Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We're all Liberals

I have always both fully embraced and fully eschewed the word "conservative" as descriptive of my politics. I consider myself an Independent, an eighteenth century Tory, an anti-federalist, a secessionist, a monarchist, and a distributist, not even close to in that order. Only recently has the Situation become Clear as to what the real issue in America is and where my confusing political identity has been leading me. So, let's explore it, shall we?

I'll start at the tail end: I am a distributist first and foremost because of the Catholic social ideals of Subsidiarity and Solidarity. An explanation of these would probably get really long if I tried to do the justice, but I'm sure a short summary will suffice. Look them up somewhere else if this is unsatisfactory. Subsidiarity, simply, is the idea that governance and social ordering should be enacted on the most local level possible so as to connect those who govern to that which they govern as closely as possible. Solidarity is the idea that we foster a relationship with all those in our community and thus grow closer to each other in all our interactions. 

These ideals can really only work in concert with one another. In a globalized world with grand democratic empires trying to vie for control over the world's resources and the market, our "community" becomes the whole world, and relationships of Solidarity fall by the wayside. If we, on the other hand, do not live our lives relationally, even a small, local government can not promote the common good. Distributism is the idea that all members of the community can contribute something, and that our everyday interaction with other members of the community will result in a free exchange of gifts while order is maintained through limited and local governance. Special interest groups would be all but avoided, as the interests of one groups would end up being the interest of another. Doubters may say (and do say) that this is an impractical ideal or that it would be inefficient, or that it would destroy the wealth-making stock market that is so integral to the economy of the world, and perhaps it is, but it begs the question whether these are more important considerations than the very personal and human considerations of distributism.

So why am I a monarchist? It would seem that such a strong figure at the center of governance would immediately lend itself to corruption, oppression, and the death of human flourishing. However, the very principles of distributism makes monarchy the most sensible form of governance on a national level. An elected official will tend to work toward election, and thus to popularity, not according to what is right for the community. The influence of special interest groups becomes greater because of the possibility of a more frequent change in administration. There is, therefore, a certain instability inherent in an elected position which wields great power. A monarch, on the other hand, can act on mere whim, but if regulation of the community happens on the most local level possible, the whims of a monarch can have little to no effect on the day to day activity of the citizens. The monarch is there to represent and execute a set of ethical standards for the communities over which he rules and to unite them in common causes including the defense of the nation. It is easier to follow a person than an ideal of freedom, so if this ideal is symbolized by a person, this solves that problem.

All of this is to say that monarchy makes sense, but only in a very limited capacity because of the inherent limitations on a national government in distributism. The values of a monarch are 1) unity, 2) stability 3) symbolism of nation and values, and 4) no chance of gridlock in matters of national importance. This monarch can be provided with advisors from different communities, or other supporting offices, but ultimately the monarch must be the touchstone for the promotion of the values of the nation.

Even on the level of a community, there will always be levels of hierarchy and a need for a strong executive presence. The American president and the state governors are executives in this way, but because of the strong anti-monarchy sentiment at the founding of the nation, their executive responsibility is limited and rendered impotent especially because of the instability of the office.

One of the things we as Americans are afraid of is obedience, which is one of the reasons why there has been an undercurrent (and sometimes an overcurrent) of anti-Catholic activity throughout the history of the United States. No wonder then that we have disrespect for all authority including our parents, teachers, and those responsible for governing us. Career politicians and an endless look at polls and election results does not give us confidence in or respect for authority, but a strong, personal symbol of the nation or community which is stabilized by either heredity or lifelong term or both can give us that respect and confidence.

And you might think that Secession is the farthest thing from believing in monarchy, and you'd probably be right. I don't believe in uncontrolled acts of individual will power, and I don't believe that people should throw tantrums just because they see some injustice. However, I do believe that authority is only legitimate if it follows a moral and ethical code based on natural law. As Augustine says, an unjust law is no law, and thus secession or civil disobedience is in fact justified and lawful if the authority is unjust or immoral.

If a community, whether it is a city, a state, or a village, based on the distributist ideals with a strong vision, an effective leader and the proper resources wishes to part itself from an unjust authority, not only is it acceptable to do so, it is also the just thing to do for the common good of that community. The other answer, of course, is to work for the reformation of the nation or state so that the unjust law is overturned. In the ideal, the communities should be autonomous in normal everyday activity that "secession" shouldn't really mean much, but in order for this autonomy to be in place, a certain strategic distinction needs to be made between the various communities of the world.

This is not to say that we should divide ourselves and have no interaction with other communities. We are, in fact, members of a global community and as such we have a responsibility no matter how small to that community. However, we have a primary responsibility to our first and most important communities: our families and our neighbors. There is nothing wrong with travelling to other places and providing aid to other communities, but in doing so, you have made that community your primary community...where you live. The anti-federalist in me agrees. First and foremost in America we have a responsibility to our local community, then our states, then the federal community, and the level of governmental responsibility ought to reflect that. For any given issue, the most local government ought to have the greatest involvement. The United States is too large for the federal government to effectively govern the minutiae of every situation in every state. Even in the time of the revolution, the anti-federalists realized the issues involved.

My Tory-ism comes in because of my anglophilia, my monarchism and my insistence that injustice that the Americans were experiencing was solvable through other means, not to mention the fact that the whole Independence movement was based on the faulty premise of classic liberalism. In the minds of the founders, the assertion of the individual and the safeguarding of his rights was the highest good, hence the old adage "he pulled himself up by his bootstraps" as the motto of classic American values. It is a good government that allows those who can do something to do it.

However, this puts the onus on the government to decide what rights belong to whom and which rights to care about. Liberal democracy necessarily creates a weak foundation for this, an unstable system for the protection of rights. But are our individual rights really the basis on which we should found our moral and ethical sense of justice or should there instead be a standard outside of us as individuals which protects all from injustice and does not decide right from wrong based on the whims of an indulgent generation.

And we are indulgent. We have bloated our sense of "rights." Now, the highest of all rights is the right to privacy and control over one's own self. Not only does this reject any sense of authority (oh, that evil word!) it also rejects a sense of community and gives no consideration to a more comprehensive understanding of right and wrong. Those values are all relative, and the government's main job is to protect my right to decide my own morality and live by it. This means that the government must involve itself in an almost infinite number of situations as it must make sure that in every situation I am allowed to make my own decisions according to my beliefs.

And this is why I am Independent. I am not a republican or a democrat. I am not a conservative or a progressive, at any rate not in the American sense. In America, we are all Liberals. I can not easily escape my tendency toward individual-centered thinking and an assertion of my rights. Even my pet causes are couched in terms of "rights" and "liberty." But this is merely a Liberal idea upon which this nation is founded. Even my assertion of my "independence" is itself a liberal idea, as if the world had a responsibility to me to ensure that I would be allowed to rebel. I can not shake the liberalism that I grew up in. However, I do recognize that I do not want to conserve the Founder's original intent founded as it was on liberal tenets. I am not a conservative. But neither do I want to progress further along the liberal path toward an even stronger sense of personal rights and entitlement. I am no progressive.

But in a sense, I am both. I do wish to conserve the ideals of the Catholic Church as they relate to social order and have formed societies in the past and the present. I also want to apply those ideals in new ways to the new global situation in which we find ourselves. I wish to both conserve and progress, but the American system is based on a narrow understanding of both progress and conservation and I can have nothing to do with it. Is it time to secede? To disobey? To speak out? Perhaps, but it is only in community, in a mutual exchange of gifts and talents with a firm moral and ethical foundation and proper symbolic character that any of this can change, and I'm afraid the current of American thought is too strong. We are all liberals, and this means that we will remain in the chains of freedom.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


We at Notre Dame value a lot of things. We value tradition, family, faith, loyalty, quality education, spiritual formation, football. But we also value prestige, honour, funding, growth, novelty, We love our status as the touchstone football program in the NCAA Division 1, even when other teams have continually better records than we do. We love our status as THE Catholic University in America, even though that name technically belongs to another school. We love the honour of being seen next to Harvard and Yale as premiere institutions of research. We love the money that pours in from alumni that rightfully love this place.

But, lest we forget, the reason we are even in a position to vie with Harvard and Yale is because of the work of Fr. Sorin and the subsequent generations who did not allow sickness, poverty, or the modern thirst for power and money to stop them from being something that was totally different from anything else in America. Fr. Sorin trusted that God would see them through the winter, through the lack of funds and through all the other trials they encountered because he had dedicated the work to Our Lady and made that his starting point in all progress. Notre Dame was a mere boys' liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere Indiana, and it has now become the premiere Catholic University in the United States.

Notre Dame is faced once again with the choice between letting the world's demands guide our actions or our principles founded on the ideals of Fr. Sorin under the blessing of the Virgin. We know that the HHS Mandate commands that we provide contraception in our insurance plans for employees. We also know that to directly and knowingly pay money for contraception is against God's law and against our principles. To prove this, we have sued the federal government for relief from the Mandate.

However, since January 1st, when the Mandate went into effect, the University has chosen to comply with the mandate and provide in its health care plans insurance for these drugs which act against life at its earliest stages. We claim to be pro-life, bringing hundreds of students to the March for Life, providing services for pregnant students, and other life initiatives, but at the same time, we are complying with a law that goes against this very culture of life we claim to promote.

This can not go on. If we are to have any credibility in court, if we are to be believed that we care about these issues, if we wish to maintain our identity as the sons and daughters of Fr. Sorin, we will resist the temptation to give in to the pressures of prestige and money.

We will have to pay millions of dollars in fines every day, perhaps. This may mean we won't be able to build new dorms. It may mean we won't be able to admit as many new students next year. It may mean that we will have to cut programs, cut down options in the dining hall, let employees go. It may mean we will not be able to afford to keep the grounds as beautiful as we keep them currently. It may mean our image to the world will once again again be the "Fighting Irish" who can't be kept quiet.

Even if it means that, it will show that we are serious about our convictions and it will keep our conscience clean. If Notre Dame is forced to shrink, to lay off employees, and to lose prestige in the world all because of the government forcing us to pay for something it doesn't even force many large businesses to pay, that will send a message once again to the world that Notre Dame is something special, a school with a principled administration and a student body willing to sacrifice comforts for a higher cause.

We must be willing, though to sacrifice our prestige and comfort, our national name, our television contracts. We must be willing to be infamous as opposed to famous. We must be willing to accept the pressures of tyranny as the children of God and the followers of His Son, Jesus Christ. We must be willing to suffer taunts and risk humiliation just as our Patroness did when she accepted Christ into Her womb.

In short, we must be willing to bring Christ to the world by our witness to the truth. And we do not do that by complying with the oppressive mandates of a government with a corrupt vision. We are "God's subject[s] first."

St. Thomas More, Pray for us.
Notre Dame du Lac, Pray for us.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here at the Crossroads...

The new plans for a student center at the University of Notre Dame, confusingly called "Campus Crossroads" exhibit a level of cynicism and disrespect for the students that is hard to match. Students are the life of a University. Education is a University's first mission. At Notre Dame, we claim to educate the heart and the mind, but in many ways, our investment is elsewhere. Our investment is in accruing prestige, not knowledge. We care more about maintaining our huge endowment rather than endowing our students with the lessons of Fr. Sorin and Blessed Basile Moreau. We care about going against convention and being the first to do something new as if tradition no longer has a meaning to us.

Besides the fact that the facility in question is neither groundbreaking in design or concept, the disregard for student need is astounding. First of all, The stadium is not the center of campus now, and it shouldn't be. Our strength as a University is not in our sports programs, but in our faith and our academics.  Secondly, the quad system of the University is completely overlooked in a design that turns the buildings proposed away from each other and not toward each other. Instead, they have a huge field that nobody will be allowed to use lying between them blocking any natural path from one to another. The proposal furthers the sprawl of the campus, pushing for expansion while forgetting the need to keep our campus walkable. I doubt I would go all the way from my home in Morrissey (and Bond Hall) to a student center that was on the edge of campus. The walkability depends on being able to travel directly and quickly to other building. Instead of creating a behemoth building which is difficult to walk around, every effort should be made to improve, renovate and build in the heart of campus, centered on God Quad, which houses the very symbol of our University.

I have watched this campus develop for the past 5+ years. I have seen the new Law School building built as well as Ryan Hall, Stinson-Remick, Geddes, the Morris Inn, and the Stayer Center. I have followed the path that campus planners have been taking closely not only because I am an architecture student, but also because among the many reasons I love Notre Dame is the beauty of its campus. Notre Dame's campus center, which currently includes God Quad and South Quad is distinctive, ordered, and meaningful. It points not only to the early years of the University, and the hard work of those that built this place we call home, but also to the fundamental realities which led to the founding of Notre Dame.

Recent developments have been haphazard and, having seen the plans for the future, I do not see our campus staying comprehensible, compact, and beautiful. Instead, I see a University desperate to be relevant to other institutions just as desperate as it is. I see haste and carelessness in an effort to show a good face to the world while quality of student life, the very core of all we do, is rotting away, and this new student center seems to be just another shiny package used to brag to the world that we are a premiere, forward thinking institution while spitting in the faces of the students for whom, officially, it is built.