What Alasdair MacIntyre used to know is that the modern nation-state cannot do anything truly good for its citizens. So how can we explain his recent call for the strong use of nation-state power in the realms of health, education, military service, and public speech?
I. What Alasdair MacIntyre Knows
What Alasdair MacIntyre used to know, and has been the master teacher of for decades, is that the modern nation-state, particularly in its present Levianthanian-Imperial configuration, cannot, on its own terms and by its own power, do anything truly good for its citizens. Prof. MacIntyre has argued consistently and forcefully that political liberalism, whether European or American, due to its essential foundation in the anti-Aristotelian, pro-Lockean privatization of the good, its defective, Enlightenment-inherited notion of practical reason (which inevitably becomes the Nietzschean will to power, albeit a smiling bureaucratic and therapeutic one), its Weberian compartmentalization of agency and authority, and its embodiment, since the late nineteenth century, in nation-states of ever-increasing unnatural size and unwieldy complexity, is simply not adequate to the job of true politics—that is, a politics of the common good. Rather, pace its stubborn defenders, such as John Rawls on the left, and Pierre Manent on the right, the liberally construed nation-state is, according to MacIntyre, simply not a functional political order. Oh yes, it seems to do “political” things sometimes, but look more closely: The nation-state is an alliance-pretending-to-be-a-polis, an alliance being sub-political; and the American nation-state, through having a Lockean/Hobbesian/Rousseauian conception of politics and man (with their opposing elements alchemically synthesized somehow) enshrined in our authoritative documents and political ethos ab initio—see the wonderful revisionist political history and astute analysis of Kenneth Craycraft on this—aims only at preserving life and natural liberty (and property, if you like), but not the good life and moral liberty. As Mr. Craycraft shows, the Founders effectively established the philosophy of Liberalism as the “religion” of the nation—the indeterminate and vacuous, Enlightenment/Masonic religion of, paradoxically, religious liberty.
But all is well and good, for it is the privilege and prerogative of sub-and-supra-state agencies, practices, groups, and institutions of civil society, so the liberal story goes, such as the family, philanthropic associations, and churches, to secure the common good and the flourishing of individuals—not the state. Being a morally and religiously neutral agent, by design and common consent, the liberal state cannot know what the good is, so it is charged merely to create and maintain safe spaces of civic freedom in which those other quite capable agencies and individuals, the ones that can and do know the good, can secure it for themselves and the public at large. Of course, good is still in some sense determined by the liberal state, as the state, and it alone, is the agency permitted and authorized to employ coercive power to restrict both the practice, and sometimes even the expression (if it is politically incorrect and “harmful” enough), of any conception of the good that inhibits the freedom of others to live out their self-chosen conceptions of the good.
In short, the liberal democratic state is, it itself insists, “non-confessional,” and as such is superior to all political orders that came before it. In restricting itself to promoting and defending the private interests of its citizens, and only those public interests—the “general welfare”—that are a means to securing private interests, man is liberated from being, as Rousseau famously stated, “everywhere in chains.”
But, as Prof. MacIntyre controversially has argued, the fact that the liberal state does not dictate to citizens what its interests should be, or try to secure them by its unwieldy and morally ignorant power, it is not a true political order. It is, rather, a “public-interest” organization, as he has called it, more like a utility company than a city—though one that sometimes asks us to die for it, and, in William T. Cavanaugh’s amplification, kill for it. We do sometimes benefit from the state’s largess, but it is accidental to, and many times in spite of, its intentional motives and actions, as Prof. MacIntyre suggests here:
The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
In short, in Prof. MacIntyre’s view, the state, at its best, provides space and resources for the obtaining of certain modest, private goods by and for individuals; and it can secure some protection from criminal depredations, economic fraud, and domestic and foreign violence. Liberal democracy can and has established tolerable public orders, though, due to its bloated size, ubiquitous scope, centripetal centralization, and, most importantly, ideological contradictions, usually at the expense of, and even on the backs of, the poor, the marginalized, and the politically powerless. It’s also not too friendly to those who accept God’s law as standing higher than the state’s laws, and who talk and act like it, such as those few non-state-worshipping Christians, such as Kim Davis, that still exist in America.
But whatever it has done good for us, the liberal state always seems to place obstacles to its citizens’ moral and spiritual flourishing as the inevitable accompaniment of its blandishments:
Liberalism in the name of freedom imposes a certain kind of unacknowledged domination, and one which in the long run tends to dissolve traditional human ties and to impoverish social and cultural relationships. Liberalism, while imposing through state power regimes that declare everyone free to pursue whatever they take to be their own good, deprives most people of the possibility of understanding their lives as a quest for the discovery and achievement of the good, especially by the way in which it attempts to discredit those traditional forms of human community within which this project has to be embodied.
Prof. MacIntyre’s essential teaching on the liberal state, then? It tends morally to lobotomize its citizens.
Suffice it to say, Prof. MacIntyre has not been a supporter of the American political, cultural, and economic status quo. He has repeatedly criticized the contemporary practice of “free market” capitalism for its elitism, irrationality, injustice and deceitfulness; he has depicted the gigantic, centralized, bureaucratic nation-state as an “unmanageable and dangerous institution,” pretending to be a moral agent but almost always acting like a moral idiot, demanding of its dupes to treat it like a mere utility company, but then, sometimes, asking them to “die for the telephone company;” and he has excoriated the infernal union of consumerist, corporate capitalism and irrational, bureaucratic politics as just another form of the tyrannical liberalism that transcends party lines:
Liberalism… is often successful in preempting the debate by reformulating quarrels and conflicts within liberalism, so that they appear to have become debates within liberalism, putting in question this or that particular set of attitudes or policies, but not the fundamental tenets of liberalism with respect to individuals and the expression of their preferences. So, so-called conservatism and so-called radicalism in these contemporary guises are in general mere stalking-horses for liberalism: the contemporary debate within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals. There is little place in such political systems for the criticism of the system itself, that is, for putting liberalism in question.
II. What Alasdair MacIntyre Doesn’t Know
Prof. MacIntyre has been, from the publication of his magisterial After Virtue in 1981, to his provocative God, Philosophy, Universities in 2009, perhaps the most influential and sophisticated Socratic subverter of liberalism and the pretensions of the liberal nation-state in the western world. However, in his 2015 plenary lecture, “Justification of Coercion and Constraint,” given at the prestigious Notre Dame Ethics and Culture Conference, Alasdair MacIntyre did not pose challenging questions to the liberal nation-state, but instead gave arguments to justify its employment of coercive power, and not just in theory. He called for the strong use of nation-state power, right now, in the realms of health, education, military service, and public speech. And judging from the import of his words, Prof. MacIntyre was not merely calling for a small-scale, non-Lockean, polis-like, natural-law founded, subsidiarity-respecting, good-knowing-and-willed, morally-capable, alliance-transcending, and otherwise legitimate, trustworthy, modest, and capable political authority to be empowered to secure certain morally robust goods and prevent certain morally repugnant evils through coercion and constraint—something for which he has called in the past. The clear import of his words was that the power and authority to regulate health (government-mandated vaccines with no exemptions), dictate education (government-prescribed “virtue education”), mandate military service (this seems to be the import of his words), and punish acts of public speech (swift and severe penalties for “harmful speech”) is to be wielded by none other than the nation-state, what he once deemed a “dangerous and unmanageable institution.”
If an embedded intellectual, talking-head, think-tank elitist, globalist-apologist for empire, spokesman for the industries of education, medicine, or the military—that is, if an obvious court sophist—had said what Prof. MacIntyre said, it would be unsurprising. But Alasdair MacIntyre? Is this the same Alasdair MacIntyre who in 2004 wrote this anti-voting manifesto for the same Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (which is, curiously, no longer available on the Center’s web site)?
When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives…. In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is not to vote.
I will have something to say below in explanation of Prof. MacIntyre’s seeming about-face on his life-long anti-liberal project, but let us turn to the speech itself.
It would be wonderful if health, war, education, and speech could be more effectively, intelligently, beneficially, and justly administered and managed by the liberal nation-state. But certain questions arise when one seriously considers that possibility. On the topic of mandatory vaccinations: Why no suspicion whatsoever in Prof. MacIntyre’s lecture regarding the possibility of government vaccine policy being influenced by a profit-and-ideology-driven scientific establishment working hand-in-glove with a corrupt Big Pharma? Is there not at least prima facie evidence for this possibility? And why did Prof. MacIntyre not speak about (admitting, of course, that some vaccines have been very beneficial to humanity) the fact that harmful, sometimes fatal, vaccines have been conceived and sold to the public in the wedding of these two corrupt institutions? And why did Prof. MacIntyre claim, nay, insist, that vaccine technology is based upon the “best science available”? How does he know this? Why would anyone trust so naively in such notoriously money- and prestige-driven, as well as government-entangled, institutions as contemporary science and pharmaceutical medicine?
Regarding coercion by the state in the realm of education: As Prof. MacIntyre has told us many times, the liberal state is based firmly upon the “privatization of the good” (the title of his inaugural lecture as Chair of Philosophy at Notre Dame in 1990), as well as the relativism of moral and religious claims, the quantification and pragmatization of knowledge, and the ideological hegemony of power utilitarianism. Should such a state have its coercive power increased so as to dictate not only education policy in general, but also the particular content of curriculum, including, as Prof. MacIntyre suggested in his lecture, inculcation in those virtues that can best empower students to make moral choices? Which “virtues” would these be exactly? Which choices, and for what ends? To serve the common good and moral, intellectual, and spiritual flourishing—or to serve the gods of mammon and empire, by becoming either a mindless devotee, or an elite (and equally mindless) member of the priesthood? As Prof. MacIntyre knows, as John Taylor Gatto has demonstrated, the mindset of most educrats is the product of a formation and training in the ideology of John Dewey—that is, a concoction of naturalism, collectivism, emotivism, progressivism, materialism, atheism, Darwinism, pragmatism, democraticism, and utilitarianism. And as I have written elsewhere, drawing, ironically, on Prof. MacIntyre’s writings on the topic of education, the liberal state is morally, theologically, philosophically, and anthropologically stupid, and so cannot possibly educate anyone:
Secular pluralism, because it has rejected both supernatural faith and metaphysical reason as politically relevant desiderata and authoritative communal guides, and because it has subjectivized and privatized the good and the true, cannot possibly educate itself. But because it still pretends to be, and actually is in a highly attenuated and perverted fashion, a political community, it unfortunately acts as a powerful educational agent. Of course, it makes a mockery of both education and community, seducing—when it is not demanding—citizens’ participation in defective practices embodying counterfeit goods and transmitting an anti-tradition of, ultimately, self-and-nothing worship. Secular liberalism’s communal telos is the aggrandizement of an elite class of sophist-educators who teach their students to abandon the quest for their own good and the common good for the pursuit of idiosyncratic ephemera, and to seek, not the truth about God, the world, and man, along with the political and cultural instantiation of these truths, but purely practical “knowledge” ordered to nothing but the equal satisfaction of individual desires, as James Kalb puts it. Such serves only to require and extend the hegemonic power of the state authoritatively to manage and define this equality by preventing the existence and flourishing of genuine common-good organizations ordered by and to the transcendental—by persecuting and neutralizing true educational agents.
Regarding coercion by the state in enforcing military service: (Again, Prof. MacIntyre didn’t explicitly call for a draft, but his words implied that military service and state coercion can go together): Is the nation-state—along with its globalist overseers, NATO and the UN, as well as the sundry NGOs that wage untold influence over military policy and the financial and armament industries, to which such policy is often wedded—and in its present power configuration of global empire capable of even waging a just war? Has the last decade or so of wars been manifestly just? Apparently not, at least if they have been anything like the “war” (read invasion and occupation) of Iraq, which, as is now admitted even by the most stalwart war hawks, was based upon deliberate lies, and thoroughly unjust, both ad bellum and in bello. And how about since World War II? Although very left of the political spectrum, in their 2013 book, On Western Terrorism, Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek claim and document that “between 50 and 55 million people have died around the world as a result of Western colonialism and neocolonialism since the end of World War II.” And what about the horrific-to-contemplate phenomenon of false-flag, state-sponsored terrorism, which is, due to the Internet and courageous journalists and writers, no longer a forbidden topic of discourse? In fact, it has now been substantially documented in peer-reviewed journals. Does it exist? Are western governments, including America, completely unwilling to engage in it? Of course, citizens must defend their country against enemies, foreign and domestic—when there is an actual, not made up, imminent threat—and sometimes this may requires coercion and restraints on certain individual freedoms, but…
Prof. MacIntyre also called for the state to have the power to limit and punish speech whenever it is “harmful or dishonest?” But it must be asked: Who is deciding whether speech is harmful or dishonest, and on what criteria? Is it the federal government? I am tempted to say something here about “the pot calling the kettle black.” Couldn’t such censoring measures, in the present Orwellian climate of mass propaganda (read Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda on this), and endless wars and rumors of wars (most if not all based upon lies) result in the empowerment of the federal government to punish more effectively and ruthlessly those who dare to question publicly its propaganda, immoral activities, and self-serving agenda? Of course, manifestly dishonest and harmful speech can and should be justly suppressed, when prudent, by legal force. But, again, whose “dishonesty”?! Which “harm”?! Recall that the government of Oceania in Orwell’s 1984 was given such carte blanche power with similar justifications. Who is to watch the watchers?
III. Unjustified Coercion and Constraint
In sum, why was there no hesitation in Prof. MacIntyre’s philosophical support for the coercive power of a nation-state that has shown itself more than willing to use its redoubtable powers to promote and protect, domestically, sodomy, usury, fornication, contraception, and abortion; and abroad, to engage in preemptive strikes, regime change, drone assassinations, and aggressive, illegal, immoral wars? This is the same government that has shown itself able and willing to hide its misdeeds with a sophisticated and ubiquitous propaganda ministry that exerts much influence, even control, over mainstream media, entertainment, law, and academia, and to punish those who blow the whistle on these crimes, expose the lies, and unmask the propaganda with media calumny, legal penalties, and even violence. Remember, or learn, that we are dealing with a federal government that, with Barack Obama, has given itself presidential power to detain American citizens indefinitely without evidence or trial (see the National Defense Authorization Act).
We must ask ourselves: Are we living under a political order that can be trusted to wield its tremendous coercive power for good, or is the picture more like this: Rule by secrecy and deception; rule by bureaucrats, demagogues, unelected agencies and officials, “experts,” lobbies, pressure from foreign governments, big banks and big bankers, Wall St. financial elites, the Federal Reserve, special-interest groups, corporate power, globalist elites, NGO’s; rule by, first and foremost, ideology and power and money and prestige.
If things are even remotely close to the picture I have drawn, then prudence dictates that federal, and even some state, powers should be restricted, decentralized, and enervated, while being distributed to those more local governments and mediating institutions, elected agencies, individuals, that is, to people of good will, those that can and do actually know the good, and can embody and promote a true common good and human flourishing. But even if we live under something less malevolent than my dour description, is it prudent to justify the power and prerogative of the nation-state at this time? The time of Obergefell, HHS, and NDAA? The time of a never-ending and escalating “war on terror,” a war that is better named the war of terror, for it has only led to increased terror, the destruction of millions of innocent Muslims, and the restriction of the liberty of citizens?
All the coercive and restraining measures Prof. MacIntyre called for would be very appropriate for a genuine political order, one whose scale allows for a robust conception of the common good and the governing agents to know and secure what human flourishing actually entails, but, again, are we not dealing now with a “Deep State” (read about it here, but this essay only scratches the surface, and it has a leftist slant), a ruling class that is certainly not “neutral towards comprehensive conceptions of the good,” but at war, morally and spiritually, with the Good in general, and the citizens’ good in particular? I live in a small town where there are still hints of the “old America,” the one with which de Tocqueville fell in love, but when you leave small towns like mine and go out to where the federal government and its innumerable agencies have more power and influence, what one finds, as a function of increasing government size and scope, is rule by corruption, deceit, exploitation, and propaganda—in short, soft tyranny. We still have remnants of real political authority, particularly on local levels, and there are good people doing good things on all levels of government, and this is what I still love about the American people: their “don’t tread on me!” dignity. But it is the federal government, and now even state governments (which, it would seem, have no real independent power anymore vis-à-vis the federal, although they might try asserting their power sometime against the feds and see what happens) that is doing the worst treading! So, I can understand desiring to empower local governments and mediating institutions with more coercive authority vis-à-vis the state, to have more authority to change the present health-care racket, more power over protecting their own land and property against state confiscation and robbery, more power over true educational needs over educratic insanities, and over reasonable limits of free speech (not the silencing of whistleblowers and truth-tellers!)—but empowering small-scale authorities and agencies to do these things is quite different from empowering bureaucracy, unelected elites, and the federal government to do it.
The contemporary practices, at the federal level at least, of state-mandated education, war, medicine, and the policing of “free speech,” are, at worst, abysmally corrupt and destructive of the good, and at best, driven by a combination of financial and ideological forces along with some genuine health, knowledge, and safety concerns, with some genuine competency in these areas. Again, I am certainly not against the use of true governmental power in securing the best public education, waging defensive and manifestly just wars—not wars for empire and libido dominandi—providing harmless and disease-preventing vaccines, and ensuring an honest and propaganda-free public square. But the government must actually be a true government, with its agencies acting on a more or less true knowledge of the human good, to do these things! As a Thomist, and not a libertarian, I see no problem with true political authority, one with a modest size, a consistent theory and practice of subsidiarity, and a non-liberal, more-or-less Aristotelian/Thomistic, natural-law and common-good foundation, that is, a state actually capable of knowing and securing the common good, using its beneficial power to promote and even enforce the good in the realms of education, the military, medicine, and culture, as well as other realms where the common good is at stake. In this I tend to disagree with the radical Augustinians, such as William Cavanaugh and Stanley Hauerwas—though for all I know they may be more right than I presently think—who are more libertarian, tending towards anarchism in their approach to state power. But, again, I would support more state power only if such a state were, in practice not just in words, to respect subsidiarity, the antecedent and superior rights and privileges of the family, the superior moral and spiritual, and, dare I say, political authority of the Catholic Church on moral and spiritually relevant political issues, as well as all other institutions and practices based upon immemorial and good customs, and the natural and divine positive laws. Does our present nation-state configuration respect these things? Is it even possible for it to do so, based as it is upon a Lockean/Rawlsian privatization of the good and relativism of the true? Is the modern state even capable of recognizing, let along respecting and protecting, any competing authorities or powers? Robert Nisbet argued powerfully in 1953, based upon not only its theoretical underpinnings, but also the history of the state’s actual behavior since its birth in the so-called “Wars of Religion,” truly the Wars of the Nation-State, as William Cavanaugh as persuasively argued, that it is not so capable.
When the state’s coercive power is used on behalf of the true good of its citizens’ bodies and souls, it is legitimate and worthy of support and consent. But can the coercive power of the liberal, social-contract, consent-absolutist, centralized, bureaucratic, managerial, secularist, pluralist, technocratic state, where an increasing pluralism of irreconcilable conceptions of the good is relentlessly promoted and even demanded (multicultural ideology, unrestricted immigration policy), and where equal preference satisfaction (Casey and Obergefell in theory, abortion and same-sex marriage in practice) has become the absolute criterion of “good” government and healthy culture, be used on the behalf of the true good of its citizens? No one has argued more persuasively for the need to ask this question, and to ask it seriously, than Alasdair MacIntyre.
IV. Out of the Cave, Into the Light
I mentioned above that I would try to explain what might account for Prof. MacIntyre’s giving philosophical support to the power of the modern liberal state when he has been so adamantly against it, in both theory and practice, for so many years. Honestly, I am not sure, and I hope that I have misunderstood the import of his entire lecture. If I have, I am ready to be corrected. But if I did not misunderstand it, I think there is one plausible explanation: If Alasdair MacIntyre, a respected and influential public Catholic intellectual, were to say plainly that the emperor has no clothes on, by talking about the real dangers of, say, the Deep State, or the imperialistic crimes and domestic tyrannies that have been recently witnessed; if he told the full truth of the decadence and corruption of our political parties—both of them—as well as academia, law, media, police, the military, intelligence, and entertainment, all of which support, and are, to some extent, complicit in these same crimes and tyrannies, he would soon be relegated to the academic, social, and political margins, and he would certainly not be invited to give any more Notre Dame plenary lectures.
Perhaps this pressure, along with a naïve (and uncharacteristic for a Socratic philosopher) credulity towards mainstream narratives and claims of the state and its various official mouthpieces, explains why a man who has been for decades the preeminent spokesman in academia of the political defectiveness and duplicity of liberalism and the liberal nation-state, would be willing to give support, unknowingly and unintentionally, of course, to what is arguably the corrupt, mendacious, and money-and-ideology-driven practices of medical profit-making, educational sophistry, unjust war-making, and truthful speech policing.
One could see that these practices are as I characterize them if one looked carefully enough at the actual practices, and not what their paid lackeys and court sophists say about them—that is, the people who pretend to be statesmen, experts, doctors, educators, lawyers, journalists, and professors, but are actually just paid apologists for a corrupt regime, puppeteers in the cave, with most probably completely unaware of what they are doing and for whom they are really working. Prof. MacIntyre is certainly not one of these—far from it!—but perhaps he has been overly influenced by them in recent years, as all of us undoubtedly have been. Their malign influence is inescapable now, though we can do things to protect ourselves against it. To see the actual practices for what they are requires, above all, turning one’s gaze away from the seductive shadows, and this means, first and foremost, from the mainstream media—in both its left and right masks. I mean media in its fundamental sense—that which mediates, but does not actually offer, reality to us. Then we need to look toward the puppets and puppeteers that construct the shadows, the mediated lies, “facts,” narratives, reports, etc. Next, we need to expose the counterfeit fire-light, which darkens the mind with manichean scapegoating, inner-circle intrigues, and dogmatic answers with no questions. Finally to the real light of truth, humility, and courage streaming into the cave. It’s, of course, Christ, the Logos, and the Church, the real sacramental world, and the good-willed people who iconically mediate His presence. With the Internet we still have ready access to truth-mediating media, and if we can get a decent liberal-arts education and a sense of historical context to fill in the Orwellian memory hole, become and remain good willed, practice natural and be disposed to supernatural virtues, and, above all, practice as much as possible the presence of God in our hearts, in silence, and within the world around us, we can learn, know, and love the Truth and save our souls. We must not simply accept mainstream media and government narratives and claims anymore, no matter how much psychological and emotional pressure there is to do so. God will judge us for preferring shadows to reality. Though there are, of course, irrational people and groups in the alternative media world, as well as obviously irrational theories, a “conspiracy theorist” is really only someone who questions the statements of known liars, an obligation incumbent on us all.
V. City of Man vs. City of God
I hope I have at least made a plausible case that Christians and freedom-loving men of good will should think twice about following Prof. MacIntyre’s blanket endorsement of state power, prerogative, and scope in these four vital areas of human welfare, as well as any area that can seriously affect our souls. Let us remember the big picture here. The earthly City of Man has always been and will always be opposed to the City of God, that is, the true religion, the Church that embodies it, and all those men and women who love her and what she stands for, whether official members of Her or not. The present-day culture of the West is neither liberal, tolerant, rationalist, materialist, religiously neutral, enlightened, morally progressive, secular, nor non-violent. Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of good people who have created alternative sub-cultures ordered to truth, beauty, goodness, freedom, and virtue—to God—mainstream culture, including mainstream political and imperial culture, which is now under the empire of mammon and ideology, is becoming increasingly totalitarian, intolerant, materialist, atheist, fideist, spiritualist (dark spiritualism), religiously fanatical (the religion of anti-logos), morally decadent, inquisitional, and violent—pace all its endless and ubiquitous propaganda to the contrary. If you want a good depiction of what American mass culture is becoming, read Thucydides’ description of the plague at Athens during the Peloponnesian War:
The sacred places also in which they had quartered themselves were full of corpses of persons that had died there, just as they were; for as the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane. . . . Nor was this the only form of lawless extravagance which owed its origin to the plague. Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property. So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offenses, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.
For, at the heart of all cultures, pace the Enlightenment and its post-Enlightenment child of nihilistic technocracy—a chip off the old block—is always the Sacred, and at the heart of our post-9/11 imperial culture of death and deceit is a terrifying power in mortal conflict with the logos, with Christ. What we need, then, is, not an easy compromise with and valorization of state power, nor a total rejection of it, but its—and our—healing, repentance, and transformation, and this requires a wholehearted fight against the increasing nihilism and power-worship that has poisoned American political culture, with its ever centralizing, punishing, restricting, censoring, surveilling, taxing, policing, invading, terrorizing, bombing, droning, and lying state practices, and the propaganda that hides them, which cunningly portrays the state as beholden to the people’s will and their rights, and promoting only our “freedom” and “security,” even while it acts for only its own interests and the interests of immoral and power-insane elites. And now, as Prof. MacIntyre’s portrayal of liberalism would lead one to suspect, we are dealing with an emboldened ruling class, both left and right (a quite effective controlled opposition), that has become in their own eyes, and, tragically, in the eyes of many American Christians, an unimpeachable, unquestionable authority brooking no opposition. Just consider the reprehensible way in which many Christian “conservatives” treated the heroic act of Kim Davis against the state.
How this resistance to the state might be executed when translated into Christian teaching and everyday life, as well what a blueprint for building a political culture of love, truth, goodness, solidarity, humility, non-violence, compassion, and beauty might look like, are matters that need urgently to be addressed by Church leaders, lay and clergy, and Christian intellectuals, especially at places like Notre Dame.
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