The Power and the Glory – “a work of singular literary value”

Giovanni Batista Montini – St. Pope Paul VI

Graham Greene was a complicated man – and his novels were no less complicated. He clearly did not shy away from leaving people with problems to think about – and we can only thank him for that. His life was also somewhat complicated. He was a convert, his conversion initially motivated by his love for a devout Catholic woman. But he was neither a faithful husband nor, after a time and for many years, a faithful Catholic. But he died reconciled to the faith, the Church and its sacraments. 

He was never hostile to the faith and once wrote to a cardinal, “I wish to emphasise that, throughout my life as a Catholic, I have never ceased to feel deep sentiments of personal attachment to the Vicar of Christ, fostered in particular by admiration for the wisdom with which the Holy Father has constantly guided God’s Church. I have always been vividly impressed by the high spirituality which characterises the Government of Pius XII. Your Eminence knows that I had the honour of a private audience during the holy year 1950. I shall retain my impression of it until my last breath.” 

His novels reflected much of the turmoil of his own journey in the faith and were, still are, valued by many for the negative capability they have to tell the truth about the human condition and mankind’s struggle to be good in the face of the evils assailing him from without and from within.

One prominent churchman made this assessment of his work, writing that “his harsh and acerbic art touches the hearts of the least receptive and reminds them, however gloomy they may be, of the awe-inspiring presence of God and the poisonous bite of sin. He addresses those who are most distant and hostile – those whom we will never reach”.

The Power and the Glory, probably Greene’s most famous novel, was the context in which those remarks were made. It was published in 1940 but did not become controversial in Catholic circles until the 1950s. Prompted by this, the Vatican appointed two consultants to study the book in 1953. Both were critical, deeming it immoral and in the opinion of one, “odd and paradoxical, a true product of the disturbed, confused and audacious character of today’s civilisation”.

The novel is set in the southern-Mexican state of Tabasco, which is governed by a ruthless persecutor of Catholics, Tomas Garrido Canabal. An atheist and a puritan, Canabal detested organised religion and alcohol. The central figure in Greene’s book is an alcoholic priest, who is put to death by Canabal’s police at the end of the novel. Although he anticipates his execution, and knows that he is walking into a trap, he chooses to perform what he sees as his duty and attempts to give the last sacraments to a fatally wounded criminal. The priest puts the chance of saving another man’s soul ahead of his own survival. Is he a martyr? Or is he being justly punished for his lax and scandalous life? The moral and theology of The Power and the Glory are ambiguous. Unfortunately ambiguity – which is at the heart of much of the literature we treasure— is something to which many of a censorious and too literal – as opposed to literary – turn of mind are both deaf and blind.

But not so, Cardinal Giovanni Batista Montini, pro-secretary of state at the Vatican, and later to be elected Pope Paul VI in 1963. Montini, hearing of the controversy and the drift which the Vatican officials were taking, wrote to the secretary of the Index of Forbidden Books (disbanded in 1966) in the Holy Office that the book was “a work of singular literary value. I see that it is judged a sad book. I have no objection to make to the just observations [of this work]. But it seems to me that, in such a judgment, there is lacking a sense of the work’s fundamental merits. They lie, fundamentally, in its high quality of vindication, by revealing a heroic fidelity to his own ministry within the innermost soul of a priest who is in many respects reprehensible”

He suggested to the Holy Office that “it would be well to have the book assessed by another consultant before passing a negative judgement on it, not least because author and book are known worldwide”. Monsignor De Luca – whom Montini suggested – concurred with him about the book’s literary quality and morality:

“Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh according to expert opinion, are to be considered the two major living novelists: being Catholic they do credit to Rome’s faith, and they do credit to it in a country that is of Protestant civilization and culture. How can Rome be gruff and cruel? They are the successors of Chesterton and Belloc and, like them, rather than attempting to convert the small fry, strive to influence superior intelligences and the spirit of the age in a manner favourable to Catholicism.”

“This,” De Luca went on, “is not a matter of heresy or even a scandal; it has nothing to do with theologians or depraved persons. We are dealing with great writers, who are often naive and obstinate like children, in states of mind that are, from time to time, not inclined to praise but gloomy, not exultant but insistent…To condemn or even to deplore them would…demonstrate…that our judgement is light-weight, undermining significantly the authority of the clergy, which is regarded – rightly – as unlettered bond-slaves to puerile literature in bad taste. 

“In the case of Graham Greene, his harsh and acerbic art touches the hearts of the least receptive and reminds them, however gloomy they may be, of the awe-inspiring presence of God and the poisonous bite of sin. He addresses those who are most distant and hostile – those whom we will never reach”.

Greene’s justification for what he had written was that the aim of the book was to oppose the power of the sacraments and the indestructibility of the Church on the one hand with, on the other, the merely temporal power of an essentially Communist state – revolutionary Mexico in the early  20th century.

In his introduction to a later edition of The Power and the Glory, Greene gives a telling personal account of this affair in which he wondered if there was any other authority in the world which would have treated a stubborn resister as gently as he was treated by the Catholic Church when he dug in his heels. He wrote:

.

The Archbishop of Westminster read me a letter from the Holy Office condemning my novel because it was “paradoxical” and “dealt with extraordinary circumstances.” The price of liberty, even within a Church, is eternal vigilance, but I wonder whether any of the totalitarian states … would have treated me as gently when I refused to revise the book on the casuistical ground that the copyright was in the hands of my publishers. There was no public condemnation, and the affair was allowed to drop into that peaceful oblivion which the Church wisely reserves for unimportant issues.

In a long article on this affair in The Atlantic, 2001, Peter Godman takes the story on into the 1960s. In July 1965 Greene had an audience with Montini, now Pope Paul VI. “He told the Pope that The Power and the Glory had been condemned by the Holy Office. According to Greene, the Pope asked, ‘Who condemned it?’ Greene replied, ‘Cardinal Pizzardo.’ Paul VI repeated the name with a wry smile and added, ‘Mr. Greene, some parts of your book are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.’” Godman commented:

“These sentences have intrigued me ever since I first read them, some years ago, in Greene’s Ways of Escape. The records of censorial investigations undertaken after the death of Leo XIII, in 1903, are in the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and are not available to be consulted by outside scholars. In February of last year I sought and obtained an audience with the Congregation’s prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. To my request that an exception be made to the rules, the reply was one word, uttered without hesitation: ‘Ja.’”

Godman’s explorations of those archives reveal much of the detail of the case and the denouement suggests the same judgment as Greene himself made on the ultimately wise conclusions reached despite the fallible and fumbling manoeuvres of some of the dramatis personae in the comedy.

“The mindset of Rome’s censors”, he says, “was not malevolent. It is difficult, however, to resist the conclusion that it was dim. Defensive about their authority (which they desired to assert even as they doubted its efficacy), and incapable of grasping the conceptual problems posed by Greene’s writing, they could be checked in their course only by intervention from above.” That was Montini’s intervention. 

Godman poses the question, why did Montini stand up for Greene? He describes him as “an intellectual whom John XXIII is said to have likened to Hamlet. Montini was alive to the problem of moral ambiguity. He was capable of discerning links between apparent contraries where less perceptive others saw none. 

“Montini was not only a reader of refined literary tastes but also a collector of literary manuscripts. Among them was the handwritten original of a booklet on Saint Dominic by Georges Bernanos, which ends with the sentence ‘There is only one sadness—not to be a saint.’ Montini treasured that work, echoes of which he cannot have failed to hear in The Power and the Glory. The words ‘He knew now that…there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint’ come at the very end of the penultimate chapter of Greene’s novel.”

Finally, Godman notes, three weeks after Greene had written his letter to Cardinal Pizzardo, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Ottaviani, scrawled on it that Cardinal Griffin had told him that the Holy Office should “understand and excuse” this right-thinking convert. And that is what was done.

Whose side are they on?

Ref Sohrab Ahmari’s article below:
The whinging liberals have once again make fools of themselves. Whose side are they on in this conflict – trying to drive a wedge in the united front now confronting this monster? They are just clutching at straws to try to shore up their self-destructing liberalism. @PatrickDeneen

The ruling-class talking point du jour is that Russia’s war in Ukraine has dealt a crushing blow to Western populists. The populists, according to this view, tied their fate to Vladimir Putin’s: whether by praising him, calling for more genial relations with Moscow, turning a blind eye to Kremlin depravities, or some combination of the above. Now that Putin has launched a failed invasion of Ukraine—failed according to Twitter and feverish media wish-casters, at least—his populist fan club is also tainted by his cruelty and incompetence. Ergo, “populists are losing this war,” as a headline in UnHerd put it.

It’s pure poppycock, but before I explain why, let’s briefly pause to note the sheer grotesqueness of this ideological posturing at this moment. Amid the carnage wrought in Ukraine by Moscow’s aggression, the suffering of ordinary Russians under Western sanctions, and the anxiety that grips Europe as a whole, the liberal establishment sees fit to cashier misery into point-scoring against their domestic political opponents. This is the business we’ve chosen, you might say, and fair enough—but then kindly stop whinging about civility, decency, and unity.

https://t.co/QAOax6fbZx

As to the charge itself, it is built on a foundation of deliberate misunderstandings, misdirections, and outright slanders. While some of the criticisms might apply to some populists, they don’t apply to others. Yet the liberal columnists’ underhanded tactic is to barrage all populists with all the charges, to see what sticks. There are different versions of this, offered variously by William Galston in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, Eric Kaufmann in the aforementioned UnHerd pieceand Francis Fukuyama and Janan Ganesh in essays for the Financial Times.

Let’s attempt to unpack three of the main strands:

One charge is that Western populists fetishized Putin as an emblem of strongman confidence and now must “own” the logistical setbacks and military snafus dogging the Russian army on its path to conquest.

This was the line taken by Ganesh: “While liberals get lost in the bureaucratic and legislative fog, the autocrat supposedly cuts through (‘I alone can fix it,’ said Trump of the US). While the one thinks wishfully, the other grasps the eternal verities of power and strategy.” If Russia had easily subdued Ukraine, populists “would now, in that phoney I-hate-to-say-it tone, be urging their own societies to learn from the guile and virility of the illiberal world.”

Ganesh curiously didn’t quote any actual populists praising Putin’s mythic competence, but let’s generously concede that one Donald J. Trump has hailed the Russian leader as a “genius,” etc. The question becomes: competence in relation to what ends, given what conditions? Assume for argument’s sake that the NATO-ization of Ukraine is an existential threat to the Russian state. If so, then even a costly, messy invasion, mounted by a wounded former superpower with an economy the size of Spain’s, is effective enough if it in fact forestalls NATO-ization.

Putin’s desired outcome may yet come to pass. He achieved Russia’s goals in Georgia, Syria, and Crimea. That is more than can be said for U.S. strategists with respect to their goals in Afghanistan. After 20 years, the Taliban took back power, while the Western alliance’s 300,000-strong Afghan army collapsed.

But there is another point here: If “autocratic” incompetence humiliates Western populists, as Ganesh suggests, it should equally embarrass plenty of blue-chip liberals who have waxed about a nondemocratic regime’s ability to get things done.

Remember Tom Friedman in 2010? “What if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment?” Or how about Justin Trudeau in 2013? “There is a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say we need to go green, we need to start, you know, investing in solar.” The examples abound.

Liberals as much as Western populists, then, must “own” the failures of a nondemocratic regime—which is another way of saying this is a ludicrous line of attack.

Another argument is that populists advance an “anti-Western foreign policy,” born of their “hostility to the rules-based liberal world order.”

That was the line taken by Kaufmann, who says he would prefer populists like Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance to temper their anti-woke energies and focus them at home on cultural issues—not against elites in “Davos, Geneva, or Brussels,” which, he reassures, aren’t that woke. He should know, “having given talks at some of these institutions.” Or something. His commitments are a jumbled mess.

The bigger problem here is circular reasoning. Kaufmann assumes that opposing hawkism and escalation makes one “anti-Western.” Pro-Western-ness is thus defined at the outset as a preference for the foreign policies of the liberal imperium and its marquee institutions. Therefore, he concludes, Carlson, Vance, et al. are lamentably anti-Western. But this is to beg the question. Carlson and his populist confreres argue that hawkism is inimical to the interests of ordinary people in the West and, if escalated to a nuclear point of no return, to the survival of humanity at large. They are defining Western-ness differently than self-identified liberals, in other words, and judging by the record of liberal interventionism the past 20 years, such a redefinition is sorely needed.

Finally, there is the outright slander that populists admire Putin precisely for his cruelties.

It was lamentable to see this line taken up by Galston, someone I have often disagreed with but couldn’t fault for lack of probity in debate. Galston tsk-tsked Carlson for a recent monologue in which the Fox primetime host prompted Americans to ask themselves: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he ever threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

Contra Galston, it is an uncharitable stretch to suggest that those questions amount to “defending Vladimir Putin against his American critics.” Carlson’s point, as Galston probably knows, isn’t that Putin is wonderful, but that after two decades of failed foreign adventurism, it behooves Americans to confront the monsters within our own order: a rapacious domestic overclass that has wrought inequality, health insecurity, opioid misery, stagnant wages, cultural degradation—and increasingly resorts to technological censorship to deal with popular discontent.

The establishment may yet succeed in hanging Putin like an albatross round the necks of its internal enemies. But doing so won’t resolve any of these internal crises. Then again, maybe that is the point.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sohrab Ahmari is a contributing editor of The American Conservative and a visiting fellow of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University. His books include From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (Ignatius, 2019) and The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos (Convergent/Random House, 2021). He is currently writing a book about privatized tyranny in America.

‘I put it down to the man upstairs’

Remember Mary Badham? Some of you will. She was the little 10-year-old who stole the show in the film version of Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. Mary played Scout, the daughter of widowed lawyer, Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck. Scout and her brother Jem, along with their friend Dill – a fictional representation of Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote – were the counterfoil innocents helping to underline the vicious racism at the heart of the story.

And where is Mary Badham now? Broadway has done its homework and has persuaded her – although she never became a professional actor – to mount the stage in a touring dramatised version of the version of novel and film. 

Mary Badham is now 69 and is clearly not going to reprise her original role. She will – with some misgivings – play the role of the cranky old racist neighbour, Mrs. Dubose, who lived close to the Finch family and in whose hair the children sometimes found themselves getting entangled. Misgivings? Because there is not a drop of racist blood in Badham’s makeup and for whom the film she helped make is one of the outstanding anti-racist documents of the last hundred years – as Uncle Tom’s Cabin was for the previous century.

She is married and now farming with her own family in Virginia. She describes herself as “just a retired old lady who likes to be in her garden and play with her grandkids.” But alongside a range of careers in which she was engaged during her earlier life, the Mockingbird phenomenon always had a presence and was for her a cause in its own right.

Throughout her life, she has been ready and willing to do talks, radio and television appearances discussing the film to promote its moral impact, saying ‘yes’ when given new opportunities. She has spent decades talking about the story at schools, universities and social clubs. “‘Mockingbird’ has been my life,” she said.

“It’s just weird, and I put it to the man upstairs — I just feel like he has something he wants me to say, and he picked me to say it and keep saying it,” she added. “My job has been basically to keep this story alive, and have people talk about it, so we can try to move forward with all of these problems that we still have.”
Actors in iconic roles returning to the scenes of the triumphs of their youth seems to be something like flavour of the year. Rita Moreno who triumphed as Anita in West Side Story in the 1960s has now returned to replace Doc – or Friar Lawrence – in Spielberg’ new version of that masterpiece. Now Mary Badham does it in To Kill a Mockingbird. These are not only tributes but are also achievements – and it certainly won’t damage ticket sales.

The Touch of Evil

From a final scene in The Thin Red Line

What’s this war in the heart of nature ? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? ls there an avenging power in nature? These are some of the existential questions posed by the mystical Private Witt in the opening scenes of The Thin Red Line, Terence Mallick’s great meditation on war and man’s descent into the barbarity of military conflict. He was trying to come to terms with man’s savage replication of inanimate nature’s ebb and flow. Looking for an answer to them is ever an urgent task. Indeed, it is a perennial task confronting generations of mankind from time immemorial. Today its urgency forces itself upon us yet again.

I know he meant something more subtle than it sounds, but to many ears it was a soundbite too far. The end of history, Francis Fukuyama declared in 1989, was upon us. His first outing with the idea was in an essay. This caused such a stir that it was expanded into a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man. The occasion for his prophetic utterances was the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, bringing about the end of the Cold War.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

— Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?”, The National Interest, No.16 (Summer 1989)

Well, well, well? So much for wishful thinking. It was a little ironic to hear – on Bari Weiss’ Common Sense platform – Professor Fukuyama, discussing our current world crisis with historians Niall Ferguson and William Russell Meade, where the consensus was that we were now indeed entering Cold War II. Cold War I got its baptism of fire in the Korean War. Cold War II was now getting its hot war initiation with the Russian assault on the Ukraine.

Aside from the fact that historical narratives are about much more than the rise and fall of empires and ideologies, history will end when the human race has run its course on this earth. In the meantime human beings will forever need to struggle with the powers behind the forces we now see unleashed in Eastern Europe – the forces of evil, mysterious and malign, which take possession of our hearts and wreak havoc as they do. This is what we keep forgetting – at our peril. We have done it before and are now once again scrambling to try to make sense of it. 

T.S. Eliot more than hinted at our folly in  Four Quartets when he confessed,

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river

Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,

Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;

Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;

Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.

The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten

By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.

Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder

Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated

By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

The river has long been a metaphor for man’s troubled journey in this world, sometimes more, sometimes less, mixing good and evil. Rivers in Ukraine are not only metaphors but real players in its current struggles.

Kiev on the banks of the Deniper

Our current incarnation of the implacable strong brown god bursting his banks is Vladimir Putin. This century has already had two other gods of different hues which have destabilised our fragile existence – the god of greed who ravaged the world economy in the first decade of the new millennium, and then the crowned monster – still of uncertain human origin – who cut short the lives of almost 6 million of us and inflicted pain an estimated 500 million more – and rising. All three of these are in different ways manifestations of  mankind’s capacity for evil. From time immemorial, to inflict pain and suffering on our race, a capacity which has been in evidence since evil first entered the heart of Cain, driving him to slay his brother Abel.

In their exchanges with Bari Weiss, these three aforementioned remarked on our failure to learn anything from history. That certainly is part of the problem. We keep forgetting the ogre slouching in the shadows, waiting for the moment  to come out and devour us. History, if studied and reflected upon with any wisdom, will lead us towards the overwhelming question, “why?”. Any honest grappling with that question will lead us further to consider the problem of evil, its origins and the need to mount defences against it. There is a mystery surrounding evil that material science will never fathom – and political science does not make much of a fist at it either. We do not like mysteries – except when they entertain us – because they ask us to be humble. Humility in turn nudges us to perhaps acknowledge that a God more powerful than the brown god – or gods of any other colour – may be needed to help us cope with what assails us in the greater and lesser onslaughts we suffer here in our earthly sojourn. 

But we also need to go even deeper, lest we adopt a holier-than-thou posture in all this, letting ourselves off the hook on the question of complicity in those things which have brought woe on our race. We need more than humility. We also need an honest self-awareness and a capacity for contrition. The greed and carelessness of the many compounded the exorbitant greed of the relatively few who triggered the financial crash of the last decade. The mystery of the origins of the viral forces which ravaged the world economy in this decade is still unresolved – but until the CCP gets itself a higher standard of honesty and openness, the jury will remain hung on that one. It is in this context that it is worth reflecting on the recent words of Philip Johnson, columnist with the Daily Telegraph.

He reflected on the  extraordinary reverence the French have for Napoleon Bonaparte, whose monument sits within an open circular crypt beneath the golden dome of Les Invalides in Paris, conveying the unambiguous message that here lies a ‘great man’ of history. He notes that we are fascinated by such people, even though they are brutal, ruthless and despotic. They seem to weave a spell over the millions prepared to follow them, sometimes to destruction. But, he asks, to what extent do individuals determine history?

In War and Peace, Johnson reminds us, Tolstoy sought to debunk Thomas Carlyle’s theory that events are shaped by “great men” like Napoleon, seeing them instead as “involuntary instruments of history.”

The invasion of Ukraine, he argues, is being personalised as “Putin’s War” or the adventurism of “Mad Vlad”, thereby divorcing the event from its context by making it entirely a projection of one man’s derangement. 

But to what extent are the Russian people willingly swallowing the justification given on state-controlled media that Russian troops are merely engaged in a humanitarian operation in eastern Ukraine to protect their ethnic brethren from fascist death squads and genocide? Johnson cites Putin saying  that without helping the insurgents in the Donbas there would be “another Srebrenica”. “The fact this is preposterous is irrelevant if it is believed in Russia.”

Johnson again: “The so-called great men of history never act alone. Napoleon was followed by his Grande Armée into Russia and to miserable retreat because until then he had, by and large, been a winner, extending the boundaries of France, even egged on by “progressive” European thinkers. 

Putin visited a reenactment of the battle of Borodion, presaging the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Will the siege of Kiev presage another downfall?

Putin, puny as he may be, shares something of the trajectory of Napoleon. Like Napoleon, after the mayhem of the Terror, he pulled his country together again after the messy collapse of the Soviet experiment. Now for reasons so far unfathomable to most of us he also has set his sights on a new Empire. To help him along this path he has also become a dictator, has created a phony sense of national grievance, and manufactured an enemy in the West to generate  paranoia in his people. 

What now remains to be seen, even as this is written, is whether the Russian people will buy the lies he feeds them and cooperate in the evil which he is unleashing on them and a sovereign neighbour which simply wants to determine its own way in the world and find its place in the community of nations.

How this all ends is alarmingly uncertain.  It may be the end of Vladimir V. Putin, it may be the extinguishing of the independent State of Ukraine – but one thing it will not be is the end of history.

American crisis

I’m neither an admirer nor a hater of the man – but I think this makes a good deal of sense:

American crisis: the life and death struggle against the totalitarian enemy I call “woke communism.” The “woke comms” have seized every political, cultural, and economic center of power in the country from where they ruthlessly push their agenda. That agenda rests on the conviction that America is thoroughly bad (systemically racist) and must be destroyed.

That quote is from Thomas D. Klingenstein in The American Mind.

When all is not as it seems

Last month the world was yet again enthralled by another spectacular Olympic opening ceremony – the Winter Games in Beijing. Well, maybe not the whole world.

Reporting on the spectacle, Chinese state media declared after the ceremony that twenty year-old Dinigeer Yilamujiang, lighting of the Olympic cauldron, had “showed the world a beautiful and progressive Xinjiang” with her “smiling face and youthful figure.”

Did the millions watching across the world see it this way, or did they see it as a cynical if foolish whitewashing by the Chinese Communist Party of its appalling treatment of Yilamujiang’s Uyghur people? On top of that, did they have an uneasy feeling that this was a gross manipulation of an innocent young woman?

Amy Qin, writing in the New York Times a week later asked what the athlete herself made of it all? So far, she said it has been impossible to know. “Since her star turn in the Bird’s Nest Stadium” she wrote, “Yilamujiang has kept a low profile.” She went on to describe how Yilamujiang hurried through the press area after her first competitive event but did not stop to talk. At another competition later in the week, she had failed to walk through a mixed zone with reporters after her race, in apparent contravention of I.O.C. guidelines. She has appeared only in Chinese state media reports since the Games started, describing her joy about her role opening the Games.

“That moment will encourage me every day for the rest of my life,” Yilamujiang told China’s official news agency, Xinhua, on Sunday. “I was so excited when I found out we were going to place the torch. It’s a huge honour for me!” Poor girl, scripted to the last superlative?

But this is all part of a bigger picture, a much bigger and even sadder picture. A strange and sometimes terrible thing seems to happen to ideologues when they cease to be outsiders and become insiders. This seems particularly so when they are political animals. History is full of examples of this uncanny metamorphosis. 

Seemingly idealistic freedom movements slouching to their goal, when once they reach it, become replicas of the very monsters they formerly fought, tooth and claw. Alternatively, they morph into  fellow travellers and complacent onlookers of regimes perpetrating the very evils they formerly raged against.

Modern republicanism probably begins with what we, rather too comfortably, accept as the “Enlightenment”. Its first political incarnation flowered in the American Republic, after which it descended into the maelstrom of the French Revolution. The reluctant revolutionaries of the thirteen British colonies were bred more out of a pragmatic response to a frustrating contre temps with a myopic British parliament and a somewhat disturbed king,  than out of political ideology. The French version was similar in some ways but was fatally laced with an ideological potion which for a time led it down a path of puritanical savagery. Its terror reigned until eventually it became another kind of tyranny under the aegis of the practical but megalomaniac genius who was Napoleon Bonaparte. 

The French conflagration was the first of a long line of “enlightened” ideologies in modern times to lead a people into murderous utopias. The latest example of this degeneration is the People’s Republic of China.

In the late eighteenth century the Irish patriot, Theobald Wolfe Tone was in France earnestly if somewhat naively seeking to enlist the forces of the French Revolution to help liberate Ireland from the draconian laws imposed on it by the British Crown and its oligarchic parliament. Unlike Edmund Burke, Tone saw no hope of reforming the system which had imposed Penal Laws on Catholics and manipulated an exclusively Protestant land-owning class in Ireland as its willing tool in maintaining the status quo.

Moving forward more than two centuries, it is hard to read accounts today of what the people of Xinjiang province are experiencing and not hear echoes of the suffering of the Irish of the eighteenth century. These were set upon and oppressed by the victors of England’s own “Glorious Revolution” of the late seventeenth century, another movement claiming freedom as its goal but then morphing into an equally woeful tyranny as far as Catholics and the Irish were concerned. 

Wolfe Tone, the acknowledged father of Irish republicanism, succeeded in getting French help. His and their efforts were, however, a miserable failure. He was captured, convicted of high treason and condemned to death by hanging. He asked to be shot as a soldier and when this was refused, died by his own hand. Nevertheless, he lived on as a potent symbol of Irish liberation and for the eventual republic which Ireland became.

The late Seamus Deane, novelist, poet and literary critic, in an essay on Wolfe Tone (now published in Small World – Ireland 1798-2018), examines what motivated this Irish Protestant. 

At the heart of Tone’s politics was his acute analysis of what he saw as the slave-like condition of Ireland and the Irish. Deane quotes Tone’s own words: that “to be dependent on the wish, caprice, or undelegated authority of someone else is to lack autonomy and to be a slave. It is corrupt and corrupting, especially when sustained by violence and an endless bombardment of propaganda and threat.” This, Deane says, is what permeates all republican theory, this whole concept of dependence and slavery. This was Ireland’s condition. Is it not also the condition of Dinigeer Yilamujiang’s persecuted people? 

Such, history shows, is the ground in which so many ideologies bent on achieving freedom for peoples are nurtured. But what can explain the subsequent degeneration of so many of these to a condition where they now tolerate and cooperate with perpetrators of the very oppression they fought against so heroically? Or worse, how can so many of them perpetrate on their own people the injustices they once raged against?

Mao Zedong was a hero for his people – and for a time in the West, to young idealists, seemed also to be a hero. But he then turned into – and turned his Republic into – a cauldron of death. Xi Jinping can only be described as a worthy successor. What is happening in Xinjiang province, documented now in increasing detail, can only be described as slavery.

Ruth Ingham, in a recent post examining the Uyguar’s plight, quoted Geoffrey Cain, author of The Perfect Police State. In that book he detailed how China’s access to an arsenal of intrusive novel technologies has enabled the state to monitor the minutiae of everyday life of each one of its citizens. With these weapons the CCP, in its war on its insurgents, are spying on fifteen million or so potential “terrorists” and “extremists” among the Turkic peoples of its North Western Frontier. Cain explained how these people are spied on “from the moment they leave their house, whether from the back or the front door, whom they meet, whom they might text or call on the way, what they might download on their phone and who might have sent it.” 

All is monitored. And that is just the spying operation. The “re-education” atrocities come afterwards. These means are nothing more or less than the modern equivalent of the cadre of informers Lord Castlereagh used to dismantle Tone’s insurgency in eighteenth century Ireland.

But the CCP manipulation has a much wider field of operation than the mind of one young athlete, or the re-education of and ethnic minority which just wants freedom of religion. Its tentacles seem to embrace the entire globe – even our own little Irish Republic.

Wolf Tone’s Ireland took 150 years to complete its journey to full republican status. Today he must be turning in his grave. The Irish Republic not only turns a blind eye to the atrocities in China, it actually cozies up to its leaders. It builds Confucian institutes on its university campuses which serve as apologists for the very evils Tone railed against when he died an ignominious death in a Dublin prison.

Alexander Dukalskis and David Farrell, political scientists in University College Dublin, in an Irish Times piece, put in focus the threats to academic freedom in Irish universities posed by China. Charles Moore, in the Spectator and in the Daily Telegraph, has been highlighting what he sees as the sad and dangerous manipulation of Cambridge University by the same kind of fellow travelling.

Dukalskis and Farrell tell us that “In February 2021, the Irish Times reported that the head of Huawei Ireland wrote privately to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, regarding an academic article by our colleague Dr Richard Maher about the Chinese telecoms giant. The letter said that academic freedom was a “two-way street” and requested the Minister’s “full support in mitigating the damage that has been done”. He secured a meeting with the Secretary General of Coveney’s Department to discuss the matter. When the School of Politics and International Relations privately informed the university president, he is reported as describing their concerns as “an overreaction”.

Carl Minzner of Fordham University would not think so. Within China, as part of its “comprehensive reassertion of control”, Minzner writes, listing among its strategies: the party-state has focused on the social sciences to strengthen political training for faculty and standardise reading materials; student informants and the placing of CCTV in classrooms to monitor teaching have increased; “Xi Jinping Thought” research institutes have proliferated. 

“Xi Jinping Thought” is now part of the national curriculum. Should we be concerned that Ireland’s own Department of Education agreed in 2019 that this regime was a suitable partner to influence Ireland’s own Chinese language curriculum? Should we worry that Chinese students in Ireland, by virtue of the 2020 Hong Kong “national security law” are effectively criminals if they speak out against Xi Jinping.

That the Republic of Ireland, tracing its inspiration back to the man who suffered and died to liberate a people from the most abject oppression is now cooperating with Marxist oppressors in East Asia should dismay Irish people. Sadly, it does not seem to do so. That this Republic, and certain of its established state-funded institutions are now hand in glove with one of the planet’s great oppressors should be seen as a gross contradiction of everything in the inspiration which was of its essence. Sad metamorphosis indeed.

This article was first published in the March edition of Position Papers Review.

City of God, city of men

Joseph Ratzinger’s, Introduction to Christianity, is an extraordinary book. Reading it, one fully understands why some regard him as an Augustine for our age – or like St Augustine himself, for all ages.

Just as St Augustine in his City of God gave us a vision of the world as it was and as it should be, so did Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity. Written in the mid 1960s, and reflecting his thoughts from earlier in his career as a theologian and teacher, it was republished in the 1990s. Hardly a word had to be changed. It is not simply an introduction to the Faith embodied in Christianity; it is a portrayal of that Faith in the context of the world which God, in his providence, love and mercy chose to redeem.

But Ratzinger’s portrayal of the co-redemptive challenge facing Christians today contrasts with the world laid before us by Augustine in an important way: his is a text for an age in which a fatal rupture has arisen between these two cities, ideally complementary, in which mankind has its abode on this earth.

St Augustine was writing for us at the dawn of Christendom, within a century of the Roman Empire having given Christianity its stamp of approval. This might have seemed to some to be the arrival of the New Jerusalem. It was not. The City of God, among other things, spelled out how and why it was not. But from that date, while there were two cities co-existing uneasily, sometimes more, sometimes less, they were not pitted against each other as mortal enemies. The Heavenly City was God’s eternal kingdom, one in which all mankind could be citizens of on this earth while awaiting entry to a definitive and eternal citizenship in Heaven. While on earth the human race had a God-given privilege and responsibility to play its part in the Earthly City.

Ratzinger notes that believers in our age are sometimes said to look a little enviously at the Middle Ages, the height of Christendom. Then, it appeared, everyone without exception was a believer. But he suggests that historical research will tell us that even in those days there was a great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief. History, he says, will show us that for many, belief was only a ready-made mode of life. In other words, for many, faith was a shallow thing. 

Nevertheless, we would argue, despite the evil deeds perpetrated by them, the evidence of so many who sought repentance and did penance for their unfaithfulness suggests that faith abided in them, even though it were but like a grain of mustard seed. The Emperor Frederick II, thought by some to be an atheist and an antichrist, received the last rites on his deathbed and was interred dressed in the habit of a Cistercian.

So what has happened? How has “Western” civilisation, once called Christian, evolved to become one in which God is either denied outright or is accepted in forms of belief so laced with deceit that the reality of sin is denied?

Ratzinger asserts that part of the reason is our loss of our vision of all that is real, that we have come to see reality as the totality of what we can see, touch and feel, or prove by scientific experiment. God for “modern” man has ceased to be a “practical” God and is at best accepted as “just some theoretical conclusion of a consoling world view that one may adhere to or simply disregard. We see that today in every place where the deliberate denial of him has become a matter of principle and where his absence is no longer mitigated at all.”

Mankind’s folly in all this has led us into illusions about ourselves. At first, he writes, “when God is left out of the picture, everything apparently goes on as before. Mature decisions and the basic structures of life remain in place, even though they have lost their foundations. But, as Nietzsche describes it, once the news really reaches people that ‘God is dead’ and they take it to heart, then everything changes.”

The change, Ratzinger says, is evident all around us today. It is evident on the one hand, in the way that science treats human life: man is becoming a technological object while vanishing to an ever greater degree as a human subject. “When human embryos are artificially ‘cultivated’ so as to have ‘research material’ and to obtain a supply of organs, which then are supposed to benefit other human beings, there is scarcely an outcry, because so few are horrified any more.”

Then there is the cult of progress which, under the cloak of noble goals like the pursuit of health and happiness, demands that aberrant services be available. But, he asks, if man, in his origin and at his very roots, is only an object to himself, if he is “produced” and comes off the production line with selected features and accessories, what on earth is man then supposed to think of man? How should he act toward him? What will be man’s attitude toward man when he can no longer find anything of the divine mystery in the “other”, but only his own know-how? 

Well, anyone who wants an answer to that question should read Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World.

What is happening in the “high-tech” areas of science, Ratzinger continues, is reflected wherever the culture, broadly speaking, has managed to tear God out of men’s hearts. Today there are places where trafficking in human beings goes on quite openly: a cynical consumption of humanity while society looks on helplessly. For example, organized crime constantly brings women out of Albania on various pretexts and delivers them to the mainland across the sea as prostitutes, and because there are enough cynics there waiting for such ‘wares’, organized crime becomes more powerful, and those who try to put a stop to it discover that the Hydra of evil keeps growing new heads, no matter how many they may cut off.”

He then tries to bring us back to an acceptance of a broader sense of reality, a sense which does not exclude God and the supernatural simply on the basis that our human comprehension is challenged by it. He has no doubt that the alternative cannot but conjure up a horror scenario, only some of which he has laid before us. As an antidote to our delusions he simply asks us to just wonder whether God might not in fact be the genuine reality, the basic prerequisite for any “realism”, so that, without him, nothing is safe.

Karl Marx has played a central role in the disintegration we are looking at. Marxism is to Ratzinger what Manichaeism was to Augustine – a fatal misreading of humanity and its destiny. “Anyone who accepts Marx (in whatever neo-Marxist variation he may choose) as the representative of worldly reason not only accepts a philosophy, a vision of the origin and meaning of existence, but also and especially adopts a practical program. For this ‘philosophy’ is essentially a ‘praxis’, which does not presuppose a ‘truth’ but rather creates one.”

The fall of many of the communist regimes which blotted the history of the twentieth century did not, sadly, result in the disappearance of the Marxist philosophy which was at their foundation. Their bankruptcy was by many naively blamed, not on their Marxist roots but on a human misreading of those roots. Marx’s dialectical materialism asserted the primacy of politics and economics as the real powers that can bring about salvation and determine the future as it should be, keeping us all on “the right side of history”. 

This primacy meant, above all, Ratzinger argues, that God could not be categorised as something “practical”. “The ‘reality’ in which one had to get involved now was solely the material reality of given historical circumstances, which were to be viewed critically and reformed, redirected to the right goals by using the appropriate means, among which violence was indispensable.”

This is the philosophy underlying the progressive culture and politics of our age. And the violent option? Yes. Evident for example, as Sohrab Ahmari and others point out, to give a specific instance, in the neutral, if not approving, stance of America’s progressive establishment of the murderous violence perpetrated in the aftermath on the killing of George Floyd. This contrasted with the same establishment’s exaggerated horror at the so-called insurrection of 6th of January, 2021. 

From the Marxist and progressive perspective, speaking about God belongs neither to the realm of the practical nor to that of reality. The figure of Jesus in the progressive scenario is now no longer the Christ, but rather a heroic embodiment of all the suffering and oppressed calling us to rise up, to change society. 

In the initial stages of this flight from God and from visions of the divine, God was not explicitly denied. Ratzinger says that God simply had nothing to doThe question of God was just not a practical one for the long-overdue business of changing the world. Has not Christian consciousness, he asks, acquiesced to a great extent – without being aware of it – in the attitude that faith in God is something subjective, which belongs in the private realm and not in the common activities of public life where, in order to be able to get along, we all have to behave now as if there were no God. In the public arena we now no longer have room for, in Ratzinger’s words, the “God who judges and suffers, the God who sets limits and standards for us; the God from whom we come and to whom we are going”. 

All this is the context in which Ratzinger introduces us to the Credo by which Christians set out to live. It is deep – and difficult enough – but battling with its difficulty is truly rewarding. It is a text which makes it clear that the hope of our redemption rests with our assent to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of each and every article it lays before us.

(Published originally in February 2022 edition of Position Papers Review)

Foolish expectations

If more of us had the common sense that Jeremy O’Grady of THE WEEK displays here, there would be a lot less fractious debate and consequent anxiety produced by this wretched pandemic. There would be a much healthier public square as well.

In the current issue he writes in his Editor’s Letter:

In the endless dingdong between Us (the people) and Them (the Government), it’s always Them as carries the can. Yet I wonder. If departments of state are dysfunctional, the same is surely true of the public. It isn’t “fit for purpose”: its expectations of what ministers can feasibly be expected to do are out of whack with reality. We blame Them, for instance, for lacking the foresight to equip health services with sufficient resources to cope with a pandemic. But see what happens when They do. In anticipation of the H1N1 flu epidemic predicted for 2009, France’s health minister did put her nation in readiness: years before it struck, she procured billions of top-quality masks and drew up a plan to impose social distancing. Alas for her, the epidemic never materialised, and as Theodore Dalrymple relates in Law & Liberty, she was then widely derided for wasting public money. So much for fore­sight. When a pandemic does strike, however, a similar misalignment of expectations occurs. All too aware of what we expect of them, the politicians can’t afford to let us in on the extent of their own ignorance and uncertainty over how to deal with it. They can’t level with us because they’ve a myth to sustain: that there exist relatively painless solutions to all our problems and that They alone can deliver them. It’s not their myth, though: We invest in it even more than They do. We vote in the poli­ticians who are best at boosterism, best at selling optimism. Then, when their solutions turn out to be painful and the myth exposed, we rage. The wisdom of the electorate? Pah!

Jeremy O’Grady

Pulling the wool over our eyes

Gript’s recent post on education pressure groups reveals more about the shenanigans of politicians who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

We should be grateful for this platform which helps us keep our feet on the ground on matters that matter.

David Mullins takes on this cadre of so-called social warriors who maintain that

Most parents are only a hair’s breadth away from storming local Board of Management meetings in a wave of progressive protest at the ‘stranglehold’ of religious ethos on the teaching of sex-ed at primary and secondary school level.

He writes:

That is not true, of course.

But that still hasn’t stopped a majority of politicians, particularly those on the left, from hyperventilating on the issue in recent years or from seeking to position themselves as the semi-messianic voices of ‘oppressed’ parents and radical sex-ed advocacy organisations.

But the reality is different

During the ten-year period from 2011 to November 2021, a mere 60 ‘communications’ have been received by the Department of Education which feature complaints involving “a perceived restriction on the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education as a result of the ethos (or characteristic spirit) of schools.”

60 ‘communications’ on ‘perceived’ restrictions because of ethos. In a decade.

Not quite the ideological storming of the barricades that we have been led to believe is happening, is it?

This information was revealed as part of a series of replies to parliamentary questions from the Rural Independent TD for Laois-Offaly, Carol Nolan. Deputy Nolan also happens to be a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

As things stand at present, The Education Act 1998 provides “that boards of management of schools shall manage schools on behalf of patrons while upholding the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school.”

It is now clear, that most ordinary parents have no problem whatsoever with this.

In fact, if anything is an actual issue for parents it is the attempt to do away with this vital provision that allows for the teaching of a compassionate and well-grounded age-appropriate curriculum based on a faith informed vision of human dignity.

All of this reflects the insight put forward last week by Carol Nolan’s colleague in the Rural Independent Group, Michael Collins, during a debate on the Social Democrats rehashed version of a People Before Profit/Solidarity Bill on ‘objective and impartial’ sex education.

Here is what Deputy Collins said:

“We are forever discussing issues in this Dáil that are never raised with me as issues in my constituency. When it comes to the education of our children, this debate is a prime example of that. We are discussing this Bill instead of discussing the lack of special need assistants and teachers in our classrooms and how will schools fill their oil tanks. Schools have to face those challenges on a daily basis. I am on a school board of management and I know difficult it is to get funding to address these issues.”

The Cork-South West TD went on:

“We should be discussing how funding will be secured to fix a school roof where State funding has not been given. Instead, we waste our time discussing the Social Democrats’ agenda seeking that young people and children can access sexual education. The Social Democrats similar to its sister party, the Labour Party, has gone on to attack religion in our schools with a whole load of blah blah blah, as similarly happened during COP26, where it is all talk and has no solutions.”

Now, thanks to the work of genuinely in-touch constituency TD’s like Carol Nolan, we know that these are also the priorities of most parents.

A similar issue was reflected this week when it emerged that a paltry 4% of Trinity College students engaged in the entirely self-regarding ‘referendum’ on boycotting the Irish Times because of its apparently transphobic editorial stance.

Which is to say, that away from the megaphone politicking and advocacy on these and similar issues, most parents just want their child to be educated with common-sense and dignity even if that involves (horror of horrors) learning about such things from a Catholic or denominational perspective.

The push to marginalise faith schools, to ‘get them out’ or to liberalise and fundamentally reshape the sex-ed curriculum from junior infants up, is not coming from parents.

It is being driven by the radical ideological positions favoured by most Irish political parties and versions of international law as interpreted by the left. We now have strong indicative evidence to support that.

Read more here.

What Greta should do next…

Poor Jeremy Clarkson. I’m sure he is very upset this morning – after the barrage of abuse he has received for his very reasonable suggestions to Greta Thunberg as to what she should do next in her campaign to cool us all down. The main outrage is about what he though her parents should be doing about her – because what he proposed is against the law in most of those countries which have converted themselves into interfering nannies.

This is what Jeremy proposed in his Times Newspapers (London) column:

If Greta and her pals really want to get results, they should try protesting in Tiananmen Square Greta Thunberg is now kayaking back to the Swedish port where she left her bicycle, having spent the week outside a conference centre in Glasgow, swearing a lot and being interviewed by BBC journalists who fawned like they were soap stars being introduced to the Queen. They didn’t call the annoying little bucket of ego: “Your majesty”, but you could see they were thinking it.

I simply don’t get the Thunberg phenomenon. She has no knowledge of how the world works, no manners and no letters after her name because instead of going to school, she’s been busy sailing round the world so she can be mardy and abusive to grown-ups. What she needs is a smacked bottom.

Rod Liddle calls her the “Swedish doom goblin” which is, of course, brilliant, but she’s worse than that. She’s a pest. A 4ft maypole around which the deranged and the weak and the unemployable can dance and chant and make a nuisance of themselves. However, she did come up with one idea last week that struck a chord. In essence, she said that there was no point listening to whatever the f*** the Cop26 politicians were saying inside their important meetings because the people outside knew what had to be done and could just get on and do it.

Absolutely. I already know that I should not buy palm oil or products that come with unnecessary plastic packaging, and that I should not use wet logs in my wood-burning stoves. I also know that if my journey’s less than a mile, I should walk rather than use the car and that I should make more of an effort to understand what goes in the recycling part of my bin and what doesn’t. I don’t need Joe Biden to wake up from one of his naps and tell me.

So here’s a tip, Greta: lecturing me on what needs to be done is pointless. It’d be like standing in my bedroom every morning ordering me to wear clothes. I know already. What you should be doing instead is cycling to countries where people are perhaps less well aware of what should be done. China for example. That I’d like to see. Greta standing outside Zhongnanhai with her parka and her Glastonbury backpack and her microphone, lecturing the leaders about their policies on coal and trees and so on.

Maybe she could be joined by those Extinction Rebellion halfwits who go to the middle of London to tell Barnes people in Teslas to be more green, rather than going to the slums of Calcutta where two million people, living in poverty, cook their supper every evening on chulha stoves, which blanket the city in a thick yellow fog. These are the people Tarquin and their sexually ambiguous mates should be targeting. But they’re not.

I saw a map, last week, of where the world’s methane is coming from. And let me tell you that billions of tons of the stuff is pouring into the skies from India and China. And not a single hairy person in Liberal Democrat shoes is over there with a placard complaining about it. Because they’re all here, moaning about how my cows burp too much and how there’s a turd in the River Evenlode.

It’s the same story with the loft insulation protesters. There was a photograph in my newspaper on Friday that showed them blocking the path of a lorry that was actually delivering loft insulation. So again, they’re inconveniencing the lives of people who are already doing their best. They too should be in China because I’d dearly love to see that. Especially the footage of the Chinese police ungluing the hands of a vicar from the tarmac in Tiananmen Square. “Oh no, Reverend. All your skin’s come off.” And now you’ve hit your head on the police car. I’d also like to see them daubing the words “racist” and “murderer” on statues of Chairman Mao, but of course, this would never happen because they know they would not be treated with respect and reverence by China’s news crews. And neither would they be invited with Greta and the Lib Dem vicars round to President Xi’s for some nuclear free vegan peace food.

This is why they’re not protesting in countries where protest might do some good; because they’re timid and wet. Greta turns up in Glasgow so she can bathe in some adulation for a few days, rather than getting sent to a labour camp for a few decades. That’s what these protesters need to get through their knitted hats and into their thick skulls; that if you want to get something done, and I mean really done, you’ve got to be uncomfortable. And you’ve got to be surrounded by people who don’t like you, not those who do. You’ve got to talk to Fox News, not CNN or the BBC. Look at Gandhi and Mandela. They were prepared to undergo unimaginable hardships to further the cause in which they believed.

Thich Quang Duc was prepared to go even further. Had this Buddhist monk stepped out of his Austin A95 and glued himself to the road to protest about the South Vietnamese government, it’s virtually certain that no one would remember his name. And I wouldn’t have been able to recall what sort of car he had. But he didn’t glue himself to the road. Instead, he set himself on fire and sat there, in the middle of a busy intersection, until he was dead. Then you have Emily Davison who, to further women’s rights, leapt under the king’s horse at the Derby and was killed. And the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and William Wallace. I think it’s safe to say that if the blue-faced agitator had fought for Scottish independence by gluing himself to a tree, Mel Gibson would have been less inclined to make that film.”