Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mark comments ...

No doubt as a feature of our continuing irrelevance and his lack of interest in our blog. And at a time when I was just about to post a prayer request for his current woes. As Victor and I have repeatedly stated here, as much as we may disagree with Mark we have no desire to see him suffer, either personally or financially. I am aware that there are other people here who may have different opinions on that and I would strongly suggest that such individuals keep it to themselves.

In any case, Mark writes:
No. Mark hasn't [embraced Ron Paul]. But I'm sure it must be a consolation to tell yourself he has.

Short of a public declaration of fealty, it sure seems to this observer as though Mark has. Given his own argument that Victor and I shill for the GOP, I hope he isn't too terribly surprised when what's good for the goose is good for the gander. By the same standards that Mark uses to illustrate that Victor and I desire the abuse of prisoners and war crimes (to say nothing of the election of Rudy Giuliani!), I don't think that it is at all hard to document the same for him with regard to Ron Paul. The complete 180 on libertarianism where before it was a selfish ideology for people without children, knee-jerk defense of the man despite the more egregious things that he's said (including opposition to the war in Afghanistan), the anger at the electorate that he isn't gaining in the polls (except when he is - see the following), and then the embrace of conspiracism whenever any serious criticism of the man gains traction all seem to qualify in this regard.
The funny thing is, Rod Dreher has a lot more unabashed enthusiasm for both Ron Paul and Daniel Larison than my ocassional mention of them demonstrates. Similarly, his words about the Bushies and their conduct of the war have been none too kind for some months now. But since Rod is a friend of Victor's this does not come up here. Oh sure, diane and pauli like to obsess about Rod, but the managers of this site would prefer to keep the focus on Shea-hating. So they simply ignore it in favor of expanding my various chance comments into an opportunity for dimestore psychoanalysis. You never see loooooong ranting pieces about how Rod is cracking up and a menace to the Republic who can safely be ignored (except when you are obsessing over him).

A couple of points here. First of all, Rod is now Eastern Orthodox rather than Catholic, which to put it crudely means that while I continue to pray for his return to the Church, he can say whatever he likes without me worrying about a scandal to the faithful. He has also never tried to pass off his nuttier political or social views as being in synch with the Catholic Church (indeed, his conversion to Orthodoxy would seem to preclude such things) or questioned the fidelity to the Church of those with whom he disagrees. Rod's main shtick, near as I can determine, is crunchy conservatism, which while I disagree strenuously with it as an ideology am not too worried about because it has been repeatedly critiqued by every respectable non-paleocon conservative media outlet that has addressed it. I'm not too worried about the coming crunchy conservative revolution because it is Monty Python's dead parrot sketch as a political ideology. Rod has also been willing to engage those who disagree with him in substantive debates, such as those that occurred on NRO before he decided that he was so much smarter than Jonah Goldberg.

Were Mark's political or theological ideas subjected to this same degree of serious criticism, I probably wouldn't be blogging here. Instead, they have grown a lot shriller and intolerant over time and near as I can determine few within the professional apologetics community have been willing to point out that some of the stuff that he writes, particularly whenever he gets going about neocons or the war, is literally Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and drawn from less than reputable sources. If Mark wants to embrace fringe political views, that's between himself and his critical mindset, but I have a big problem with them being touted from the bully pulpit of the more widely-read Catholic blogs. And this goes way beyond whatever he thinks about interrogation, despite his attempts to pigeonhole Victor and myself into that category because we don't accept his fundamentalist reading of Gaudium et Spes. I have compared this to the issue of Sungenis before he lost his following and I think that it's a perfectly valid one.
Me: I don't mind Rod's remarks on politics much, but I do think the hypocrisy of Victor and his various partners-in-dialogue here is pretty funny. The personal really is the political, ain't it? Why not just rename the place "We Hate Mark Shea and we Can't Stand Zippy Either" and be done with it?

As a practical matter, neither Victor nor myself write that much about Zippy. No doubt that's because (as in the case of Rod) we're secretly in league with him and don't want to expose the connection lest it harm the broader conspiracy. From my point of view, his level of personal arrogance and frequent declarations of his own correctness as a way of ending an argument tend to preclude him developing a broad following. To the extent that he is important, it is largely because Mark tends to outsource most of the actual arguing for some of his claims to him. That said, I don't hate Mark Shea because I don't really know the man. At the end of the day, he is ultimately a stranger who makes crazy comments online with a habit of hurling ad hominems at my character. I could care less for what he thinks about me, but as long as he continues to write crazy stuff I remain concerned for my fellow Catholics. Thankfully, his continued descent into the magical land of Ron Paul has made that less and less of an issue as he becomes more and more identified with the lunatic fringe.


I'll get to what Mark wrote in a minute, but first I want to challenge what both Joe D'Hippolito and Diane wrote about theocracy:
If your analysis of Mark's political Weltanschaung is correct, then he is no different than many ultra-conservative Catholics who (like Buchanan) effectively decry modern civilization in favor of a quasi-medieval model in which the Church, aided by an allegedly benevolent government, had near-totalitarian control over everybody's lives.

I don't think that this description of the Middle Ages is at all true, for the simple fact that totalitarianism was very much a late nineteenth and early twentieth century innovation. Technology (particularly the ability to send and receive information) has done wonders as far as extending the power of the state and there is no way that any monarch from Charlemagne to Napoleon could achieve such feats as those of East Germany where roughly 20% of the population was under surveillance at any given time.

Secondly, I don't think that applying that any kind of totalitarian model to Mark is at all fair to him. For all of his criticism of the modern form of liberal democracy that he believes is run by millionnaires, he retains a very proud view of the Founding Fathers and the United States in general up until about the time that the Baby Boomers gained control of the state. He hasn't ever exactly explained how our political system is to be freed from the grips of the oligarchs (and I don't think that being ruled by oligarchs is necessarily inconsistent with having a society in synch with Catholic teaching, otherwise a lot of medieval Italian city-states are going to get disqualified) but then the practical policy consequences of some of Mark's nuttier ideas have never exactly been at the forefront of his jeremiads. My guess is that he favors some kind of system that "gets money out of politics," which is one of the reasons that I have always been curious concerning his view of the campaign finance reform laws.

On the argument that theocracy is the only legitimate form of government, I would just link to this Orthodox defense of sacred monarchy. I think that the Catechism takes the wisest approach to the issue of government with its emphasis on justice and the common good rather than on the particular forms of government.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

All Hail the Great and Honorable Zipp Huang Shangdi!

In response to the comments of the previous post. While I can't speak for Victor, posting at CoF has been lessened of late due to a combination of factors including the fact that I was of the understanding that Mark was on something of an extended hiatus. That issue having been resolved, part of the problem with continuing a regular posting schedule for CoF has to do with the fact that at the end of the day you really do end up running out of material.

Mark has chosen, near as I can determine, to embrace the fringe political movement of Ron Paul, whose both rhetoric and followers bear a great deal of resemblance to their left-wing counterparts in the Lyndon Larouche movement. In retrospect, I probably should not be surprised by this since Mark has been heading into fringe political territory for awhile now, whether it be his flirtations with the Crunchy Cons or the kookier aspects of the anti-war movement. It seems to me that for all of his warnings about a unified theory of explaining everything that he has embraced just that in his understanding of America. He believes that our representative democracy is essentially a shell game played between wealthy groups of cynical and secular elites who seek to spread abortion and godlessness around the world. While he admits that there was once a time when this was not so, he now regards America as totally identified with Babylon and as such is genuinely uncertain as to whether any of it is worth defending. After all, he is certain that it is the West that will ultimately produce the Antichrist.

The foreign policy view to which Mark now ascribes through synthesis with the likes of Ron Paul and Daniel Larison as well as its logical implications might best be summarized by John J. Reilly's blog from February 2006:
Defeat is editorial policy for American Conservative. Consider this piece, War of the Worlds, by William S. Lind, who argues that there are two great evils today, the Jihad of Fourth Generation warfare and the Brave New World of the West:

The Fourth Generation of Modern War, warfare since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is the greatest change in armed conflict since the modern era began. It is marked by the state’s loss of the monopoly on war it established with Westphalia and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win...Fourth Generation war is giving rise to new forms of social organization. It should not surprise us that al-Qaeda’s goal is not taking power within states but abolishing the state altogether and replacing it with an ummah...

The march toward Brave New World is led by the United States. The main characteristics of Huxley’s dystopia are all too evident in post-1960s America (and Europe). They include a culture where the summary of the law is “you must be happy,” happiness coming from a combination of materialism, consumerism, electronic entertainment, and sexual pleasure; globalism, the elites’ “one ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them” under de facto if not de jure world government; and endless psychological conditioning, especially through the government schools and the video-screen media. Religion is already relegated to the eccentric margins, at least among the elites, if not yet quite forbidden

Readers may amuse themselves by searching through Lind's writings to see how many times he has predicted, indeed reported, the defeat of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years.

When Brave New World’s walls come a tumblin’ down—and they will—men of the West may have their opportunity. Bewildered, shocked, sometimes panicked societies will seek alternatives but not know where to turn.

They will, of course, turn to American Conservative's brand of tradition. It worked for Marshal Petain, didn't it?

There are confusions here. Yes, there is a Brave New World faction in the West, whose chief representatives are, perhaps, the transnationalists of the Davos type. It has little or nothing to do with the neocons. The Brave New Worlders have not prospered in recent years. Part of the story is the foundering of the European Union project; part of it is the defenestration of cultural and media elites in the US. The Brave New World is not fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Brave New World not only could not fight a war; it could not survive in a world where war were possible.

I think that there is a lot to this that goes a long way towards understanding the worldview of Mark Shea. He correctly understands the role of religion to a viable culture and society, but he believes that the whole of American leadership is the preserve of godless secularism. At this point I think that he is so far gone that cannot hope for its victory (watch this to surface as a new theme once Iraq is no longer a factor one way or another), because to do so would only prolong the rot. In many ways, Mark is a kind of inverse to Dinesh D'Souza, the latter of whom at least understands enough about Western elites (being one of them) to recognize that there is a distinction to be made in discussing our national leadership. Mark will hear none of that however, for him the whole of any politically active social conservative leadership (which I would argue by definition includes both Neuhaus and Bottum, his denials notwithstanding) are no more than cynical tools for the GOP party machine to get the rubes to vote them into office. He also believes that the fact that Paul has not gained traction (unless he has, consistency is not one of Mark's strong points) is proof of his conspiracy of elites to Soviet-style rig the US election.

Then there is the matter of content. Mark, near as I can tell, appears to have very little in terms of news or information that is original to him. Instead, it seems that what he does is essentially a commentary of what he sees on Drudge, WorldNetDaily, Human Events, and of course the American Conservative. And rather bad commentary at that, given his utter refusal to engage in serious arguments with those he disagrees with on matters of public policy. For long time, he loudly denied being a paleocon (without exactly explaining where he parts ways with them except on illegal immigration, no trivial matter that) but now that he has begun more and more openly supporting Ron Paul, as Darth Vader says the circle is now complete. I wish him well in his embrace in the lunatic fringe of American politics, but I also don't feel nearly as obliged to engage in rapid reply to what he says now that he has descended into the kook fringe of American conservatism alongside Justin Raimondo. If he wants to continue through his fever swamp ideas about the United States planning a massive attack on Iran (with the Democrats complicit, no less) or revenge fantasies about putting Bush and Cheney on trial for war crimes, I am content to let him do so.

You'll notice I managed to say all of this without getting into the issue of interrogation. Mark labeling Victor and myself as "shills for Leviathan" aside, I would argue that by the same criteria he judges us he had best expand that list to include a great many people. Also, if the measure we use is the same that is used against us, I would suggest that his discussion of just who "shills" around Catholic blogosphere is perhaps best represented by his own 180 degree shift in rhetoric when it comes to libertarianism as soon as he pledged his fealty to Ron Paul.