismark hornswaggled the czar into renegotiating the peace at a Berlin conference that doled out diplomatic candy to other powers and forced Russia to surrender many of her gains. Nothing much changed from the European status quo antebellum except that now the Russians disliked Germany, of which they had been somewhat fond before. Eventually Wilhelm II sacks Bismark, the old diplomatic system falls apart, Russia and Austria dissolve, and millions of people die. Twice.

******
But suppose Bismark plays his cards differently. The British were incensed at the treaty, but were just beginning to reassert diplomatic influence in continental Europe and could have been fended off by diverse means. He could have let Russia keep most---perhaps not all---of the Big Bulgaria (it was a quite large state). He should have arranged a few guaranties for Turkey, so the Ottoman empire didn't implode (a constant fear and danger of the other powers). This effectively would have given Austria the short end of the stick.

The Austrians, however, never gained anything positive out of the Balkan influence they got from the Congress of Berlin: it was troublesome, expensive, and ultimately regicidal because, mirabili dictu, the Slavs didn't like being pushed around by Hapsburgs.. The principal problem that would face the Austro-Hungarian empire was not lack of diplomatic influence, it was internal tension between ethnic groups who could no longer be held together by the imperial crown. The Russians likely would have gained little in terms of actual power from increased Balkan influence. They would have had to oversee the internal squabbling there, and it would have done little to remedy the shortcomings in manufacturing and leadership that stymied the empire until its collapse. Even if the czar had been able to open the straights to steam for Suez, the Mediterranean Squadron could have blasted the Russians to the bottom of the Sea of Marmara as they attempted to force the Dardanelles (cf, Tsushima). Maybe the Russians should have been made to promise not to base warships in Bulgarian ports.

In the end, the European system was undone by Russian and Austrian perceptions of their own internal and diplomatic weakness (and Wilhem II's being a warmongering fool when he needed to be cool-headed). If Russia had been allowed to keep these victories, there would have been no lingering perception that she was being weakened by falling down on her obligations to fellow Slavs. If Austria had been kept out of new Balkan adventures, she could have been encouraged to focus on internal administrative improvements, perhaps the adoption of some form of federal system that would have both put minority nationalists more at ease and simultaneously allowed better functioning of government bodies. Her ties with Germany would provide her with diplomatic support and her absence from volatile meddling in the Balkans would remove sources of tension. As for Italy, well, nobody really cared what Italy thought: all Italy really wanted was Trieste, and she wasn't ever powerful enough to get that.

I think there's at least an interesting argument to be made, then, that if the Congress of Berlin had ended more favorably to Russia, the turmoil that led to the Great War might not have occurred, and old Andrew Cusack wouldn't have to be so sadly nostalgic.

Request from Fr. Z for old Mass/new Mass thoughts

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has posted a call for submissions of short pieces from young Catholics on the new and old Mass. I sent in a bit that hasn't yet been posted in the comboxes (although a good number have):

Age: 25, married w/o children; raised in an orthodox N.O. family, attended 1st TLM two years ago when offered on law school campus following S.P.; attended TLM most of the time since

What drove me to go to my first TLM, and then to return despite the confusion of the new experience, was the sense that there was something important there (beyond the Obvious Thing present at any Mass): that there was value in praying the way that saints, popes, and my ancestors had all prayed. I read my law school assignments and saw how twentieth-century jurists had thrown centuries of logical, accepted legal doctrines out the window on the basis of emotion, poor reasoning, and chronological snobbery; the result is a sickening mess. I haven’t been able to resist seeing the same forces in the jettisoning of the old rites. Maybe that makes me a grumpy reactionary. But I have “positive” motivations as well: I enjoy having the entire ordo in front of me; I enjoy the untruncated invocations, the scripture interwoven in the rites, the knowledge that I’m not going to be distracted by father’s use of New, Improved, Unapproved Mass RubricsTM, and—frankly—I enjoy Latin. But I also recognize that these things, these ancient rites, would be invaluable even if I didn’t enjoy them, because they are what we as Catholics do, or at least what we have always done. I simply don’t see any way in which it is possible for us to make reasoned decisions about what we as Catholics ought to be doing in our homes, in church, or with our families if we act as if history began in 1970.

-------------------
I might also add a follow up to the last line, which I omitted from what I sent Fr. Z because of length concerns. I believe my parents did a finer job than most of raising my siblings and I to be decent folks and loyal Catholics. We all have a decent amount of what John Sonnen periodically calls "team pride." But my father, who is primarily responsible for that sort of thing, had advantages in that task that many of his contemporaries, and indeed I would say almost all of my contemporaries, do not. He pulled from a substantial reservoir of pre-concilar piety, discipline, and memory in raising us in the Church. Outside this campus, you might have to travel several states to find another person my age who was taught double-genuflection by his parents and remembers it. If there is one thing in his life my father holds a grudge about, it's the sister who told him he wasn't allowed to kneel after Holy Communion any more in grade school. He once explicated in very clear terms why the abolition of the Index was a terrible idea. And my father isn't what anyone would call a traditionalist: he doesn't regard it as his place to have any sort of opinion or input about the Church's liturgy, aesthetics, or positive law, and he likes his prayers in English.

But the memories of the things he was taught, the things most people were taught a generation ago, allowed him to pass on a rather sizable chunk of Catholic culture and practice that is in many ways simply vestigial in a a purely N.O. world. Catholics of my age, without the same memories, have to find some way to access that same reservoir of knowledge if we are to have any hope of preserving any part of our cultural patrimony. Most of that knowledge will be found in the Missa Antiqua.

Were there things that needed reforming? Of course. The Church has needed reform in every age, because the perfect nature granted Her by Her Founder can only be preserved imperfectly by Her earthly stewards. New saints would be nice. I like the cycles for ordinary time (but their use for important feasts is destabilizing, I feel: the pattern of the liturgical year's accentuated points should be memorable and universal, not shifting). It probably would have been appropriate to shift the readings to the ambo. And this is just me, but I would really enjoy it if the itte, missa est came after the last gospel. If the priest says "it's over," it should actually be over. But ye gods and little fishies, the N.O. is a horse of a different color.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Abominable

Today we continued our intermittent tour of South Bend parishes with a trip to Our Lady of Hungary. A mid-twentieth century structure housing a conveniently timed Mass, I thought it could be counted on to have some interesting art-deco and probably a few impressive examples of the melded Old and New World artistic piety that are seen in other Midwest churches built by a particular immigrant group. And the priest couldn't possibly be worse than Fr. Pelagian Orangevestments at St. Adalbert.

It was like the Battle of Mohacs. Vomitous murals, blaspheming Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, and various saints and angels by their sheer repulsiveness, covered the entire (liturgical) eastern wall of the church. One panel alone stood out as bearable by comparison, but it could only be described charitably as "odd." Then there was the cantor. She sang every verse of "Lord of the Dance" and that infernal river song from The Searchers. Twice. I have no memory of what the poor missionary priest from Nigeria or wherever said during his homily, only the memory of wanting so desperately to climb to the choir loft, grasp hold of the caterwauling ninny, and explain to her that she was the reason there were never more than fourteen people in the church at once.