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Tag Archive: Democracy

A world so lost that people no longer believe it ever really existed

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2013 (11:54 pm), by John W Gillis


Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard has an insightful article coming out in the September 30th edition of the magazine (available now online), entitled “Two Miserable Decades” in which he compares and contrasts the periods from 9/11 until today, and the 70’s – or more precisely, the period from 1967 through 1979. Having been born in 1960, I endured that earlier period at a highly impressionable yet largely oblivious stage of life. Of course, it is common lately to hear the Obama presidency compared to Carter’s, but this article looks much deeper into the fabrics of these oddly-related eras:

So which period was worse? There’s a strong case to be made for each. Superficially, you could argue the ’70s, for all the obvious reasons: 58,000 Americans dead in Vietnam, Watergate, gas lines, the last helicopter leaving Saigon. But the deeper undercurrents suggest a different answer.

After all, American culture was fraying in the ’70s, but for the most part, society agreed that it was fraying and that this dissolution was problematic. In the 1970s, the country retained habits learned during almost two generations of the strongest growth in American history. A 40-year-old in 1970 had lived through the Depression and the Second World War, and his parents had seen the Great War, too. These people were made of stern stuff. And they could plausibly look at the world around them and see it as a terrible aberration. They could believe that the normal state of affairs was much better and that a return to normalcy was possible. That’s why the country responded to Reagan’s call for “morning in America.”

Our age is different. A 40-year-old in 2000 was a teenager during the maelstrom of the ’70s. He saw the bright spot of the mid-1980s and the respite from history that was the 1990s. But to him, the economic and social patterns of the ’00s look like the norm.

As for the culture, the social order of the 1950s may have been washing out to sea during the 1970s, but today it might as well be Atlantis—a world so lost that people no longer believe it ever really existed. When 1 out of every 10 births is illegitimate, it’s a societal failure. When nearly half are, it’s a new way of life.

Last touches on many different elements of both time periods, from the bizarre (e.g. Paul Erlich’s “Population Bomb” apocalyptic to Jimmy Carter being elected leader of the free world a few months after having submitted an official UFO report) to the banal (e.g. economic performance) to the culturally basal (i.e. the state of cultural institutions and the social expectations thus engendered – hence the notion of a world so lost as to be incredible).

Much of it was easy to follow, and hardly controversial. But Last made one comment in particular that jumped out at me as potentially very insightful – and certainly provocative. He claims that the passage of Obamacare may have an even deeper negative significance to the political fabric of the country than did the resignation of Nixon – this because of the purely partisan nature of support that saw its ugly passage by professional politicians who quite often did not really support it (indeed, how could they, since its content was unknown to those who voted it into law!), and who knew their constituencies didn’t want it, but who voted to enact it anyway, to toe the party line. In other words, he sees it as a failure of the democratic processes built into our political institutions, which is indeed a foreboding notion for a nation that has nothing else to offer toward social cohesion if democracy fails, other than television “culture”.  It is a fascinating and sobering thought, which gives some practical weight to the oft-repeated complaints of the hyper-partisan nature of contemporary political discourse, especially in Washington.

The essay makes for good reading, especially for those who think often about the era of the Western “cultural revolution”, and how it continues to influence behaviors and beliefs today.

Some Concluding, Year-End Musings on 2012

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


Logos: Logos Bible Research scored huge in my estimation this year. I had struggled to be productive with earlier versions of their software, but version 4, released just about 3 years ago, represented a dramatic improvement in usability and performance, and I started drifting toward it then – especially since they were also beginning to release quality Catholic resources (e.g. works by Aquinas). Then, this Spring, they put together a series of terrific Catholic base packages, all of which included an outstanding edition of the CatechismCatechism of the Catholic Church. Logos version 5, released a couple months ago, adds some nice capabilities to an already terrific product, and has also been published in a separately-branded Catholic product line called Verbum.

Like the standard Logos 5 offerings, the base packages seem disproportionally weighted toward the upper end of the price range, but the entry-level Catholic package, The Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (in the $50 range), is simply the best set of resources available at anywhere near that price for Catholics looking for a digital study platform. Check it out. It lacks an NAB, but that can be surmounted – and the versions it contains, the RSVCE and Douay, are better versions, anyway. Besides the CCC, it includes the Roman Catechism, the conciliar documents from both Vatican Councils as well as Trent, the essential dogmatic reference works of Denzinger and Ott, and the (daily) Catholic Lectionary. It is an outstanding value, and the resources work together brilliantly. I’m really impressed.

WORDsearch: Continuing the Bible Study Software theme… After rushing WS10 out the door last Christmas week, Lifeway finally got the product to the right spot with a series of version 10.5-enumerated updates released to WS10 owners beginning in June of this year. With a (Greek only) morphological search tool, user-created book types, a History window, and a sermon management tool, WS finally filled some long-standing functionality gaps. But for me, it’s too little, too late. I’ve been a loyal WS user since 1992 – my first (DOS) version of WS came with the NAB, NJB, NRSV, and a Strong’s-tagged KJV, plus TSK; it was Bible Study bliss. No application has served me better over the past 20 years, but it’s time to move on. This program simply cannot compete with the heavyweights. New owner Lifeway (i.e. the Southern Baptist Convention) has had a year and a half to demonstrate a commitment to improved professionalism with the product, and it has not materialized. The only changes I’ve sensed are an increased interest in chasing the latest cultural fads (you can now tweet your Bible Study results from within the program, if that’s your thing), and a decreased likelihood that the platform will be seeing anything like the excellent Catholic resources that are showing up steadily from Logos. On the increasingly rare occasions that I’ve opened the app to work with it recently, it has usually been crashing. Forget it. Thanks for everything; it was great while it lasted.

New English Translation of the Roman Missal: It’s been just over a year now since the introduction of the new translations of many of the prayers in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although they can be awkward and clumsy at times, and although I still haven’t memorized the new versions of the Gloria or the Creed, I think they are overall a big improvement, and are working quite well, with the exception of the Sanctus. I get the Isaiah basis for the change, and consider it an important corrective, but of the half-dozen or so churches where I worship with some regularity, there is not a single congregation that proclaims it smoothly. There’s even one where the priest himself still says “God of power and might” – probably because of the difficulty of getting his people to use a common cadence in proclaiming the new version. It needs attention.

On Obama’s Reelection: I have to admit, I was stunned by the election results. I was quite confident the country would reject Obama, after having four years to see for themselves what you get when you vote for someone based on the color of his skin – as so many people have openly (even gleefully) admitted to doing during the messianic frenzy of 2008. Mitt Romney was admittedly not the easiest guy to get behind, but he offered a genuine chance to correct some of mistakes that have been made, get the economy growing again, and bridge some of the rancor that has afflicted US politics since the Nixon years, but which has reached utterly dysfunctional levels now under this most divisive and partisan of chief executives.

Romney’s loss was disheartening. Partly, that’s because the “kill Romney” character assassination campaign strategy worked for the Democrats, despite the fact that Mitt Romney might just be the most decent guy to have ever run for that office – he’d certainly have to be a serious candidate in any such ranking. That is not a good omen for the future state of presidential politics in this country. But it’s disheartening also partly because of the sheer political force displayed in it by the progressive movement. The Democrats didn’t just convince too many potential Romney supporters to stay home, they wielded a large voting bloc that was willing to support the progressive agenda in plain daylight, not just as a kneejerk reaction to Bush burnout.

It could very well be that we’ve reached – or at least come close to – a tipping point as a culture, where a majority of citizens are willing to vote themselves “other people’s money” from the public till, and to delegate to the state the responsibilities of human freedom, from citizenship to family to personal health and well-being. If this is so, then we have reached the end of the usefulness of the great democratic experiment, and are descending into tyranny – one that will surely tout the infamous conceit of manifesting the will of “the people”. I wouldn’t expect it to end any better than its leftist forerunners have.

On perhaps a bright note, this debacle has produced in me a certain loss of faith in both the American people and in the political process – faith that was in reality misplaced to begin with. It has caused me to lose a good deal of interest in politics – or more accurately, in current events – which should serve both to free up time for less ephemeral concerns, and to orient my priorities more meaningfully.

On the Vapidity of the American “Opinion” Bureaucracies: Related to the collapsing opposition to leftist thinking in America is the success on the part of the progressive movement to establish a fifth column focused on the formation of opinion and the control of knowledge for political ends. I refer, of course, to the thorough progressive domination of the agenda-setting and opinion-defining institutions of education (both mandatory K-12and university-level) and mass media. As it is abundantly clear to me that the greatest threat to America as a place of “liberty and justice for all” comes from a combination of the “news” media and the educational institutions, I’m all in here with Pat Caddell, in his rant from this past autumn:

On Gun Control Hysteria: On this, the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, it seems appropriate to complain that I was deeply distressed by the (media-driven) national meltdown of propriety and circumspection following the dreadful grade-school massacre in Newtown CT a few weeks ago. The notion that so many people were ready and willing to exploit the situation for dubious political purposes before the bodies of the dead children were even cold is chilling. Perhaps especially galling is the site of notoriously pro-abortion politicians crying crocodile tears over the carnage while intoning that “we must get serious” and “something must be done” to “protect the children”. Would it be impolitic to point out that during that very day, well in excess of 3,000 children were murdered in this country using devices – and furthermore, in the performance of acts! – that were not only perfectly legal, but which boast the unbending political protection of the very hypocrites who wailed the most loudly into the megaphones of self-righteous convenience on that sorry day? I hope those of us who retain some semblance of intelligence will be permitted a healthy degree of skepticism at the proposal that the repetition of such senseless bloodshed might be avoided by limiting the capacities of ammunition clips available to law-abiding citizens, causing mass murderers (of the gun-toting type, not the forceps wielding sort) to have to either buy their clips on the black market, or stop to reload a few times in the middle of mowing down a screaming group of defenseless women and children.

On Christmas: I’ve disliked the holiday we call Christmas at least since I was a young father without two spare nickels to rub together. As I’ve gotten older, my financial wherewithal has (predictably) improved significantly, and my Catholic faith has taken root and flourished into a principal self-understanding, but I don’t like the holiday any more. I refer to the holiday celebrated a few days ago that marked the close of the “Christmas Season”, a largely secular and irreligious period of consumer indulgence that began some time around Thanksgiving.

There is another day, a Christian Holy Day, also celebrated a few days ago, at the conclusion of the Advent season, and which marks the beginning of a Christian Christmas season, which has several permutations, being in the first place an Octave that concludes on January 1st, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God; in the second place a traditional period of gaiety extending twelve days, until the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th, though this can get moved to a Sunday), and thirdly as a liturgical season extending through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on the Sunday following Epiphany. This Holy Day and season celebrates the most remarkable thing that ever happened: the Incarnation of God in human flesh – in the flesh of a baby borne of a woman.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to celebrate the Holy Day amidst all the silly hoopla of the holiday, and I need to figure it out before I find myself thrown in to deep depression some one of these years.

They were not like the penniless rabble of antiquity who traded their votes to unscrupulous demagogues

Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 (6:00 am), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, June 7th, 2011:

Walter Russell Mead on The Death of the American Dream:

A nation of family farms is a nation of family firms; suburban America was a land of employees.  America’s shift from a nation of entrepreneurs to a nation working for corporations and government was a profound change in national life that even today is not well or fully understood.

The ideal of the independent small farmer was at the heart of early American democratic ideology.  Critics of democracy had always asserted in the past that a mass of unpropertied and dependent voters would lack both the virtue and the experience necessary to make good decisions for the state.

Americans like Thomas Jefferson retorted that in the United States, things were different.  America, uniquely, was a country in which even the average citizen was a property owner and the master of an enterprise.

The mass of the people could be entrusted with government because the masses owned property.  They were not like the penniless rabble of antiquity who traded their votes to unscrupulous demagogues and dictators in ancient Rome in exchange for bread and circuses.

It’s been a while since I’ve read Mead’s blog, and after clicking through to this post from HotAir.com, I quickly remembered why I used to like to read him. Mead draws out some important lessons from the history of public life that deserve serious reflection, and, as usual, he does it with very little partisan posturing.

In each case the body count was in the millions

Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2011 (9:48 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the day for Sunday, March 6th, 2011:

Newsweek is one of the last places I’d expect to find sober political commentary (maybe being sold for $1 has stunned the company out of its indulgent stupor!), but this on-line article last week from Niall Ferguson, entitled Un-American Revolutions, is one of the sanest opinions I’ve read on the tumult shaking the Muslim world:

Time and again, Americans have hailed revolutions, only to fall strangely silent as those same revolutions proceeded to devour not only their own children but many other people’s too. In each case the body count was in the millions.

So as you watch revolution sweeping through the Arab world (and potentially beyond), remember these three things about non-American revolutions:

  • They take years to unfold. It may have seemed like glad confident morning in 1789, 1917, and 1949. Four years later it was darkness at noon.
  • They begin by challenging an existing political order, but the more violence is needed to achieve that end, the more the initiative passes to men of violence—Robespierre, Stalin, and the supremely callous Mao himself.
  • Because neighboring countries feel challenged by the revolution, internal violence is soon followed by external violence, either because the revolution is genuinely threatened by foreigners (as in the French and Russian cases) or because it suits the revolutionaries to blame an external threat for domestic problems (as when China intervened in the Korean War).

The article this is quoted from is quite brief, but Ferguson is able to supply some historical perspective to what has struck me all along as a remarkably pollyanna-ish view on the uprisings across the Mediterranean basin from almost everyone who has been writing on it. Democracy at long last? Huh? Don’t look now, but there might be more to establishing a democratic republic than letting mobs have their way in the halls of power.