miércoles, 9 de marzo de 2016

MercatorNet: Should you retreat from the public square?

MercatorNet: Should you retreat from the public square?

Should you retreat from the public square?

More and more people are opting out of civic engagement. It's a big mistake
James Schall SJ | Mar 9 2016 | comment 2 

For many people the state of America’s presidential campaign is an index of the corruption of our national culture. At the moment, though anything is possible given the fickleness of the electorate, the flawed personal lives and political views of the candidates, and a savage media, it seems that Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton, though at this writing, this match-up is not certain.*

It’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t for voters, a choice between two evils. The choice is a symptom of a culture which has been corrupted over the past 50 years by the decay of the family, moral relativism, fading religious commitment and a forgetfulness of history. Many people are so disgusted that they are turning their backs on the political process and retreating from civic life altogether, though many others are becoming active because they see the consequences of their failure to vote before.

Throughout history there have been many responses to corrupt or dysfunctional public life. It is worthwhile to consider several of them.

The Epicurean Option 

Epicurus, a philosopher of the late Classical Greek period, famously told us that pleasure is the highest principle of being. But he also warned us to be moderate and refined in our delights, for hedonism is a tricky thing. Too much pleasure usually backfires into sickness or it depresses us because it does not seem to be what satisfies us, once we have it.

Epicurus too a cautious, ne quid nimisnothing in excess, moderate approach which was based on a calculated despair at ever finding a definite meaning in life. It was a sign of ignorance even to try. Things happened by necessity. Free will was an illusion. An insane fear of the gods plagued most people, gods which had been invented by clever politicians and poets to make rule easier by postulating mythical rewards and punishments.

The only thing that made sense to him was to shut off the din of praise and blame, the passions of public life and the idiotic blather of sophists. Have nothing to do with them, said Epicurus. Stop worrying about what goes on in the heavens, or in the world, or in the city.

“Withdraw from it all!” was the prudent way to deal with public affairs: get as far away as possible from the shrines, the town square, the theaters, and the academies. Find yourself a quiet garden. Water the flowers; feed the chickens. The only sane thing was to chuck it all. Enjoy what you could. There was no alternative.

Today the “Epicurean Option”, for all its bleakness, can make sense to a weary modern mind. What little pleasure there is lies in careful moderation. That is the best we can do.

The Benedict Option

There is a Christian version of the “Epicurean Option” called the “Benedict Option”, a phrase from Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue. MacIntyre argues that the classical understanding of virtue and vice is no longer possible in the hazy ideologies that control modern culture. In a world where the autonomous self is free to shape itself into whatever it wants, a natural law or Christian notion of virtue and vice has no meaning. For those who understand the deep disorders of the culture, what alternative is there but retreat?

The “Benedict Option” refers to the monastic tradition of St Benedict of Norcia whose isolated monasteries preserved the wisdom of the past during the barbarian invasions and the moral corruption of late Roman civic life. It was in these centers of tradition and order that what was good in the classics and early Christian life was saved and represented anew.

As opposed to the “Epicurean Option”, the “Benedict Option” creates islands of wisdom and virtue in a sea of chaos. Men are men; women are women. The family is not blighted by the obscenities of decadent cities. This life could transform Sodom and Gomorrah once they had realized the depths of their own corruption.

The problem with this “Benedict Option”, as the theologian Jean Daniélou once noted, is that Christianity is not intended for the few. The whole point of Christianity, as contrasted with Greek elitism, was that it was intended also for the Gentiles, for the poor and the normal, not just the Chosen People. The “Benedict Option”, so it is said, leaves the culture at the hands of the ideologues. It is a counsel of despair that admonishes us to flee.

The Apocalyptic Option   

Then there is the “Apocalyptic Option”. Its supporters argue that the dominance of relativism, the expansion of Islam, and the loss of Christian faith means that God has seen all He needs to see about what men do with their free will when actually lived in various times and places. The appointed time is near. There is no need to strive to establish a perfect city on earth (an abiding temptation designed to avoid what Christianity actually teaches). The only thing that remains to complete in history is the Judgment.

Musing about “the end time” is popular amongst fundamentalist Christians, as the popularity of novels about “The Rapture” attest. The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsay, has sold about 30 million copies since its publication in 1970; Left Behind novels about the “tribulations” before the coming of Christ have also sold millions of copies.

But we should not forget the sober and profound reflection of Josef Pieper in his book on the end of history. Robert Hugh Benson’s novel, The Lord of the World takes up the same topic, a book cited by both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Ratzinger’s book on Eschatology is still worth a careful reading.

The “Apocalyptic Option” may seem preposterous, but predictions of “the end times” have a long history. The Greek philosopher Plato imagined a kind of apocalypse in which each man would be judged by how he had lived his life. In the Gorgias he said that history would not be complete until good was rewarded and evil punished. Plato is still a master of this topic.

The Muslim Option   

A new, and surprising, option is the “Muslim Option”. In recent years, most of the ancient Christian enclaves in the Middle East, the “Benedict Options” of earlier centuries which had survived for hundreds and hundreds of years have been destroyed or are under threat.

Even in the remotest corners of the world Christian monasteries and churches are being destroyed, literally ground into gravel as contrary to Allah’s will. Even the remote and most renowned monasteries and churches are eradicated as alien to the new culture. The Benedict option presupposed some place to which one could escape, a political system that at least let them alone, or so remote from the centers of power that no one cared about them. Today, a cell phone can take a pick-up truck with soldiers, machine guns, knives, and demolition equipment to any address on the planet.

The “Muslim Option” is peace through the voluntary or forced “conversion” of everyone to Islam as the Qur’an has mandated. While this option seems improbable to many besides its advocates, it may well be the fate of a good part of Europe as it has been the fate of the Near East, North Africa, and parts of Asia.

Europe and America are belatedly beginning to talk of fences and walls, the means that were set up to protect the medieval towns and cities from the barbarians or from the earlier armies of Mohammed. We even hear discussions of “The Islamization of America”. Neither Christians nor secularists would be able to hide in this new world order.

Moving forward  

Analyzing these options can give us some insight into how Christians are engaging and should engage with a dominant secularist culture. The Epicurean option suggests that we should take no real interest in these public things. We just want to be left along. The Benedict option counsels us to disengage from public life and to live in counter-cultural communities where some semblance of right order can be preserved. The Muslim option is to conquer and crush the dominant culture (i.e., both Christians and secularists). The Apocalyptic option suggests that Christians let God sort out the mess.

In the light of these considerations, is there yet another option that we might call “the Aristotelian Option”? Aristotle lived in a sophisticated but turbulent age. He observed wars, corrupt and demagogic politicians. He knew the passions of the great majority in any society. He knew how tyrants rose out of the unlimited freedom of democratic citizens who had no principle of order in their own souls.

Yet he taught that the good man did have responsibilities in society.  He defined man as a “political animal”.  Man found his greatest dignity and fulfillment when he participated courageously in affairs of state. For Aristotle that meant serving in the government of Athens or fighting in its army. He did not think that a rational being ought to retreat from engagement in public life. But he was realistic enough to acknowledge that good regimes do fail and there is an order to their failure. He also could envision, with a change in the souls of the citizens, a return to good order. But immediately, Aristotle is most helpful for us today in his description of what happens in democracies in which the souls of the citizens are not ruled by anything but their own desires. He saw how quickly tyrants would arise within such regimes and impose their own arbitrary rule.

Bede the Venerable, the Anglo-Saxon monk who wrote An Ecclesiastical History of the English People about the year 730AD, had harsh words for British Christians who failed in their duty to convert the Saxons, Angles and Jute invaders from the Continent: “Among other most wicked actions … which their own historian, Gildas, mournfully takes notice of, they added this - that they never preached the faith to the Saxons, or English, who dwelt amongst them.” But the context of conversion today is not that of pagan tribes who were open to Christianity. In 12 centuries, very, very few Muslims have been converted, while whole nations once Christian are now Muslim. The imposition of understandings of human life directly contrary to the natural law is now almost the norm of public life in the West. Christians are being driven out of public life if they do not change their views and accept the politics of the state.

The old saying that we attribute to Alcoholics Anonymous that you will not reform till you hit bottom seem almost true of our culture. The mark of Christianity is the Cross. As Georg Marlin (Christian Persecution in the Middle East) and Robert Royal (Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century} have pointed out, we are seeing more martyrs than have happened in all of previous history. What struck these authors was the relative indifference with which these killings are greeted among us and the nobility of those who have suffered them in quiet.

So, in the end, is there what might be called a “Schall Option”? The first is that each of the “options”—Epicurean, Benedict, Muslim, Apocalyptic, and Aristotelian—is at work among us.  And they are live options because the political regimes we see before us are disordered in the way Aristotle outlined them to be and in the way the natural law is being systematically dismantled by legal and political decisions.  Such is not exactly a cheery conclusion, but it is one that conforms to the outlines of what we see almost everywhere we look, whether it be North or South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or what’s left to escape to.

Still, there is something to be said for knowing where we are. Most of our trouble has been caused by rejecting or not receiving what indeed could set us on a real Aristotelian option, one in which the things of Caesar were limited to what belonged to him. 

Rev. James V. Schall SJ taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of numerous books.


* See Robert Royal, “The Choice of the Soul.” The Catholic Thing, March 7, 2016
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/should-you-retreat-from-the-public-square/17736#sthash.UpwiQqoP.dpuf

MercatorNet: Two options on a Texas abortion law?

Two options on a Texas abortion law?

An analysis of the Supreme Court's hearing of arguments on a restrictive law.
Lyle Denniston | Mar 9 2016 | comment 1 

Court hears arguments on Texas abortion clinic law. Petitioners lawyer, Stephanie Toti at lectern.Court hears arguments on Texas abortion clinic law. Petitioners lawyer, Stephanie Toti, at lectern. (Art Lien)

It was unmistakably clear on Wednesday [March 2] that the Supreme Court’s first close look at abortion rights in nine years will turn on the reaction of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and there were at least sturdy hints that he would lead the Court in one of two directions.  In an intense argument in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that ran twenty-six minutes longer than scheduled, Kennedy seemed poised to find a way out of a four-to-four split — if the initial vote comes to that — or to strike down by a narrow vote the two restrictions at issue in the 2013 Texas law, known as “HB2.”

Within minutes after the argument began shortly after ten o’clock, it seemed that the case might bog down in a dispute about whether the case contains any solid evidence of whether HB2 was, in fact, the cause for the sudden closing of half of all abortion clinics in the state and would cause even more to close if the Justices upheld the law’s two main clauses.  The two are a requirement that all abortion doctors have a professional privilege to admit patients to a nearby hospital, and a requirement that all abortion clinics upgrade to facilities capable of performing surgery.  There was even some question about whether the admitting privilege was still at issue.

But when the argument turned from the reason for closures to a question of the capacity of any remaining clinics to handle the tens of thousands of abortions that women in the state seek every year, the case shifted abruptly.  It was Kennedy who raised the possibility that the case be sent back to lower courts to allow lawyers to put in evidence about that capacity question.

Several things immediately seemed important about that suggestion.

First, it would allow the Court to avoid a decision about the validity of either part of the Texas law, if it should turn out that, at Friday’s planned discussion of the case in a private Conference, the initial vote came out split four to four (the late Justice Antonin Scalia was a fervent foe of making abortion a constitutional right).  Returning the case for gathering of new evidence would avoid that outcome — indeed, any immediate outcome — and thus would avoid the even division that settles nothing and always disappoints the Court.  It might even put off the case until the current vacancy on the bench is filled with a new Justice.

Second, of equal or perhaps even greater importance, there may have been a logical basis for that suggestion and it could have been in Kennedy’s mind.  If he had any inclination to uphold either or both of the provisions, Kennedy would understand that this would probably lead to a four-to-four tie.  But taking that position would mean he had done so without knowing whether the capacity of the remaining clinics — nine or ten at most — would be enough to handle all abortions that would be sought in the state (recently, between 60,000 and 75,000 a year)?  Thus Kennedy might hesitate even more to push the Court into a tie vote.

Third, Kennedy’s hesitation on taking a stand on the merits of the law seemed even more likely because of a question he asked later in the argument.  He pressed the lawyer for Texas, state Solicitor General Scott A. Keller, on whether the enforcement of the two provisions would actually lead more women to have more abortions through surgery, by forcing them to wait, with more risk than having an earlier abortion through the use of drugs that induce termination of pregnancy (“medical abortion”).

Texas Solicitor General Scott A. KellerTexas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller (Art Lien)

Kennedy cited data that the number of drug-induced abortions had increased nationally, but the number in Texas was down, and he commented that “this may not be medically wise.”  The abortion clinics and doctors who are challenging the Texas laws have made that prospect a part of their argument that the two provisions impose an unconstitutional burden on Texas women’s constitutional right to seek an abortion, and Kennedy appeared to have taken that seriously.

Returning the case to lower courts to get more evidence on the incidence of later abortions might be one way to deal with that prospect, but so would striking down the law — by a five-to-three vote — because of the negative consequences of inducing more mid-term abortions.  Since Roe v. Wade, the Court (including Kennedy since he joined the bench) has always been more comfortable with earlier abortions, partly because they are safer but also because of a concern for protecting the developing life of the fetus.  Kennedy was a key part of the Court’s compromise ruling in 1992 (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey) when the Court expressed new support for state power to protect potential life, an interest that was said to increase the longer a pregnancy continues.

Justice Kennedy (Art Lien)Justice Kennedy (Art Lien)

The Justices will cast at least a preliminary vote on the case when they assemble on Friday morning for a private Conference.  If the case is going to be sent back to lower courts, or if the Court essentially gives up and casts a four-to-four vote, those outcomes might be announced quite soon, perhaps as early as next Monday.  There is, of course, the possibility that more discussion would be necessary to sort out where the Court wants to go.

Going into Wednesday’s argument, it was already clear that the Justices disagreed deeply about the enforcement of the Texas law.  The Court split five to four in last June in limiting enforcement of the law, and the line-up then was quickly evident by comments and questions from the bench by all of the Justices (except Justice Clarence Thomas, who did not say anything).

The four more liberal members of the Court — Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor — energetically challenged the lawyer for Texas, and often did so in words that denounced what the Texas legislature could have been thinking in passing the restrictions.  Justice Sotomayor was so diligent that she even went on with questions after Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., signaled that the lawyer then at the lectern was finished.

On the other side, the Chief Justice and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., were dogged in tough questions to Stephanie Toti of New York City, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, speaking for the abortion clinics.  Alito, in particular, tried a variety of tactics to try to shore up the law’s legality, and to question the challenge to it.

Stephanie Toti for petitioners (Art Lien)Stephanie Toti for petitioners (Art Lien)

Thus, it was, as expected, that Kennedy would hold the dominant role at the argument.  Of course, he had voted in the five-to-four majority last Term to temporarily put on hold a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholding both parts of the Texas law.  But he also has accepted, in a prior ruling, the suggestion by abortion foes that some women come deeply to regret having had an abortion.

It did not take Kennedy but a moment to join in the argument Wednesday.  He was one of those questioning the perceived failure of the challengers to the Texas law to have put in the record of the case specific evidence of why more than half the clinics in Texas existing before HB2 was passed had closed.  The challengers insist that some did so in anticipation of not being able to comply, and others closed on the day that the law went into effect.  But several members of the Court were puzzled by what they deemed an inadequate record on that point.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (Art Lien)Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (Art Lien)

Toti was supported in the challenge to the law by the Obama administration’s top Supreme Court advocate, Solicitor General Donald W. Verrilli, Jr.  In his turn at the lectern, Verrilli tried to shore up the challengers’ evidence on why so many Texas clinics had closed.  He also commented on the question of whether the remaining clinics, not closed in the wake of the law, could handle the capacity.  He said they could not — a point to which Kennedy responded favorably.  And Verrilli finished his brief stint with a condemnation of the Texas law as the most onerous restriction on abortion rights that the Court had yet confronted, and argued that what was at issue in this case was whether women’s right to abortion would “only really exist in theory and not in fact.”

Lyle Denniston is a reporter who has been covering the Supreme Court for fifty-eight years. He also writes for his eponymous blog, Lyle Denniston Law News, and for the National Constitution Center’s blog, Constitution Daily.

Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence from the SCOTUSblog
- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/two-options-on-a-texas-abortion-law/17735#sthash.k8QezfWO.dpuf


At this distance, it is looking like a Trump vs Clinton battle for the US Presidency in November. It could be quite dispiriting for those who believe in human dignity. Mr Trump is a demagogue who seems to say whatever will get him applause, even advocating the use of torture. Mrs Clinton is a passionate defender of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. What a choice! 
Some people's instinct is to pull a blanket over their heads and turn out the lights. Fr James Schall, a distinguished scholar and political philosopher, reviews varieties of this response from past eras -- and rejects them. A good citizen cannot withdraw from the public square, he contends. It's a very insightful essay. Read it below.

Michael Cook 



Should you retreat from the public square?

James Schall SJ | FEATURES | 9 March 2016
More and more people are opting out of civic engagement. It's a big mistake

Two options on a Texas abortion law?

Lyle Denniston | FEATURES | 9 March 2016
An analysis of the Supreme Court's hearing of arguments on a restrictive law.

Organs at any price? Gestating for donating

Trevor Stammers | FEATURES | 9 March 2016
UK doctors may ask women who want an abortion to prolong their pregnancies to harvest organs

We can all be heroes

Jotham Muriu Njoroge | HARAMBEE | 9 March 2016
Nigerian artists create superhero characters that are gaining in popularity in Africa and beyond.

Enduring marriages mean less child poverty

Nicole M. King | FAMILY EDGE | 9 March 2016
One of the root causes of poverty is the disintegration of families.

Multiple award winner draws criticism

Jennifer Minicus | READING MATTERS | 9 March 2016
A picture book that won 25 awards is being criticised for bad grammar.

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