Holger Danske

Holger Danske

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    The Long View: Tragedy and Hope

    The Magistra likes to watch period dramas on Netflix. This is a work of the same genre, although Quigley probably didn't know he was writing one at the time. This book is a fossil from that brief and peaceful period in the 1960s before the big cultural upheavals in 1968, which in this case really means something more like the 1950s for most Americans, but more stylish.

    That was the time when "liberal Catholic" meant something like Pope Francis, left-of-center politically, but wholly orthodox. It was also a high point of the self-confidence of the West as a whole, and American liberalism in particular. One of the enthusiams of this book is Operations Research, a formal science that emerged out the the Second World War. This is a discipline that does not bulk large in anyone's mind today, but it was the nanotech of its day, capable of solving any problem in principle. John notes that the belief in Operations Research methods was part of what made Robert McNamara think the war in Vietnam could be managed using metrics and scientific methodology. This famously did not go well, although I can think of at least one old OR man who might dispute that interpretation.

    Quigley's book has achieved a kind of fame, at least amongst the conspiracy minded, due to his singling out of the Round Table groups founded by Cecil Rhodes. The most familiar of these groups today is the Council on Foreign Relations, but Rhodes also founded the Rhodes Scholarships with the same motivation as the Round Table groups; he wanted to build an international network of public-minded and public-spirited men across the English-speaking world.

    The Round Table groups were really just a spontaneous outgrowth of the first period of internationalization, when international trade began to rapidly outpace international institutions, and some mechanism was needed to fill the gap. Industrious Victorians like Rhodes were only too happy to come up with something clever to do just that. As international institutions caught up, the influence of the Round Table groups declined, if for no other reason than they were no longer the only players in the game.

    Anglophilia and conspiracy theories are not the main interest of this book, however. Quigley summed up everything he thought was best about the Western world thus:

    "The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]

    While at first glance this might seem to be merely to be a summary of the early 1960s liberal consensus, its roots go far deeper. Quigley himself considered this to be an interpretation of Aquinas. That is defensible, there really are ideas like this in Aquinas's thinking. It is also not the only possible interpretation of Aquinas. But it does represent a durable line of thought in the history of the West.

    This line of thought may or may not be true, but it has been with us a long time.

    Tragedy and Hope:
    A History of the World in Our Time
    by Carroll Quigley
    First Published 1966
    The Macmillan Company
    (Reprint GSG & Associates)
    1,348 Pages, US$35.00
    ISBN 0-945001-10-X


    For reasons that are only partly the author's fault, "Tragedy and Hope" has become one of the key texts of conspiracy theory. Famous for its exposition of the workings of the Anglophile American establishment during the first half of the twentieth century, the book is reputed to have "named names" to such a degree that the hidden masters of the world tried to suppress the unabridged edition. It did not diminish the book's reputation that Carroll Quigley (1910-1977), a historian with the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University, made a deep impression on US-president-to-be Bill Clinton during Clinton's undergraduate years at that university. We have Mr. Clinton's own word on this, so it must be true.


    If the hidden masters did try to suppress the book when it first appeared, they seem to have lost interest by now; the only problem I had buying this enormous volume was carrying the 15 pounds of it home. "Tragedy and Hope" has no notes, no bibliography, and a very inadequate index. As with the Bible, its sheer size has done something to ensure that it would be more cited than read. For what it is intended to be, a history of the world from about 1895 to 1964, the book is a failure. As Quigley acknowledges, there are insuperable problems of perspective in writing about one's own time. On the other hand, the book's prejudices are fascinating. It was written at the point in the 1960s just before the American liberal consensus began to unravel. Perhaps as important for Quigley, that was also the brief interval after the Second Vatican Council when "liberal Catholic" did not mean someone who rejected all dogma and tradition. Beyond its value as a period piece, however, the book occasionally transcends its time. Its remarks about the future, presumably a future more distant than our present, are close to becoming conventional wisdom today.


    Quigley's frame of reference is roughly that of Arnold Toynbee: the West, including Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Australasia, has entered an Age of Crisis. Other civilizations, when faced with analogous crises, solved them by entering an Age of Universal Empire. Universal Empires, however, are morbid: they are stultifying at best and eventually collapse in any case. Quigley's objection is not to international institutions, or even to world government. What the West must do, according to Quigley, is end its Age of Crisis without creating a Universal Empire through military conquest. The problem with the 20th century, down to the 1960s, has been repeated attempts by persons and groups to achieve universal power by force or manipulation.


    This analysis sounds much more interesting than it is. Quigley's tale is pretty much a vindication of President Franklin Roosevelt's administration (1933-1945). By Quigley's account, the failure to adopt the policies of those years earlier in the 20th century led to the disasters of the Depression and the Second World War, while the need of the decades that followed was to expand and perfect the Progressive tradition they embodied. Much of the reputation of this book among conspiracy theorists rests on its account of the world financial system of the 1920s, when the Bank of England no longer had the power to regulate the system, as it had before the First World War. The gap was filled by private institutions acting in collusion with the heads of the central banks, generally without oversight from the world's major governments. A combination of bad luck and stupidity made the system collapse at the end of the decade, so that currencies became inexchangeable, trade froze, and force displaced commerce both domestically and internationally. It's not hard to make ordinary banking practices sound like the work of the devil, and in this book the devil's little helpers are Morgans, Rothschilds, and Barings.


    One can take or leave Quigley's long, very long, expositions of economic theory. Many readers will be inclined to leave an argument that suggests the whole of history was preparation for the ultimate enlightenment contained in John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society," which argued for Keynsian macroeconomics and a mildly redistributive social policy. (Quigley clearly alludes to that book, published in 1958, but does not cite it.) In any case, Quigley described speculative, international finance-capitalism as a feature of the past; he did not think it had any relevance to his own day.


    What chiefly ensured Quigley's work a lasting place in the pantheon of paranoia, however, was his attempt to provide a social context for this activity. This paragraph appears at the end of a tirade against McCarthyism:


    "This myth, like all fables, does in fact have a modicum of truth. There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its paper and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies (notably to its belief that England was an Atlantic rather than a European Power and must be allied, or even federated, with the United States and must remain isolated from Europe), but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known." [Page 950]


    "Anglophilia" sounds like a debilitating psychological ailment, with some reason. In its American manifestation, it suggests a preference for tweedy clothes, water sports that don't require surf, and nominal affiliation with the Anglican Communion. The syndrome has a copious literature, much of it concerned with prep schools, but here is all you need to know in this context. The ideology of Quigley's network can apparently be traced to 19th century Oxford, indeed specifically to All Souls College, back when John Ruskin was expounding a compound of Gothic Revival aesthetics, the glory of the British Empire, and the duty to uplift the downtrodden poor. These ideas seized the imagination of Cecil Rhodes during his years at Oxford. He hoped for a federation of the whole English-speaking world, and provided the money and impetus for institutions to link those countries. (Lord Alfred Milner provided the organizing talent.) The best known of these efforts are the Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford. (Bill Clinton is among the many well-know recipients.) They also included informal "Round Table Groups" in the Dominions and the US, which sponsored local Institutes of International Affairs. The US version is the Council on Foreign Relations.


    While the people in these groups were very influential (that is why they were asked to join), Quigley makes clear that the Round Tables never had everything their own way, even in the administration of colonial Africa, where both Rhodes and Milner were especially interested. As with the finance capitalists, the Anglophile network was essentially a league of private persons trying to fill a gap in the international system. As public institutions were created to exercise the Round Tables' consultative and communications functions, the network itself became less important.


    Quigley makes the increasing marginalization of the Anglophile network perfectly clear, and in fact he does not suggest that it was ever more than one factor among many at any point in the 20th century. Nonetheless, it is his failing as a historian to suggest that a causal nexus can be inferred whenever two actors in a historical event can be shown to have met. Consider this excerpt from a discussion of the history of Iran:


    "By that time (summer, 1953) almost irresistible forces were building up against [Prime Minister] Mossadegh, since lack of Soviet interference give the West full freedom of action. The British, the AIOC, the world petroleum cartel, the American government, and the older Iranian elite led by the shah combined to crush Mossadegh. The chief effort came from the American supersecret intelligence agency (CIA) under the personal direction of its director, Allen W. Dulles, brother of the secretary of State. DulIes, as a former director of the Schroeder Bank in New York, was an old associate of Frank C Tiarks, a partner in the Schroeder Bank in London since 1902, and a director of the Bank of England in 1912-1945, as well as Lazard Brothers Bank, and the AIOC. It will be recalled that the Schroeder Bank in Cologne helped to arrange Hitler's accession to power as chancellor in January 1933." [Page 1059]


    I don't quite know what this is supposed to mean; that pretty much the same people overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh as brought us Hitler? I am reminded of nothing so much as Monty Python's parody of an Icelandic saga, about the deeds of "Hrothgar, son of Sigismund, brother of Grundir, mother of Fingal, who knew Hermann, the cousin of Bob." Maybe this is Quigley's idea of "thick" description. Certainly "Tragedy and Hope" is thick with it; it goes on for pages and pages.


    "Tragedy and Hope" is a fossil, perfectly preserved, of the sophisticated liberalism of the Kennedy era. Quigley takes a partisan position in the debates about nuclear strategy that began in the 1950s. (He sat on several government commissions on scientific questions, including the one that recommended creating NASA. The book explains the physics of nuclear weapons in some detail; Quigley does not just name names, he names the weight of fissionable material necessary for a bomb.) Thus, he praises Oppenheimer and condemns Teller, deplores the cost-cutting strategy of "massive retaliation" embraced by the Eisenhower Administration and supports tactical nuclear devices suitable for conventional war. "Tragedy and Hope" has prose poems to "Operations Research," the application of quantitative analysis to military affairs, which he ranks with Keynsian economics as one of the pillars of modern civilization.


    Though it is not entirely fair to criticize even a book such as this for failing to foresee the immediate future, still I cannot help but remark how many of these ideas were tested in the 1960s and found wanting. The number-crunching military philosophy that Quigley endorsed was essentially that of Robert McNamara's Pentagon; as much as anything else, it is what lost the Vietnam War for the United States. Quigley covers Vietnam up through the assassination of President Diem in 1963, but gives no greater prominence to the conflict there than to other Cold War trouble spots. This book is good evidence, if any more were needed, that even the Americans who knew most had not the tiniest idea what they were doing.


    The problem with the Kennedy Enlightenment is not that elements of its conventional wisdom were wrong; that is true of all eras. The great flaw was its totalitarian streak. Quigley expresses this attitude perfectly:


    "The chief problem of American political life for a long time has been how to make the two Congressional parties more national and more international. The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps of the Right, and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. The policies that are vital and necessary for America are no longer subjects of significant disagreement, but are disputable only in terms of procedure, priority and method..." [Page 1248-1249]


    Quigley was aware that there was a substantial number of persons in the nascent conservative movement who did not think that all issues had been settled yet, but he regards their opinions as not just erroneous but illegitimate. Quigley has fits of class analysis, so he tells us that the traditional middle class, considered as a cultural pattern rather than an economic group, was evaporating because of growing prosperity and feminization. (His description of contemporary students as promiscuous, unkempt and unpunctual suggests he had some inkling of just how annoying the Baby Boom generation was going to be.) The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.


    Let us think less harshly of Bill Clinton hereafter, if these were the opinions he heard from the Wise and the Good of his youth.


    The infuriating thing is that Quigley knows better. He was well aware of the totalitarian trajectory of the respectable consensus of his day, and he was not pleased by it. Consider this paragraph:


    "Because this is the tradition of the West, the West is liberal. Most historians see liberalism as a political outlook and practice founded in the nineteenth century. But nineteenth-century liberalism was simply a temporary organizational manifestation of what has always been the underlying Western outlook. That organizational manifestation is now largely dead, killed as much by twentieth-century liberals as by conservatives or reactionaries...The liberal of about 1880 was anticlerical, antimilitarist, and antistate because these were, to his immediate experience, authoritarian forces that sought to prevent the operation of the Western way. ...But by 1900 or so, these dislikes and likes became ends in themselves. The liberal was prepared to force people to associate with those they could not bear, in the name of freedom of assembly, or he was, in the name of freedom of speech, prepared to force people to listen. His anticlericalism became an effort to prevent people from getting religion, and his antimilitarism took the form of opposing funds for legitimate defense. Most amazing, his earlier opposition to the use of private economic power to restrict individual freedoms took the form of an effort to increase the authority of the state against private economic power and wealth in themselves. Thus the liberal of 1880 and the liberal of 1940 had reversed themselves on the role and power of the state..." [Page 1231]


    Quigley strongly suspected that, whatever else may happen to the West, democracy was likely to be a decreasingly important feature. In part, this was for a reason that would gladden the hearts of defenders of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: the disarming of the citizenry, at least in comparison to the military. Universal male suffrage was partly a side effect of the dominance in the 19th century of the rifle-armed mass infantry. Firearms were cheap and great equalizers; governments could use such armies only with a high level of consent from the citizens who composed them. In the 20th century, however, the new weapons were beyond the means of private parties or groups, and they could be operated only by trained experts. In a way, the world came back to the era knights and castles, when the bulk of the population figured in politics chiefly as silent taxpayers.


    Quigley did recognize that the trends of the 20th century up to his day might not go on forever, and at this point the book becomes positively disconcerting. He saw no end to the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, except to the extent that their economic and political systems might be expected to converge in an age increasingly dominated by experts. ("Convergence": now that's a buzzword that brings back memories.) On the other hand, he did think that the lesser countries of each block would be able to operate more independently from the US and the USSR, and even to relax internally. He makes remarks about the possibility of balkanization and decentralization that might almost have been made by Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman, who are perhaps best known for their recent writing about chaos and disintegration in the world after the Cold War. Like other people writing 40 years later, Quigley also suggests that, simultaneous with increasing disorder and complexity, new international institutions would also flourish, so that the nations of his day would lose authority to entities both greater and smaller than themselves.


    "Tragedy and Hope" suggests that the future may look something like the Holy Roman Empire of the late medieval period. [Page 1287] In principle, the empire was a federal hierarchy of authorities, but the principle was scarcely visible in the tangle of republics, kingdoms, and bishoprics that composed it. The Imperial Diet was as multichambered as a conch-shell, while the executive functioned only on those rare occasions when the emperor, an elected official, managed to persuade the potentates of the empire that what he wanted to do was in their interest. Actually, Quigley did not have far to seek for this model. The early European Economic Community of his day already was starting to look like just such a horse designed by a committee. Its evolution into the European Union has not lessened the resemblance. Quigley seemed to expect a parallel evolution of institutions universally, through the UN system, for which a united Europe would stand as a model. He is not perfectly clear on this point, however. As is so often the case when people talk about transcending national sovereignty, it is not clear whether they are talking about the evolution of the West, or of the world, or of both.


    To broach a final topic, one of the things that struck me about "Tragedy and Hope" was Quigley's lack of interest in intellectual history, except for science. His treatments of ideology tend to be cursory, misleading or wrong. Lack of interest is his privilege, of course, but to write a 1,300-page book about the first half of the twentieth century without liking ideology is like owning a candy store and not liking chocolate. The only point when the matter seems to fully engage his interest is when he is speculating about the ideology that might help the West to emerge from its Age of Crisis. What the West needs to do, he says, is to hold fast to its special intellectual virtues, which he summaries like this:


    "The Outlook of the West is that broad middle way about which the fads and foibles of the West oscillate. It is what is implied by what the West says it believes, not at one moment but over the long succession of moments that form the history of the West. From that succession of moments it is clear that the West believes in diversity rather than in uniformity, in pluralism, rather than in monism, or dualism, in inclusion rather than exclusion, in liberty rather than in authority, in truth rather than in power, in conversion rather than in annihilation, in the individual rather than in the organization, in reconciliation rather than in triumph, in heterogeneity rather than in homogeneity, in relativisms rather than in absolutes, and in approximations rather than in final answers. The West believes that man and the universe are both complex and that the apparently discordant parts of each can be put into a reasonably workable arrangement with a little good will, patience, and experimentation. In man the West sees body, emotions, and reason as all equally real and necessary, and is prepared to entertain discussion about their relative interrelationships but is not prepared to listen for long to any intolerant insistence that any one of these has a final answer." [Page 1227]


    At first glance, this might seem to be just another instance of the Kennedy Enlightenment assuming that its own parochial ideas are all the ideas there are. Certainly this laundry list looks more than a little like John Dewey's pragmatism. Pragmatism has its virtues, but is hardly the thread that runs through all Western history. However, that is not where the summary comes from. On close examination, Quigley's "Way of the West" has more content than is characteristic of pragmatism, which is a philosophy about procedure. What we have here, as Quigley tells us himself, is a take on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.


    Aquinas has been credited and blamed for many things. In the 20th century, he had been called "the father of science" and "the first Whig." There really are features of his ideas that are friendly to empirical science and to limited government with the consent of the government. On the other hand, if you need a detailed account of the physiology of demons, he is your man. A "liberal" Thomas is not the only possible Thomas, but such an interpretation would have appealed to a Catholic scholar like Quigley in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, where the ideas of John Cardinal Newman on the development of doctrine seemed to carry all before them.


    There is an obvious pattern in Quigley's ideas about the future. Consider the specifics: the end of mass warfare and mass democracy, the disintegration of the nation state into both a universal polity and local patriotisms, and a global intellectual synthesis that is willing to entertain any idea that is not contrary to faith and morals. (Aquinas was rather more honest about that last part than was Quigley.) What we have here is a vision of the High Middle Ages with International Style architecture. This vision may or may not reflect the future, but it certainly has a long history. Let us let Oswald Spengler have the last word; I suspect this is where the citation-shy Quigley got the idea in the first place:


    "But neither in the creations of this piety nor in the form of the Roman Imperium is there anything primary and spontaneous. Nothing is built up, no idea unfolds itself - it is only as if a mist cleared off the land and revealed the old forms, uncertainly at first, but presently with increasing distinctness. The material of the Second Religiousness is simply that of the first, genuine, young religiousness - only otherwise experienced and expressed. It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, then the forms of the Springtime become visible, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion, which had receded before the grand forms of the early faith, returns to the foreground, powerful in the guise of the popular syncretism that is to be found in every Culture at this phase."


    The Decline of the West, Volume II, page 311

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    CrossFit 2014-07-23


    3 rounds

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    Time 26:19


    The Long View: The Future of the Papacy

    Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus BenedictI see that Richard McBrien has an updated version of The Lives of the Popes. John's essay isn't really a review of McBrien's book, it is more along the lines of an attempt to set the record straight. This essay would be a good counter-point to the reviews of McBrien's book on Amazon.

    I am certain McBrien is thrilled by the election of Pope Francis, but it shall be interesting to see what McBrien says when Francis fails to act on his plan. In his own way, Francis is as mis-understood as Benedict.

    The Future of the Papacy


    by John J. Reilly

    On the whole, Richard McBrien's current bestseller, "The Lives of the Popes," is not a very good book. While the author does have the good grace to warn in the introduction that he is arguing for a particular model of ecclesiology, still the work is usually tendentious, sometimes spiteful and occasionally sloppy. (At the very least, the publisher should have assigned an editor who knew some Latin.) A paradoxical use of the book may be as evidence that Pius X's attitude toward theologians may have been right after all.

    Be this as it may, the Epilogue entitled "The Future of the Papacy" does raise some interesting points. Fr. McBrien notes that history is liberating because it teaches us that things were not always as they are now. Because the papacy in times past was not always as it has been for the past century or so, he suggests, there is some reason to suppose that it will be different again in the future. His point is well taken; John Paul II himself took it in his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" (That They May Be One). However, in this context, it may not have quite the implications that "The Lives of the Popes" would lead you to believe.

    A notion that runs through the "Lives of the Popes" (as well as through other recent discussions of the subject) is that the history of the papacy falls rather neatly into two halves. In the first millennium of the Christian era, according to this schema, the Bishop of Rome enjoyed a unique prestige among the world's bishops. The Apostolic See even acquired secular power in central Italy as civilization went to wrack and ruin. However, it was only in the second millennium (the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085) makes a reasonable transition point) that the papacy became a sovereign monarchy. This happened first in the secular and then increasingly in the ecclesiastical realm. Although the broadest claims to papal authority are medieval, there is a lot to be said for the observation that the actual power of the papacy over the governance of the Church reached its maximum after 1870, when the Apostolic See was involuntarily stripped of the distraction of the Papal States.

    Today, according to some critics, the process of centralization has reached such an extreme degree that one might reasonably expect it to start to reverse. In fact, the emphasis by the Second Vatican Council on the collegiality of bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, is cited as the beginning of this process. Since we have already had two historical epochs, a proper respect for Hegel (and maybe for Joachim of Fiore) makes it almost inevitable that we consider the possibility of a third. Fr. McBrien is particularly keen on the notion that the third millennium will resemble the first more than the second. The pope will no longer be a monarch, either over secular subjects or over his fellow bishops. Rather, he will be a conciliator, whose special role will be to promote Christian unity. He will leave matters of discipline to local bishops and assemblies, while theology will be the province of the experts. Such as Fr. McBrien.

    Periods of a thousand years do not normally make useful units of historical analysis, but still there is a fair amount of truth to this schema of two eras. There is even some sense in the anticipation of a Third Age. The chief point that needs to be added is that the papacy has never existed in a vacuum. The mutations it has undergone in the past 2000 years are only partly the result of the logic of its own development. The short explanation for these changes is that the papacy was simply mirroring the political evolution of the societies in which it lived. The pope was once a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory.

    If anything, the papacy has been ahead of the curve in terms of the development of supranational organizations. Without entering into a discussion of the merits of organizations like the WTO and the IMF, still it is a good bet that more and more of the world's business will be looked after by specialized international regulatory agencies. There are already a lot of these. You don't hear about them much because, like the venerable Universal Postal Union, they have the good sense to stick to genuinely international issues and otherwise leave their national affiliates to run themselves. This is the model that the Fr. McBriens of the world would like the Church to embrace.

    On its face, the model is not without merits. The principle of subsidiarity, not to say common sense, dictates that the units of any global organization should normally be self-governing. The Catholic hierarchy is a hierarchy of authority, not of administration. Even those of us who applaud the intervention of the Vatican to correct local scandals in teaching and liturgy must acknowledge that there is something wrong when parents in New Jersey are writing letters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to complain that the nun teaching their kids' CCD class is a self-proclaimed witch. The real question, of course, is whether the problem is overreaching by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or incompetence on the part of the witch's bishop.

    As is so often the case with predictions about the future, it seems reasonable to forecast a near-term period of heightened conflict, followed by a durable resolution that may well hold for a large slice of the next millennium. I agree that the current situation is not stable. On the one hand, there is a disgruntled clerisy of theologians in the colleges, plus a few bishops, who want the right to define Catholicism as anything they say it is. On the other hand, there is an episcopate that is reasonably orthodox but reluctant to challenge the experts. The Vatican greatly prefers not to intervene locally, but it is hard not to do so when the increasing ease of communications broadcasts every scandal worldwide. This just makes the clerisy madder, which invites more intervention. Something is going to give here.

    The current assumption among the "just wait until the next pope" liberals is that what will give will be the papacy. The College of Cardinals, tired of getting all those weird letters from New Jersey, will elect a congenial makeweight at the next conclave. He will write a few encyclicals in which he encourages the fashionable theologies to be fruitful and multiply, while most of his time will be spent promoting peace-and-justice initiatives submitted to him from the better Catholic universities. The Catholic Church will then become like the easygoing Anglican Church, with which it will no doubt merge. The papacy will collapse back into its first-millennium role as an inter-episcopal mediator, and everyone will live happily ever after. You bet.

    The problem with this scenario is that it extrapolates the present into the indefinite future. It does seem reasonable that the third millennium of the Catholic Church in general and the papacy in particular will differ from the second. It may also be true that the third will resemble the first in some important ways. The flaw in the predictions made by many of the people who promote this model, however, is that there may be a resemblance between the first millennium and the third that they have not thought of: the absence of professional academic theologians.

    By the end of the 20th century, we have come to think of theologians as just another part of the professoriate. However, the idea of a class of persons paid to teach and do research and criticize is not self-obvious. Most societies have not had such a class at all. Those that have had one have usually had it for only a few centuries at a time. There were such people for the first 500 years of the first millennium in the West. Athens, for instance, was a college town throughout the Roman period. The significant point is that the people who taught there were not theologians, but rhetoricians and philosophers. Although the early Church made use of philosophical ideas developed in the schools, it did not turn the ancient academies into Christian institutions. In fact, it eventually shut them down. A "theologian" in the first millennium was normally a bishop, someone like Augustine or John Chrysostom, who formulated theological propositions for the practical purposes of teaching and apologetics.

    If we are going to think in units of centuries, then we should consider the possibility that the critical style of intellectual life that has characterized the West since the 18th century may cease to be ubiquitous. For instance, Francis Fukuyama's book, "The End of History," was much ridiculed a few years ago for suggesting that history ended with the end of the Cold War. In reality, he suggested nothing so crude. What he did say was that the possibilities of political theory within the Western tradition had been exhausted, which I think is not only plausible but true. Similarly, it is a given among many physicists that we are only a jump or two away from a general unification theory, or "theory of everything." Such a theory would not confer omniscience; it would simply unite cosmology and nuclear physics in a small set of equations. After the theory is achieved, there would still be physicists, but the enterprise of advanced physics would have fundamentally changed. It would become a matter of looking for the implications of what is already known, and of looking for better ways to express it and teach it.

    As I understand it, this is very much what happened to theology in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. For three or four centuries after the Edict of Milan, the practice of theology was exuberantly speculative, and most of it happened in the Byzantine East. It was one of those eras in history in which high theory drove power politics. Popular enthusiasm was engaged by controversies of fantastic subtlety that today are fully understood only by specialists, and you wonder even about the specialists. Thereafter, however, Eastern Christianity lost this speculative quality. It was no longer necessary. The Eastern Church's theology was "finished," just as plane geometry was "finished" in Hellenistic times, and perhaps as physics will be "finished" in the 21st century.

    In the first third of the first millennium, the world's bishops tended to discourage theological subtlety as part of their campaign against Gnosticism. By the last third, the major theological questions had already been settled. It was in the former and the latter contexts that it made sense for the pope to act primarily as an arbitrator and organizer. During the convulsive middle period, of course, the pope did often intervene in the great Christological controversies, but even then he rarely proposed formulations of doctrine himself. When it came time for the papacy to evangelize the newly barbarian West, the deposit of the faith had already been almost completely formulated by the Fathers of the Church. Everything necessary was already on the shelf. Much later, when the West developed its own intellectual life, it became necessary for the pope to act proactively on matters of faith and discipline, rather than just as a mediator. It is necessary still. However, it may not be necessary forever.

    It really is not hard to predict the future, since almost anything you predict that is possible is bound to happen eventually. The trick is to get the timescale right. Nevertheless, I would be willing to suggest the following will be the state of things sooner rather than later: A Vatican that acts more like a senior patriarchate, a laity that rarely feels the need to inquire beyond the local bishop on points of doctrine, and a small class of clerical theologians who see their primary function as apologetics. I don't think you can have one part of this future without the other. It's a package deal.




    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    The Long View: Religion

    I wasn't a Catholic when I first started reading John's website. He is probably partly to blame for how I turned out, along with G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Fr. John Neuhaus. Which is just as well, since none of these men are around to defend themselves any longer. John had a theological bent that showed in all of his writing. I was intrigued, and it led me on.

    John's take on papal encyclicals, and the papacy itself was particularly formative. The Anglo-Saxon parts of Europe and their overseas progeny are currently ascendant, and we are right to see those individualistic cultures as uniquely successful, and as the birthplace of the political notions that currently dominate the world. However, it is worth remembering that space was opened in Western Civilization for liberty when a Pope forced an Emperor to kneel in the snow. I have come to see this as one of the defining features of Western Civilization, and also how Western Christianity differs from Eastern. The space that opened up between Church and State allowed for more real freedom than anyone had ever had, and also served as the first example of the principle of checks and balances that American democracy embraces.

    John saw the Papacy as a unique institution in the world, one tied up with the fate of the West. It is also the nucleus of something greater, as the oldest transnational institution. The Bishop of Rome has variously been "a Roman citizen, then a Byzantine official, then a barbarian chieftain, then a feudal lord, then a Renaissance prince, then a Baroque monarch. Since 1870, he has been the chief executive officer of a remarkably efficient international bureaucracy (well, efficient compared to the UN). What you think the papacy will become next therefore depends on your ideas about the future development of the nature of government and of political theory.

    The Pope may not have many divisions, but the Holy See bulks large in international politics. If a system of world governance crystallizes, the Holy See will be a part of it. This is why people who aren't Catholic care so much about who is Pope. They rightly surmise that much is at stake. On a personal level, John was a fan of Benedict the XVI as well. John understood him better than most. I don't think John would have been surprised by Benedict's resignation. John always saw him as an unwilling pope who accepted elevation out of obedience, when he would have much rather gone back to live a life of writing, prayer, and meditation. I am sad that John didn't live to see Pope Francis. I would rather have enjoyed his commentary. Ah well. Perhaps we'll catch up someday.


    I am what is known as an "orthodox" Roman Catholic. This means that, while my views are conservative, I do not think I am any more Catholic than the Pope. This is an important point

    Readers who have looked under the other headings of this Web site will have noticed a certain theological twist in everything I write. Here are some pieces that deal directly with religious questions. Just click on the underlined words:


    The Reformation: A History [Diarmaid MacCulloch on one of God's Great Mistakes.] The Interior Castle [Saint Teresa of Avila describes the best case.]  


    Revelation of the Magi [Brent Landau's translation and commentary of an ancient Syriac text that is not quite the Party Line.] Findings [Charles Upton chronicles the decay of Traditionalism in the latter Kali Yuga.] The Red Book [Carl Gustav Jung's psyche in illuminated color, also called Liber Novus.]


      American Babylon [Father Richard John Neuhaus's last book was on politics in the light of the eschaton.]


      Earthly Powers [Michael Burleigh on "The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War."] Eschatology [Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) on Death, Eternal Life, and the End of the World.]


      Spe Salvi [A review of Benedict XVI's second encyclical, Saved by Hope. The document is really about the idea of progress.] Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion [David Gelernter assures Americans that they are not as other men.]

    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    CrossFit 2014-07-18

    Double Dragon

    • 800m run
    • 30 power snatches [75#]
    • 800m run

    Time 14:50


    Firestone Walker Double DBA 2014 Review

    Firestone Walker Double DBA 2014

    Type 31 [Imperial Special Bitter]; 12%ABV; O.G. 28.4 plato; 29 IBU; aged 12 months; British Ale yeast; 27 srm


    I received this beer from the Magistra for my 10 year work anniversary. A mighty fine present.

    Double DBA is Firestone Walker's flagship beer brewed double strength. I guess that makes it a Double Double Barrel Ale? Double2 Barrel Ale?

    Since this is a double strength imperial version of an already malty beer, you should not be surprised at how thick and rich this beer is. Add barrel-aging on top of that, and you are going to have a very sweet, but also a very deep beer. The box advertised toasted coconut, and I think I got that one, although I missed out on the graham cracker.

    Thick on the tongue, sweet on the finish, this is a fine beer for sipping in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Pick this one up, you won't be disappointed.

    My other beer reviews


    CrossFit 2014-07-16

    Front squat



    3 rounds

    • 300m row
    • 10 burpees
    • 10 thrusters [53#]

    Time 9:34


    CrossFit 2014-07-14

    Red Nation

    AMRAP 15 minutes

    • 10 toes to bar
    • 15 box jumps [24"]
    • 20 wallballs [20#]

    Score 4 rounds even


    The Long View 2002-03-01: The European Constitutional Convention 

    Just today I read an article featuring a prediction about the future of the EU by Emmanuel Todd, a prominent French anthropologist. Todd is known for his work on Anglo-American exceptionalism, particularly in how families are viewed differently in England, Denmark, Brittany, the Netherlands, and parts of Norway.

    However, despite how interesting Todd's work on families is, the reason I mention him here is Todd's [correct] prediction in 1976 that the USSR would fall, based on failing demographics.

    Todd is now predicting the same thing for the EU. I am not a Euroskeptic; indeed I rather prefer not sticking my nose into other people's business. Thus I take no sides in the political travails of the EU. I am simply interested that Todd was correct once before on a similar matter.

    I do note that futures other than mere collapse may be possible for the EU and its member states. John always had a keen eye for historical analogy, and to that let me add a physical analogy. The fragmentation of Europe into nation-states took a great deal of energy; energy that Western Civilization now seems to lack. Without conscious effort to maintain the system created by the Peace of Westphalia, it is likely to relax back into the ground state.

    That ground state is Empire.



    The European Constitutional Convention

    Yesterday, a convention opened in Brussels that is supposed to make recommendations for restructuring the European Union, in preparation for the expansion of the EU from 15 to 24 members. At any rate, that's the party line. The Convention was not called for the explicit purpose of writing a constitution, and its spokesmen say they have no intention of creating a "European Superstate," whatever that might be. Nonetheless, though the very term "constitution" is missing from the official title of the assembly, the press has decided to call it the Constitutional Convention. They have also decided to compare it to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the current federal constitution of the United States, and to find that the European Convention compares badly.

    Certainly there is some chance the whole thing could crash and burn. The public debate in America on the Constitution of 1787 was open and the choices were clear. The Constitution had to be ratified by specially convened conventions in each state, so that the proposed Constitution would not fall prey to the interests of local elites. However, the Convention that wrote the draft was closed. The members thought, probably correctly, that they could not make compromises if they had to deal with public reaction to their daily debates. The European Constitutional Convention, in contrast, was called precisely because the European publics are tired of secret conclaves of diplomats and bureaucrats creating plans that fundamentally alter the way the publics' countries are governed. So, the Convention is to be televised, webcast, and otherwise open to inspection. The Convention will make decisions by "consensus," not by taking votes. Moreover, a Civil Society Forum will parallel the proceedings. There the EU's NGOs and other Usual Suspects can criticize the Convention's proceedings and offer proposals of their own. We have all heard the old witticism that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This structure could easily produce a kangaroo.

    Maybe, but not necessarily. For one thing, the Brussels Convention does not suffer from the bloat that characterizes today's international conferences. There will be just 105 delegates, in contrast to the 55 in the Philadelphia Convention (who, incidentally, represented a country with fewer people than live in Paris today). More important, the Brussels Convention simply is not trying to do the same thing that the Philadelphia Convention did. The Founding Fathers met just from May 25 to September 15 of 1787, while the talk will go on at Brussels for a year. That is more the scale of an ecumenical council than of a deliberative conference.

    What we are looking at here is a difference of historical periods. The Philadelphia Convention was an exercise in Enlightenment Neoclassicism, perhaps the last moment such a thing could have been done, even in America. The National Assembly in Paris just two years later was already on the other side of the historical watershed, the first great expression of political Romanticism. The Brussels Convention of 2002-2003 may provide the signature to a new era.

    It is sometimes said that the European Union is an attempt to revive the Roman Empire. Sometimes even the architects of the EU said that, but they were wrong. What the EU resembles, and probably will resemble even more if the Brussels Convention does not fail, is the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire can be dated, according to taste, to the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in 800, or, more correctly, to the accession of Otto I to the title of "Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation" in 962. A confederal structure, the Empire waxed and waned over the course of almost 1000 years. It mostly waned after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 created the Western system of sovereign states. At the behest of Napoleon, the Empire broke up into its constituent parts in 1806, with the last emperor abdicating to the slightly less exalted position of King-Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

    The Empire reached maturity only with the promulgation of its constitution, the Golden Bull, in 1356. Americans usually think that they invented federalism, the separation of powers and checks-and-balances. Americans even think they invented the idea of a written constitution. A quick look at the Golden Bull will show otherwise. The Empire had a multilobed legislature, extreme deference to the sovereignty of its constituent states, and a court system with ample authority to gum up the works. The Empire looked, in fact, like nothing so much as the current EU, with the difference that it could, sometimes, function as a great power.

    The Western nation-state system grew out of the fragmentation of the Empire. In the 21st century, the fragments are falling back together. Even if the Convention is successful, its work will be provisional. Eventually the US, as the other half of the West, is going to have to associate with the system somehow. The American president could perhaps be ceremonial head of state. This would give the EU a measure of diplomatic and military heft it would otherwise lack. It would reassuure the smaller states that they are still states among other states and not mere provinces. It would also act as a restraint on the American executive. No one on either side of the Atlantic is likely to suggest such a thing this year, however.

    Certainly not me.


    Why post old articles?

    Who was John J. Reilly?

    All of John's posts here

    An archive of John's site


    CrossFit 2014-07-08

    Stretch armstrong 

    • 100 double unders [1/2 DU 1/2 2x singles]
    • 3 rounds of
      • 15 deadlifts [155#]
      • 35 abmat situps
    • 100 double unders [1/2 DU 1/2 2x singles]

    Time 18:15