Police and Priests in the Streets

From genesis to revelation
The next generation will be hear me
And all the crowd comes in day by day
No one stop it in anyway
And all the peacemaker turn war officer
Hear what i say

–“Police and Thieves,” J Boog

For the longest time, the figure of the Catholic priest was a symbol of moral weight in American popular culture, which was rather odd, given our nation’s predominantly Protestant background. The movie Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley, was the highest grossing picture of 1944 and won seven Academy Awards. Or think of The Exorcist, both a bestselling book and one of the most popular movies of all time, with its priestly characters cast as the heroes in a struggle against demonic forces. When I was growing up, one of my favorite comic books, Suicide Squad (by John Ostrander and Kim Yale and a far superior product in its original iteration than the movie) even featured a wise priestly character taking up residence at the Belle Reeve prison where the squad is headquartered in order to minister to the various misfits there.

In short, if you needed a character to provide moral leadership in some story or other, chances are you went with a priest.

But, you may have noticed, something changed around 2002. And changed quickly. Of course, that’s the year that the Boston Globe published its famous “Spotlight” series on clerical sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese. Almost overnight, it seemed, our perceptions of priests were radically altered, so that the collar now evokes some semblance of reverence only among the already dedicated, rather than the general population at large.

(Funny story: I’ve a friend who is a priest with the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, a group affiliated with the Old Catholics who broke away from the Church after Pius IX declared himself infallible. The ECC does not forbid priestly marriage and is typically progressive on most issues. After some years, he had a large enough group that he had to start taking things to the next level, which included getting insurance for him and another priest to cover things like malpractice. However, in calling up insurance companies, as soon as he uttered the word “Catholic,” they would hang up on him because they regarded covering Catholic priests as a losing proposition. So he had to call back multiple times in order to explain his particular denomination.)

In a short period of time, we became privy to the reality of Catholic priesthood, and our perception of the agents of priesthood shifted accordingly. Very few people nowadays think of a priest without thinking at least of the possibility of child rape. Jokes about altar boys still have currency in popular culture.

I have to wonder if, right now, we’re at a similar tipping point with the police. After all, just as with priests, cops have long been a trusted part of American society (if you are white and middle class) and a staple of our popular culture. Yes, we love Andy Griffith, but we also love the rougher cops who have to break the laws in order to get things done because we see their actions outside the boundaries of normal police procedure as necessary for the protection of the public good. Moreover, shows like CSI or NCIS show us a job bubbling over with technical wizardry that lets us see crime fighting as largely a technical pursuit removed from policies and social relations, thus appealing to our American sense of innovation, and our relative ignorance of the larger structures that give shape to our lives.

But now? After weeks, even white America has to admit the fact that police in general, police brutality specifically, far from serving the cause of public order, are often the source of public disorder. We have seen again and again beating bystanders, shooting people on their front porches to stop them filming, pepper-spraying and tear-gassing young people exercising their constitutional rights in a legitimate manner, and even, in one rather infamous example, arresting the very people who had flagged them down to draw attention to looters. This is just their response to the protests of police brutality. The original act that spawned this round of protests (or was the proverbial straw that broke the back of public patience) was the slow murder of George Floyd. More and more these days, we can see the police for what they really are: authoritarian, violent gangs who imagine themselves warriors against chaos, just like previous generations of fascist street thugs.

And now, the public’s desire to imbibe more of this culture is wearing thin. Not as many people are eager right at this moment to have even symbolic affiliation with the police. Hell, even Lego is withdrawing advertising for any cop-themed products. Will our view of the police go the way of the Catholic priest?

Whether it does or not, the experience of the Catholic Church can guide us in how best we might address the system of criminality that is our policing institutions. Namely because the Catholic Church has not yet been reformed in a real effort to prevent priests from predating upon young children. Sure, the Church has some policies requiring that suspected abusers be reported to secular authorities, but we don’t have any figures on how well that is actually working. And there may be some oversight boards staffed by lay people, but they only function to the limits that bishops allow. What the Catholic Church has accomplished wouldn’t even rise to the level of window dressing.

Father Thomas P. Doyle has written that the “sex abuse crisis” is no crisis at all but instead “a worldwide manifestation of a complex, systemic and self-destructive condition in the church,” adding that church leaders have primarily been concerned with “what is best for the image, the reputation, the power and the financial security of the clerical elite. The persistent failure to make it all go away is akin to trying to fix a hardware problem with a software solution.”

The condition of the church is marked by clericalism; or, as Doyle puts it: “The clerical culture, or clericalism, is the most commonly identified contributor. This is a world set apart from the rest of society. It is sustained by the toxic belief that the ordained are not only set apart from lay people but superior to them. This belief fosters the narcissism and sense of entitlement so common among clerics…. It creates, sustains and protects the deference that far too many clerics believe is their due. By the same token, far too many lay people continue to believe that this deference is part of their Catholic belief system. This erroneous thinking is at the root of the failure to demand accountability from the offending clerics and their superiors who protect them.”

Hmmm… Do we see something similar to police culture here? A world set apart from the rest of society, superior to that society, believing itself entitled to certain benefits, most notably the benefit of deference that produces a failure to demand accountability?

Moreover, Doyle notes that, because of the culture of the priesthood, it tends to attract men who are socially and sexually dysfunctional. Likewise, does the culture of policing attract the sort of men who enjoy violence and preying upon the weak. And both groups are apt to respond to any attempt at accountability as an attack upon their ontologically elevated status and resist it with full force. And both groups have typically regarded the documented misdeeds of any of their numbers as a case of “a few bad apples” and not as a sign that the whole culture needs to be reformed. But as Doyle writes, “The true scandal did not arise from the sexual violation of children and adults. The real scandal came from the bishops themselves through their efforts to hide the problem, then lie about it and finally try to shift the blame to any person, idea or practice they hoped it would stick to.”

The laity have no real power in the Catholic Church, aside from leaving. I mean, they do not get to choose, or even influence, their choice of parish priest. They do not get a vote for bishop, archbishop, or pontiff. They may be allowed a presence at church councils, such as the Second Vatican Council, but they will not be voting on the final articles. All they have is the ability to leave, to take their money and their children with them, and many have, leading to the closure of parishes across the country. But the Catholic Church still retains its wealth wrapped up in property, and it still receives generous tax breaks from state and federal governments. Moreover, the departure of those who disapprove of the current clerical culture only leaves behind a population even more invested in the predator-producing culture of clericalism, so the problem is not solved entirely by withdrawal, short of everyone withdrawing.

We may have more luck with policing. Sure, there are similar hindrances. In many places, there are not even civilian review boards to examine allegations of police violence or set standards for police behavior. And, unlike churches, we cannot withdraw from local and state taxes, unless you happen to be rich enough to game your way out of them. But our democratically elected leaders do set the budgets for law enforcement agencies, and so we have some influence there. Too, we can ask ourselves just what events actually warrant calling the cops. The store where George Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit banknote has publicly announced that it will no longer be calling the police when passed a counterfeit bill. There are plenty of issues that we can probably solve by communicating with one another and working something out, rather than by calling the cops, and so if we can minimize their workload in such a way, we also minimize the justification for spending so much money on them. And we can draw those purse strings tight and force a change of culture.

The same structures and cultures that produce rapist priests also produce brutal policemen. No simple reform, no tinkering at the edges of the problem, will change that. Indeed, those kinds of reforms tend to push the problem deeper as priests and police become more skilled at hiding their crimes under the new regime. If we want to end clerical rape and police violence, we have to dismantle thoroughly the cultures in which they thrive.

 

Ex-Pats by the Waters of Babylon

So I’ve had the book for maybe twenty years or so, but I’ve only just recently gotten around to actually starting G. J. Whitrow’s classic Time in History, a study of how people of the past have understood the concept of time, how they measured it, and so on. And while the book is interesting in many ways, what sent me briefly for a loop was an aside, simple mention of the fact that the people of Judah taken in the Babylonian Captivity constituted the elite and middle classes of their society.

Why is that so important? So the deportations of the people of Judah occurred in a few waves in the 590s and 580s BCE, but the deportees (or rather, their descendants) were allowed to return by King Cyrus in 539 BCE. As demonstrated in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (as well as the apocryphal books of Esdras), these “returnees” were rather devastated upon their return to find that the old ways had not been kept up; foremost among the concerns of returnee leaders was the intermarriage between those Jews left behind and “foreign” women, or women from tribes who lived in the area but who weren’t deemed Jewish enough to count. So the first thing folks like Ezra and Nehemiah do is try to get rid of these foreigners and also build a wall around Jerusalem.

(Folks who like to imagine that the Republican Party and Donald Trump somehow exist at odds with biblical values have clearly not read the bible.)

I believe I knew beforehand that the cream of the Judean crop had been taken into captivity, but reading that information again in this present context sparked some connections. Have you ever known any ex-pats? I am lucky enough to belong to a Swedish language group here in Little Rock that is a mix of both Americans who have learned Swedish and Swedes who now reside in America, some of them having become citizens. And there is a certain conservatism among several of them, a despair that “Sweden isn’t like it used to be,” that Sweden has failed to keep its culture intact; and this despite the fact that they are observing from abroad after years, if not decades, of absence. For them, Sweden is frozen at a particular moment in time, and trips back don’t temper this, because they see drastic changes rather than the slow evolution of a culture. They can’t believe what is happening in their “home country” and, if they continue to maintain citizenship and voting rights, tend to cast their lot with the most right-wing parties on the ballot.

But it wasn’t the original exiles returning to the land of Judah. In many cases, it was their children and grand-children. And if exiles or ex-pats are liable to idolize and idealize the land of their birth, how much more so children who have had to grow up listening to these stories? This population, being taken captive and surrounded by obnoxious Babylonian otherness, made of themselves a distinctive population emphasizing the purity of their ways. But those left behind in the land of Judah did not feel the compulsion to emphasize their differences from others; they lived where they had always lived, and besides, you take away all those priests and upper crusts, and folks might realize that they weren’t personally all that invested in the idea that tithing your first fruits to some distant religious authority was actually necessary for the preservation of the kingdom. Look where it got those priests, after all.

Oh, but they had become corrupted, the biblical text would have us believe, and they had intermingled with the local tribes who did not belong to the Chosen People. But those exiles, despite the fact that they liked to present themselves as the true and persevering remnant, had themselves become “corrupted” with the ideas and ideologies of foreigners much further way. We know that pre-exilic Judaism, such as it was, did not entail a dualistic worldview separating good and evil into opposing camps. This was an innovation tacked on due to the influence of the state religion of Babylon, namely Zoroastrianism. Many other innovations were added: ideas of apocalypse and of a messiah. The population of exiles imbibed these ideas and then returned to the land of their parents’ birth claiming to be the true representatives of the people of that land, despite the fact that, by this point, they were veritable foreigners themselves.

Extremist movements, perhaps because they are infused with people who have at best a tentative relationship with the culture as it actually exists, tend to hearken back to an idyllic time, an idealized version of what was. And this often entails the expulsion of supposed “foreign” elements. Thus it is no accident whatsoever that the two following quotations express the exact same sentiment:

“In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not king Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations, there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?’” (Nehemiah, Chapter 13)

“Marriages between Jews and Germans are forbidden, even if conducted abroad.” (Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, Article 1, September 15, 1935)

And it is no coincidence that Psalm 137, which begins–

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.

–end with these words:

“Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.”

COVID-19: A Wake-Up Call on Subsidizing Religion

What can we do without? In some ways, we are all asking that question nowadays. If you are currently lucky enough to still be employed, the chances are you supervisor has been asking the question whether or not they can do without your personal presence in the office. If you are trying to do the right thing and limit your social interactions as much as possible, you have already asked yourself what sort of physical outings you can eliminate from your life. If you are a talking head on Fox News, you have been wondering if our country can do without all the elderly and immunocompromised who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, if it might not be best to sacrifice millions to disease and death for purposes of trying to get the economy back on track. And if you, like so many millions in our poorly managed country, have lost your job, you are no doubt asking what meals or medications you can do without simply to survive.

Whenever this pandemic comes to an end, we need to keep asking ourselves: What can we do without? It is by now cliché that pandemics reveal society’s fault lines and failures in the extreme, but this makes it no less true. In times of personal crisis, we can recognize harmful habits and work to change them. Likewise, in times of societal crisis, we can uncover gross inefficiencies in the way our institutions are managed and, with enough political will, modify our collective policies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the social consequences of many terrible practices our government endorses. For starters, there is the upward flow of wealth from the pockets of workers into the trust funds and stock portfolios of the wealthy, a practice that leaves those laborers we now realize are truly essential to our economy and our society without the means to survive even a few days should their jobs suddenly evaporate. Economic equality is not merely a hippy ideal—it is the very essence of national security. A society is only as healthy as its poorest individual, and if people are forced to work while sick due to the lack of any safety net, then they stand a chance of spreading disease to the millions, especially a disease as transmissible as COVID-19.

While conservatives like to tout the proper place of philanthropy over “big government,” we sure have not had many examples of billionaires stepping in to ensure the safety and well-being of their labor force. Instead, the likes of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have been demanding their employees take unpaid leave, but why should we be surprised? It was this sort of exploitation that made both men, and so many like them, rich in the first place.

At the moment, however, there are plenty of people more able than I making the argument for a politics of economic equality. Instead, right now, I want to make a proposal of the sort that never gets advanced by politicians, not even those left-of-center:

If we want to build a better America after COVID-19, we must cease subsidizing religious practice.

Churches have been ungodly vectors of deadly disease this year. Early during the pandemic in Arkansas, approximately one-sixth of all documented infections could be linked to one particular church in Greers Ferry. In early April, the Sacramento Bee reported that one-third of all infections in Sacramento County were connected to churches. Some 2,500 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a mid-February evangelical gathering in France. Moreover, churches continue to defy limits on social gatherings all throughout the United States, while politicians enthralled to religious voters permit these dangerous activities to go unchecked. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas even deemed church services “essential services” in a recent executive order. Likewise did Florida’s own exemplar of incompetency, Ron DeSantis, overrule county officials in order to allow massive church gatherings.

Deep into this pandemic now, many religious leaders are still resisting calls to close their doors for the sake of public health. Awaken Church in Jonesboro received national attention when it posted on Facebook “Jesus died with COVID-19 so that you didn’t have to bear it,” apparently asserting itself as a corona-free zone as it continues to hold in-person services. In response. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had exempted churches from his executive order closing various state institutions, was considering an order directed at Awaken.

If these believers existed in their own closed networks, went to their own businesses, or sought treatment in their own hospitals, there might not be so much concern, but the public will, in the end, have to pick up the tab for their malicious carelessness.

Why have these Christians been so resistant to the scientific consensus on the current pandemic? Certainly, much blame can be laid to the feet of Donald Trump, the chosen one of white evangelicals, who downplayed the pandemic earlier this year and convinced his true believers that reports of mass death were but a hoax to affect his reelection. And the Republican Party, the political arm of right-wing Christianity in America, has for decades been engaged in dismantling the scientific infrastructure of this once-great nation, including massively defunding the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as calling into question the efficacy of vaccination, while also promoting creationism and other non-factual doctrines.

But the problem is deeper than an exploitation of faith for political ends. “Science and religion,” writes University of Chicago biologist Jerry A. Coyne, “are competitors in the business of finding out what is true about our universe. In this goal religion has failed miserably, for its tools for discovering the ‘truth’ are useless.” The things we know about this reality we inhabit—the speed of light, the number of chromosomes in a human cell, the nature of gravity, or the atomic number for neon—were not achieved using the “tools” of religion. That is, religious “revelation” has been, at worst, absolutely wrong from a scientific perspective, and at best a mishmash of poetic imagery whose meaning can be debated ad infinitum.

As the University of Quebec historian and sociologist of science Yves Gingras writes, “Science is, by definition, collective knowledge and stands against personal and subjective beliefs that remain private and non-verifiable by other persons with the appropriate expertise.” Religious truth claims simply cannot be verified using any tools not specific to a particular denomination, school of theology, or rantings of a cult leader.

However, this has not prevented religious individuals from demanding recognition for their special claims from the broader public, be it the segregationist claim that God created the races separate and unequal and that the mixing of races was a sin (a claim that lay at the origin of the modern Religious Right) or the creationist claim that a collection of contradictory myths thousands of years old should serve as the basis for understanding modern geology and biology. Arkansas has had its reputation diminished in the wider world for embracing both such claims: in 1957 with the violence surrounding the desegregation of Central High School and in 1981 with the McLean v. Arkansas “monkey trial.”

Moreover, average Americans, no matter their philosophical persuasions, are forced to subsidize the activities of these very churches that threaten our lives. After all, churches are tax exempt, as are their affiliated institutions. Consider all the churches and church-affiliated schools in your town—none of them are paying taxes on the property they own. The IRS automatically grants churches tax exempt status and exempts them from accounting for their finances, both favors not accorded other non-profit organizations. Had churches been forced to account for their receipts and payments, chances are the practice of paying off child-rape victims in many denominations would have been revealed much earlier.

Sure, some churches do good works, and during this pandemic, many Americans are relying upon religious organizations for food or clothing. But this does not mean that a donation to a church will necessarily end up in needy hands rather than funneled to more nefarious ends.

There are so many tax exemptions for religious organizations: they don’t pay property taxes, they can opt out of Social Security taxes, they don’t have to pay sales taxes on purchases, and much more. Some years ago, University of Tampa sociologist Ryan T. Cragun and two of his students, Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, tried to tabulate just how much it costs Americans to subsidize this nation’s religious organizations, arriving at a figure of $82.5 billion each year—a figure that is almost certainly lower than reality. Back in 2015, comedian John Oliver even organized his own church, called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, to highlight the flaws in the system, and nothing has changed since.

You may not go to a church yourself, but you are paying for them nonetheless. And because these churches are exempt from so many taxes, they have plenty of money to spend on meddling in American politics, and so your tax money is also helping these preachers undermine our scientific institutions, the very ones upon which we are now relying in this time of pandemic. And because democracy depends upon access to truth—for we cannot, as an informed citizenry, make informed decisions without knowing what is real and what is not—tax subsidies for religious organizations also serve to undermine the very foundation of our American Experiment by giving these churches the financial heft to lobby our government to accord their personalized revelations a status equal to centuries of refined scientific advancement.

(And besides, as Matthew Yglesias has noted, “Whichever faith you think is the one true faith, it’s undeniable that the majority of this church-spending is going to support false doctrines.” Your Baptist preacher may rail against the false doctrines of the Roman Catholics, but your tax dollars are still supporting their priests, as well as Mormon missionaries, auditors for the Church of Scientology, and more.)

Churches will continue to operate even if they have to pay their fair share of property and Social Security taxes. And our government, “We, the People,” will have increased funds that we can direct toward the public health programs and epidemiological studies we now realize are crucial for saving the lives and livelihoods of millions of our fellow citizens. There is no real argument against ending tax subsidies for religions. In fact, one of the founders of a major world religion advocated for this very position when, nearly 2,000 years ago, he told his followers: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

How I Feel (Democratic Primary Version)

Sometimes, what we call the “French Resistance” gets boiled down into a far more unified organization than it really was. As Robert Gildea covers in his book, Fighters in the Shadows, the French Resistance included groups rather fundamentally opposed to one another, from communists to those who would preserve the Vichy regime but get rid of all these Germans; in addition, it wasn’t all just French but rather included Spanish anti-fascists, German refugees, colonial subjects, and more. And the French Revolution did not stand alone but was part of a broader network of resistance to Hitler and was heavily dependent upon British and American supplies, especially weapons, to carry out its acts of resistance.

As I argued in my previous post, Donald Trump is a literal fascist, and the Republican Party is the vehicle of fascist policies in the United States. In the resistance to fascism, we make allies of people whom we would oppose in less fraught circumstances. All that is really required is a shared understanding of the unique threat of fascism and a shared desire to eliminate it, root and brach.

This year, I made my first political donation, and it was for Elizabeth Warren, because I believe that she best understands the threat posed not only by the Trump regime but by the decades of slippery Republican (and neoliberal Democratic) politics that have diminished the regulatory state and made the emergence of fascism here and now possible. I’ll vote for anyone opposed to Trump (except for Bloomberg, who is opposed only to Democratic policies, his temporary party affiliation notwithstanding). But, selfish me, I wanted a leader who might inspire and who had a track record of achievement and a devotion to strategy and tactics.

So here is how I feel at the news that Joe Biden is sweeping Super Tuesday states and stands a good chance of being the Democratic Party’s nominee: I feel like I’m in the French Resistance opening up a crate of weapons from our allies across the channel, only to find muskets. I’m still committed to killing Nazis, but I feel like our allies don’t understand what kind of war we are fighting, and I’m suddenly a lot less sanguine about our chances of survival, much less success.

Is Donald Trump a Literal Fascist? Yes.

You may be shocked to learn this, but people do not always use certain terms accurately. While my brother Kris was stationed at Camp Pendleton, he once called me up to complain about life there in sunny California, summarizing his despair with the statement: “Everyone out here is a communist.” When I pointed out that, in fact, the governor at the time was Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time Republican, Kris replied, “Yeah, but he believes in gay marriage.”

I was confused. I tried to explain that Marx and Engels had never once approached the subject of homosexual relations; moreover, both men were somewhat critical of the bourgeois concept of marriage as centered upon property and regarded the family as the source of the original division of labor. “Indeed,” I insisted, “they probably would have been dismayed to see marriage as a concept receiving a boost through the legal expansion of such rights to gays and lesbians.” At the end of my brief lecture, there was a bit of silence on the line. Finally, my brother said “He’s still a communist.”

Kris wasn’t listening. But, then, neither was I. When he insisted that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a “communist,” he was not tying this Austrian bodybuilder to a specific economic doctrine; no, he was using “communist” as a catch-all term for political positions he found abhorrent, such as gay marriage. 

Like pesticide sprayed on a field, the meaning of politicized words often drifts and inflicts damage far beyond its original location – specifically, it can drift to poison any proposition we want to label as “anti-American.” In 1957 in Little Rock, it wasn’t gay marriage that was the greatest boogeyman of right-wingers; it was integration and the fears of “miscegenation” that entailed. And thus did a band of white supremacists rally at the state capitol with signs famously reading “Race Mixing Is Communism.” Again, although Marx and Engels advocated for the end of slavery, the liberation of colonized peoples, and the radical equality of working men and women, they did not actually say anything about “race mixing,” as such. In fact, they would have regarded race as a bourgeois concept aimed at dividing the proletariat against itself. They may not have disapproved of interracial relationships, but this does not mean that “race mixing” is functionally equivalent to the collective ownership of the means of production.

Like “communism,” the word “fascism” has also long been employed as a political Rorschach blot. As early as 1946, just one year after the end of World War II, George Orwell was complaining of this fact in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” writing: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ ” He went further, insisting that the lack of meaning was driving reactionary politics: “Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.”

So let us start at the verbal end, as it were, and try to recover the meaning of the term, for 70-plus years after Orwell’s essay, the word “fascism” is still being abused and distorted. Take, for example, Jonah Goldberg’s 2007 book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Goldberg’s goal, as is evident in the book’s title, is to taint the left with an association with Nazi and fascist ideologies, and he attempts to accomplish this by saying that fascist collectivism — and related rhetoric focusing upon a nation exemplifying health and freedom from disease — have a modern counterpart in political programs, typically advanced by Democrats, to fight smoking, improve physical health and promote organic farming. He literally insists that Nazi ideology “foreshadowed today’s crusades against junk food, trans fats, and the like.” As he writes of Hillary Clinton’s book It Take a Village: “All the hallmarks of the fascistic enterprise reside within its pages,” adding later, “Quoting doctors, friendly activists, social workers, and random real Americans, in chapter after chapter she argues for interventions on behalf of children from the moment they are born.” 

But is this not also a right-wing project? Do not conservative Christians advocate for the total control of a child’s world from the moment of birth to ensure that he or she won’t exhibit any deviant traits especially not queerness?

Goldberg’s book is part of a larger conservative project of Freudian projection, or attributing to liberal and leftist groups those ideological labels with which conservatives see themselves as being slandered. He even insists that “fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left.” The best that can be said about Goldberg is that he is a better practitioner of this form of projection than many of his peers. If you follow Dinesh D’Souza on Twitter, you are probably familiar with lesser skill typically employed in such pursuits. D’Souza regularly insists that because the Nazi Party was officially called the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” then it must have been a socialist, and therefore leftist, organization. By this logic, we must conclude that North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a functioning democracy. Likewise, D’Souza repeats, again and again, that the Republican Party was the originally anti-slavery party, reminding the public that Abraham Lincon, the first Republican president, freed the slaves. He does this to assert a continuity between the Republican Party then and the Republican Party now, as well as between the Democratic Party then which was the party of the slaveholding South and the Democratic Party now. See, if it has the same name, then it cannot have changed its membership or its foundational purpose. Never mind that David Duke, Thom Robb and Richard Spencer voted Republican during the last presidential election. By this logic, we must assume that the Southern Baptist Convention continues to promote the instution of slavery, given that it was founded explicitly as the Baptist church for slaveholders.

Back to Goldberg. Here is the magic trick he is trying to accomplish to make enough shallow comparisons between fascist and modern liberal rhetoric so as to convince his reader that they are functionally the same thing. Sure, modern Democratic Party politicians in America have often pushed programs to increase the health of individuals, often casting this rhetorically as caring for the “health of the nation,” and early 20th-century fascists likewise promoted images of vitality and vigor and spoke eloquently about the health of their respective nations. But fascist ideas about the “health” of their collectivities were explicitly based upon exclusionary principles that manifested themselves specifically in violent deeds. As historian Aristotle Kallis observes in Genocide and Fascism: The Eliminationist Drive in Fascist Europe, fascist ideology was born with the specific aim of seeking redemption from recent “humiliations” by latching onto the glories of the past to drive a new utopian future. This “redemption” manifested itself externally, through expansionist policies of conquest, and internally, through a “cleansing” of the population so as to eliminate those figures responsible for recent humiliations: socialists, communists, Jews and other minority groups. 

The drive to “cleanse” the state, Kallis writes, “helped shape a redemptive licence to hate directed at particular ‘others’ and render the prospect of their elimination more desirable, more intelligible, and less morally troubling.” Fascism promoted a worldview of the nation as a sacred entity “where any means could be justified if it served the supreme purpose of national rebirth.” Moreover, as fascist states expanded, they came to encompass more of those internal “others” whose presence polluted the nation, thus necessitating even greater efforts at “cleansing.”

At the core of fascism lies violence specifically, redemptive violence in the service of a narrowly defined group. This is what Goldberg ignores, because to acknowledge it would rather strain his thesis and force him to assert an untenable comparison between the actual violence that defined the Third Reich and something like the modern opposition to trans fats in food. No matter how much rhetoric and misrepresentation Jonah Goldberg summons, one simply cannot draw a straight line from eliminationism to environmentalism, from anti-Semitism to anti-smoking, from Birkenau to Birkenstocks. 

And Goldberg’s deception runs even deeper than you might imagine. In an opening chapter on Mussolini, he insists that “Mussolini remained a socialist until his last breath,” insisting that “if at times he would adopt free-market policies, as he did to some extent in the early 1920s, that didn’t make him a capitalist.” Funny, then, that in an article Mussolini wrote and published eight months before his 1922 March on Rome, the future dictator declared, “Capitalism may have needed democracy in the 19th century: today, it can do without it.” 

Indeed, American businessmen regularly recognized Mussolini as one of their own kind, as the historian Michael Joseph Roberto has documented. The administrations of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover supported Italian fascism. Organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association and more all expressed support for Mussolini, and on March 9, 1923, 200 American delegates to the Second Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce rose to their feet to cheer Mussolini when the dictator entered the congress with his blackshirts in tow. In fact, Julius Barnes, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of Mussolini: “Today he is the one real living force, not only in Italy, but in all Europe, and the conversion of that man with his strength and his following to the principle of the so-called capitalistic system that we believe in is the most extraordinary encouragement to us who want to see and hear sound and sane economics put into play.” Likewise did writer Merle Thorpe, writing for Nation’s Business, express admiration for “Mussolini and his methods,” which he described as “essentially those of successful business.”

You will likely not be surprised to learn that the second chapter of Goldberg’s book is titled, “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left.” Nor should you, at this point, be surprised to learn that such a characterization is far from the truth. Just as they did with Mussolini, American businessmen (such as Henry Ford) found much to admire in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and for largely the same reasons: They saw him as a bulwark against the forces of socialism. As William Shirer notes in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, “The free trade unions, which … once had crushed the fascist Kapp putsch by the simple means of declaring a general strike, were disposed of as easily as the political parties and the states” upon the ascension of Hitler to power. Indeed, practically the first thing the Nazis did was to raid all trade union headquarters throughout Germany, confiscate their funds, dissolve their organizations and arrest their leaders, many of whom were placed into concentration camps later. Within three weeks of this, Hitler outlawed collective bargaining. A man of the left he was not.

So if fascism isn’t a manifestation of leftist ideology if, as it seems, socialism is one of the things of which the fascist must cleanse the nation does that mean that fascism is simply another word for conservatism, or perhaps a more extreme version of right-wing ideas? 

Well, not exactly. At this point, it may be worth advancing a bare-bones definition of fascism and then building from there, rather than continuing to chip away at decades of desperate deceit about its nature. So here we go: Fascism is the attempt, birthed in reactionary politics, to resolve the contradictions of democracy for purposes of preserving elite power against the demands of the masses.

Let’s start with those “contradictions of democracy.” Although we today invest democracy with high ideals, seeing it was the best form of government because it allows all citizens to have a voice, the origins of democracy are a bit grubbier and, as with most things, all about money and prestige. For example, opposition to the Angevin kings of England (which was eventually to result in the Magna Carta) included, according to historian Robert Bartlett, such charges as “heavy taxation, elevation of low-born officials, slow and venal justice, disregard for the property rights and dignities of the aristocracy.” Much of the Magna Carta relates to the property rights of the aristocracy, limiting the king’s ability to levy taxes known as “scutage” and “aid” without “the common counsel of the kingdom.” And yes, the Magna Carta did contain such provisions as the following: “No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor shall we attack him or send men to attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and the law of the land.” But it’s worth noting that the category of “free man” was quite limited at the time. The majority of the rural population, in fact, would have been unfree. According to Bartlett, “The Norman and Angevin kings issued writs requiring their officials to secure the return of runaway peasants to their lords,” and serfs could be given away or sold. There are some noteworthy parallels to American history here.

In other words, democracy, as we might trace its origins back to the Magna Carta, was the aristocracy’s means of preserving its own rights and privileges against the crown. The eventual emergence of a mercantile class of “commoners” in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance sparked a similar expansion of “democracy,” as the bourgeoisie, or burghers, as they were often known, sought similar privileges in order to insulate their own wealth from predatory monarchs. But this new merchant class was by no means interested in sharing its privileges with peasants. Only with the emergence of industrialization, and the eventual concentration of the lower classes into cities, did the proletariat begin to accumulate enough power to demand reforms for itself. Eventually, in the United Kingdom, the Reform Act of 1832 expanded the franchise, largely by granting seats in the House of Commons, and thus some measure of democratic representation, to those cities that had risen during the Industrial Revolution. The character of Will in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch described the bill as emerging from the overwhelming necessity “to have a House of Commons which is not weighted with nominees of the landed class, but with representatives of the other interests.” But this measure was hotly debated at the time, with the House of Lords working to scuttle, limit, or delay its passing. And even after its passage, only about 20 percent of the adult men in England were eligible to vote.

At each step in the expansion of democracy, those who already possessed the franchise feared the loss of their power, the loss of their wealth, by allowing any “lower” classes the privilege of voting. The United States has been much more a racial society than a class society along the lines of the UK, and so here it was easier to get elite buy-in to the idea of universal male suffrage, so long as those males were exclusively white. The abolition of slavery and the expansion of suffrage to those former slaves and their eventual descendants provoked the rage of the south’s idle landlords, who initiated a campaign of violence in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War in order to return to the status quo ante of black servitude and submissiveness. What historians call the first Ku Klux Klan was an elite project to scuttle the political empowerment of African Americans, for they believed that black voters would use the franchise against them.

The rhetoric of an unworthy population using the vote to secure unearned benefits continues to manifest itself. My dad occasionally forwards me the odd right-wing mass e-mail complaining about how “real America” works for a living, while others live by voting — that is, by electing people who will give them free handouts provided by the tax money appropriated from “real Americans.” Many on the right have openly expressed the view that the franchise needs to be rolled back, that those old property requirements for voting (which many states in the U.S. had enacted early on) were a good thing that prevented the poor from using the ballot box to line their pockets. You may remember that, during the 2016 campaign, Ann Coulter even expressed support for a renewed “grandfather clause” that would only allow those whose grandfathers were American citizens to vote, apparently unaware that her favored candidate would be on the losing end of such a policy. 

The “contradictions of democracy” that I mentioned above can be seen in this struggle between those who believe that democracy should exist to preserve property rights and those who believe that it exists to give all citizens a voice in how they are governed. Fascism is an attempt to short-circuit this tension through the advancement of a purely corporate figure who is cast as the savior of “the people,” not by empowering or organizing them but rather by emphasizing his own unique attributes to act on their behalf. Fascists do not advance democracy but rather fetishize the individual through the person of the ruler. As the Israeli scholar Ishay Landa, probably the most astute student of fascism currently living, pointed out in his book The Apprentice’s Sorcerer: Liberal Tradition and Fascism, despite the fact that fascism regularly employs the rhetoric of collectivism (emphasizing nation, race, or society), it centralizes such collective and democratic yearnings upon the individual strongman leader, so that he becomes democracy personified, the one true spokesman for “the people,” who no longer need engage in self-governance. 

You can see such rhetoric as this employed by Donald Trump during his 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention. Nothing in the speech is about empowering people to direct the course of their own lives, and everything about empowering Trump, as leader, to fix their lives for them:

“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

I have made billions of dollars in business making deals — now I’m going to make our country rich again. I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones.”

“I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and to America — and I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequences.”

“I’m With You, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”

In fact, in the transcript of his speech, there is rendered one line in all caps: “I AM YOUR VOICE.” It’s a line he repeats at the end of his speech, as if to emphasize to his followers that they no longer need have a voice now that they have him.

This is the fascist trick. It feels like democracy, because those of you who feel yourself outside a functioning economy or a civil society suddenly feel like you have someone in your corner. But fascism doesn’t actually empower the citizenry to take part in governance. What it offers, instead, as noted above, is a license to hate, and that can feel empowering to the individual permitted to exercise such a license.

Remember, above, the quotation from Mussolini to the effect that capitalism may have needed democracy earlier in its history but did no longer. Mussolini was angling his worldview as specifically against democracy. But does this mean that fascism identified itself with capitalism?

Many on the left have argued thusly. The novelist Upton Sinclair, for one, famously defined fascism as “capitalism plus murder.” But this isn’t exactly accurate. First, capitalism already entailed plenty of murder itself, as the survivors of southern slavery, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or the Ludlow Massacre could well testify. Second, fascism’s relationship to capitalism was more complicated than thinkers on either the left or right tend to believe.

Like the American business elites who praised Mussolini, we could interpret fascism as an explicitly business-friendly ideology. As Landa writes in Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt against the Last Humans, 1848–1945, “Rhetoric of honoring labor aside, the Nazis strove to achieve the exact opposite: keeping wages low and increasing working hours, which was precisely what German business was insisting should be done throughout the years of the Weimar Republic.” However, if fascists were vehemently opposed to the potential for economic equality inherent in socialism, they also regularly expressed disdain for the mass consumerism offered by the American variant of capitalism. Hitler, in fact, warned that, if it followed the American model of mass consumerism, Germany “will become more and more stunted racially, until it finally deteriorates into degenerate, brutish gluttons who will not even remember the past greatness.” He lamented that current trends threatened to “remodel the whole world into one big department store.”

“America,” writes Landa, “was therefore deemed an even greater menace than Bolshevism, since it reflected the masses’ own desires rather than a top-bottom phenomenon.” And this gets at the kernel of fascist ideology, for it was fundamentally an anti-mass movement. Sure, socialism offered a radical vision of equality achieved through the mechanism of the state and a planned economy, but capitalism, in its own way, offered some liberation for the masses. They may not be liberated from poor working conditions, but the mass production of consumer goods previously only available to the middle class and the elites robbed those above them of their status, for status is by nature exclusive. The masses were living longer lives thanks to advances in medicine. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, more of the working class were learning to read and consuming literature, thus striking at another thing the elites used to separate themselves from the mass hordes. No wonder, then, that “literary” composition gradually became much more impenetrable: Charles Dickens wrote for a general audience, but it requires an extensive education to be able to understand, if possible, something like Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce, which makes it a much more esteemed book in the upper echelons of culture.

Realizing fascism’s anti-mass center allows its rhetoric and policies to make much more sense. For example, Nazi propaganda regularly depicted Jews as both greedy, capitalist bankers and as conniving, scheming Bolshevists. Granted, it was the Bolshevist side of that equation that drew the most attention of the Nazi Party. In her book Hitler’s Crusade: Bolshevism, the Jews, and the Myth of Conspiracy, historian Lorna Waddington writes, “What Hitler found objectionable in Marxism was not its programme for social and economic reform, or its political methods and organization, which he rather admired, but its championing of internationalism, pacifism and democracy, which made it so susceptible to Jewish manipulation,” especially as Marxism rejected “aristocratic principles of nature” and replaced “the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight.”

Fascism as a form of political extremism does not simply emerge from nothing; rather, it rises in response to particular situations. According to the political scientist Manus I. Midlarsky, the two components for political extremism are the “ephemeral gain” and “mortality salience.” His term “ephemeral gain” describes the historical trajectory of a group to which one belongs: said group had previously existed in a state of subordination to another but managed to free itself and achieve a Golden Age, but now that gain was threatened by current events, thus raising fears of renewed subordination. 

Let us take the case of Germany as an example. It was the most modern state in Europe when it lost World War I, and it was just starting to recover from that loss when the Great Depression hit the world, risking a return to humiliation.

But “ephemeral gain” can constitute the narrative that groups tell themselves as much as it does any objective reality, as we can see if we look closer to home. The “Lost Cause” myth of the Confederacy and the Dunning School of history hold that the South’s antebellum years constituted a Golden Age cruelly brought to an end by the Union, which then tried to impose “Negro domination” by liberating and enfranchising the former slaves. The Ku Klux Klan and other groups were able to fight back against this “rape” of the South and managed to achieve a few decades of relative independence, during which states could oversee their own affairs and manage race relations as they would. But in the twentieth century, the activism of the “New Negro,” the threat of federal anti-lynching laws, and then the birth of the modern civil rights movement threatened to return the south to its previous state of subordination and humiliation. More recently in our history, political reactionaries were triggered by the election of a black man with an unusual name to the presidency of the United States, portraying that event as a humiliation for the white race.

Midlasky’s second component, “mortality salience,” is simply the term he uses for being conscious of death. An awareness of one’s own mortality is a threat to the ego and will result in the individual attempting to compensate, sometimes by lashing out at others. Social experiments have shown that judges forced to think about their own death before hearing cases render much harsher sentences, for example.

War has the effect of raising mortality salience, and in Germany after World War I, it would have been difficult to forget or ignore death, given that number of absent husbands and fathers and the former soldiers living with their wounds. But in our modern world, it seems that we are constantly reminded of death. People of my parents’ generation may have watched the Vietnam War on their televisions, but that was half a world away and relegated to just a part of the nightly newscast. By contrast, the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath consumed days of live coverage, including the ongoing hunt for bodies. Every mass shooting these days is reported live if not live-streamed by the shooters or victims themselves. And the lesson we take from every such act of terrorism is that we could be next – it could be us.

With this in mind, let us go back to Donald Trump’s RNC speech and see just how many times he draws upon these themes of national humiliation and how many times he seeks to remind his audience of their own mortality:

“Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”

“Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.”

“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year. Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

“Not only have our citizens endured domestic disaster, but they have lived through one international humiliation after another. We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint.”

“In Libya, our consulate – the symbol of American prestige around the globe – was brought down in flames.”

This is not the rhetoric of a responsible actor interested in the give-and-take necessary for the functioning of a political community. This is an extremist seeking to portray the basic system of governance as the source of insurmountable problems that, in the best fascist tradition, only he can solve.

And we haven’t yet gotten to the actual policies implemented by the Trump regime. There is plenty here that may be compared to the policies of earlier fascist regimes, from his ongoing war against labor unions and voting rights to the construction of actual concentration camps along our southern border. However, I think it perhaps more important to draw attention to the shared culture of corruption. Popular myth holds that Mussolini may have been a bad guy, but at least he made the trains run on time. But this wasn’t so. Mussolini carried out a mass firing of more than 35,000 civil servants, but this did not “drain the swamp,” as it were; instead, it inaugurated a regime of unparalleled inefficiency and profiteering, because suddenly there was no one keeping an eye on Italy’s corporations or trying to make the government work for its citizenry.

Moreover, while fascists encouraged citizens to embrace an ascetic lifestyle in the best warrior traditions of Sparta, they themselves indulged in endless luxury. As Landa writes, “In reality, behind the attacks on consumerism conducted by the fascists, their leaders and entourages conducted lives that were often extravagant. The demand to settle for little and make sacrifices in times of economic hardship was broadcast to the masses but did not form a binding code of behavior as far as the upper circles were concerned.” Hitler, after all, had a collection of luxury automobiles and several lavish homes that he visited on a regular basis. One of the more well-known occupations of Nazi soldiers was the theft of classical art, but these pieces were not being taken back to Germany for display in any museum – they were for the private collections of individual party leaders and generals.

Even Donald Trump’s golf excursions and gilded toilets recall the best traditions of fascism.

It is important, this election year, that we cease regarding Donald Trump as some aberration on the political landscape and, instead, as recognize him as but the latest inheritor to a long tradition best described as fascism. It is important to recognize that Trump and his supporters have no vested interest in the maintenance of democratic institutions but, instead, hold the maintenance of Trump as their highest priority, for they have invested in him all their concerns about the fate of the nation. And it is also important that we recognize that Trump and his supporters do not regard us as mere opponents, fellow Americans who simply have different ideas about the best policies to pursue; they view us, instead, as the very enemies of which their nation must be cleansed. 

Yes, democracy has its origins in the less-than-noble desire of the nobility to preserve their wealth from a rapacious king. But that point of departure birthed a political system that has continued to evolve and encompass more and more emancipated peoples. Indeed, it’s the imperfect success of democracy that always sparks the fascist backlash. No other policy or proposal put forward this election year should have greater weight than simply preserving our American experiment.

Behold the Scam of God: A Meditation upon the Life of Jesus in the Age of Trump

My aunt Mary Lane has, on the wall of her home, a copy of the painting “Crossing the Swamp” by Jon McNaughton. The painting is modeled after Emanuel Leutze’s famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware” but features Donald Trump in General Washington’s stead, leading a boat across a swampy morass.

My aunt loves Donald Trump, and so she sees no irony in the artist’s substitution of our greatest general with a man who scored five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, alleging to have bone spurs, an affliction that ran rampant among trust fund boys. My aunt loves Donald Trump and so sees no contradiction at all in replacing the man who led the Continental Army across the Delaware River in the coldest of winters with a real estate mogul who openly bragged about screwing all the wives of servicemen in their husbands’ absence, who described avoiding venereal disease as “my own personal Vietnam.” My aunt, in fact, reveres Donald Trump as someone even greater than our Founding Fathers, and it shows.

This is not the only painting Jon McNaughton, regularly described as the Trump administration’s unofficial artist, has produced depicting our current president in a manner that renders him the exact opposite of what he is. For example, there is the laughable “Teach a Man to Fish,” in which Trump, for whom “roughing it” means shitting on a toilet not made of solid gold, is depicted holding up a rod and reel in front of a confused young man. Likewise does the painting “All-American Trump” depict the current president (who in reality easily gets winded playing golf) scoring a touchdown in an old-fashioned game of football. And multiple times has McNaughton depicted this Yankee aficionado of porn stars and Playboy bunnies, this man who has said he never felt the need to ask for forgiveness, either holding a bible or appearing to pray.

Of course, throughout history, people have been mythologized and remembered in ways that distort the historical record. But what is so fascinating to me is how this process is going on right now with Donald Trump, while the man is still alive and exhibiting behavior that belies the myths being constructed around him. Every action he takes should refute the reputation he has acquired among his true believers, but they remain unmoved. They remain devoted. 

And this makes me wonder…. If Donald Trump is being depicted as a humble servant of God right now, might it not be the case that a man we typically remember as a humble servant of God was, in fact, more like Donald Trump than his believers date to dream? With Easter upon us, let us interrogate what might have been the real life of Jesus Christ. Let us ask the question–was Jesus Christ the original Donald Trump?

Back when I was earning my degree in theology at the now defunct St. Gregory University in Oklahoma, we learned that, despite the way they are ordered in the New Testament, the earliest gospel was likely that of Mark, which was probably written around AD 70, between thirty and forty years after Jesus supposedly died. Three or four decades is a lot of time, plenty of time for a mythology to accrue around a man’s life, especially in those days when records could not be easily verified. If Trump can be turned from the obese, cowardly, narcissistic, and lecherous man he currently is into a mythologized general and spiritual leader right before our very eyes, surely thirty to forty years was more than enough to mythologize someone equally disdainful, if not moreso.

So let’s imagine that Jesus was originally, before the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John got hold of the story, someone of the same mold as Donald Trump; in fact, we’ll call him Trump-Jesus to distinguish him from the later, fake Jesus invented by the four Evangelists. What would his life have been like?

Well, to begin with, he would not have been born to humble parents. Oh, no–Trump-Jesus’s father was not actually God, but was nonetheless is a big man who owned a great deal of real estate in Bethlehem and beyond. And if the Jesus of the Gospels scandalized society by hanging out with prostitutes, well, Trump-Jesus could also be found with flocks of easy women on his arm, though for a different reason. (“Are there none here who condemn you? Good, then neither do I. I mean, you’re at least an eight. No sense stoning a babe like you. Come here, gorgeous.”) Books like The DaVinci Code may have scandalized the world by suggesting that Jesus had a wife, but Trump-Jesus had at least three–and several mistresses. When you’re a Jesus Christ Superstar, they let you get away with anything. However, Trump-Jesus didn’t hang out with tax collectors. Trump-Jesus didn’t believe in paying taxes.

Just as the Jesus of the Gospel had disciples and followers whom he educated in the ways of the Lord, so was Trump-Jesus a rabbi, a teacher. After all, he had his own Trump-Jesus University, a sweet little scheme modeled after something he saw while touring ancient Egypt. Granted, it wasn’t an accredited rabbinical school, and many later lawsuits revealed that Trump-Jesus was only a figurehead for the institution and that most students did not find the courses on healing the sick, raising the dead, and speaking in tongues to be at all effective. But Trump-Jesus did just fine. As he liked to tell his followers, “Render unto Trump-Jesus what is Caesar’s, and render unto Caesar whatever pittance you have left.”

Unfortunately, Trump-Jesus’s activities created a lot of enemies. We may never know for certain what was the ultimate cause of his eventual crucifixion. Some say that it was his close association with Roman financier Jeffrey Epsteinius, who provided Trump-Jesus and other rich men with little girls to molest (“Let the little children come to me….”). Others say that Trump-Jesus was colluding with foreign powers, perhaps the Parthian Empire to the east, to have himself installed as the local prelate. Whatever the case, it was a good Friday indeed when the Roman Empire finally rid itself of the lecherous traitor Trump-Jesus.

Picture him there, on the cross. The Gospel writers say that Jesus endured his torture stoically and even asked of God, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But Trump-Jesus was a different man. The whole time on the cross, he bleated, “Unfair! No messiah has ever been persecuted as much as I have! It’s all the fault of the Deep Roman State! And the Jews should like me better–I made them rich!” And when the final moment came, Trump-Jesus did not simply announce, “It is finished.” No, he drew in a great breath and shouted, “My daughter… HAS GREAT TITS!”

Unlike the fictional Jesus of the Gospels, Trump-Jesus did not rise from the dead. Ordinary people simply don’t, and he was just an ordinary person, if extraordinarily repulsive. But his followers believe that he lives in them still. They remember when once, at one of his regular orgies, he shouted at the people lined up at the snack bar, “Look at you, you pigs! All that bread and wine costs money–you’re eating me all up!” So his disciples, after his death, began holding celebrations in which they would consume the bread and wine that symbolizes his body (although Trump-Catholics believe that the elements of communion are the literal body and blood, the literal rancid fat and coagulated crimson, of Trump-Jesus). 

Jesus may or may not have been someone like Donald Trump; his story is too far in the past for us to really determine any true thing about his life. But it’s clear that Trump’s own followers believe him the equivalent, or near enough, of Jesus. 

One of Jon McNaughton’s more popular paintings is “You Are Not Forgotten,” which centers a young man focused upon a tiny plant that has sprung from dried and cracked earth. His wife stands by with a jug of water, ready to help this little seedling along. But this act of renewal is not taking place just anywhere–we can see the White House in the background, and a whole host of patriotic Americans are standing around this scene, beaming with pride. One of these is Donald Trump, who smiles approvingly. 

In this painting, Trump’s left heel rests upon the head of a dark, green snake. It may seem an odd detail, but it has a long background in Christian imagery. Catholic art has long featured images of the Virgin Mary standing upon the head of a snake, evoking the lines of Genesis 3:15, God’s condemnation of the serpent in Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Christians have interpreted these lines as containing a prophecy about Jesus’s eventual defeat of Satan. Likewise, Romans 16:20 reads, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

For true believers like my aunt Mary Lane, Trump is the fulfillment of prophecy. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, writes that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” But there are some thieves who do their best work in the full light of day. 

And his followers will gather in great crowds, the biggest crowds you ever saw, record crowds, the most massive crowds ever seen to come to celebrate the return of a messiah. They will gather in great crowds around the Throne of the Scam of God and worship him forever and ever, world without end, amen. 

To Boldly Grow…

So, in case you have not noticed, this world is undergoing a whole lot of problems. The foremost of these is an environmental crisis topped by global warming but also including deforestation, mass extinction, topsoil loss, industrial and agricultural pollution, and much more. But with what project is the richest man in the United States, Jeff Bezos, investing his time and energy?

Space travel.

From the cover story of the November issue of the Atlantic:

He considers the work so important because the threat it aims to counter is so grave. What worries Bezos is that in the coming generations the planet’s growing energy demands will outstrip its limited supply. The danger, he says, “is not necessarily extinction,” but stasis: “We will have to stop growing, which I think is a very bad future.” While others might fret that climate change will soon make the planet uninhabitable, the billionaire wrings his hands over the prospects of diminished growth. But the scenario he describes is indeed grim. Without enough energy to go around, rationing and starvation will ensue. Over the years, Bezos has made himself inaccessible to journalists asking questions about Amazon. But he shares his faith in space colonization with a preacher’s zeal: “We have to go to space to save Earth.”

I’ve been contemplating this for a few months now, especially these recent January days when I could go outside and do my morning run in shorts and t-shirt because it was so hot–an oddity even for Arkansas. We have had no real winter here, and trees are budding out and bulb poking out of the ground. Climate change has not been our future for some time; it is here and now. And it’s obvious that we have to commit ourselves to some fundamental restructuring of our society and our economy in order to survive the coming decades. What Bezos imagines for a future without space travel is our future without a revolution based upon the needs of a habitable biosphere: rationing and starvation. In fact, rationing of water is already happening in many places. Space travel will not save us from this.

So it bears asking: what is Bezos actually up to?

When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. I absorbed science fiction, and the future embodied in something like Star Trek felt like ours for the taking, if we but committed ourselves to it. So I am naturally sympathetic to the call of the stars. But I don’t think that Bezos actually gives a damn about all of that. Instead, I think he sees space as the “final frontier” only in so far as frontiers have become sites of resource exploitation, and space is a handy one because there are no indigenous folk there to cause problems. Here on earth, if we want to survive, we are going to have to abandon the ideology of perpetual growth and, instead, restructure our economies along other lines. We might, in fact, have to tear up some of our developments and plant forests. We might have to consider the possibility of discouraging reproduction in order to bring our population under manageable control. We might have to implement some kind of universal basic income so as to get a buy-in from those who would otherwise be rendered unemployed by these possibilities, because if your job is predicated upon growth (say, the construction industry), and we decided to stop going, you might well starve under the current system.

This is the future Bezos is hoping to forestall, not a future of starvation and rationing, but a future of restrictions upon the visions of billionaires like himself, because billionaires are the single most unsustainable thing planet Earth currently hosts. In other words, Jeff Bezos isn’t out to save humanity–he is out to save capitalism. No matter the costs. No matter the expenses borne by all of us. In his future, people boldly go where no one has gone before not for human curiosity or to expand the horizon of our knowledge, but to loot and pilfer. Star Trek meets the East India Company. And it may be more appropriate than we think that Captain Kirk and others journeyed on a ship called Enterprise, for that name has been on ships captained by privateers, schooners sent on missions to protect commerce in South America, and slave ships.

Thus is our past, and thus, if it be in the hands of Bezos and his billionaire buddies, be our future. Carrying slaves and protecting commerce where no one has gone before.

Let Thine Eye Look Like a Friend on Denmark

So every fall, I teach a graduate course titled “Power, Privilege, and Oppression.” No, I did not come up with the title, fan of alliteration though I am, and I rather don’t care for the excessive wokeness connoted by such a string of words. If I had come up with the name, I would have called it something like “Rethinking Identity and Exploitation,” for what I want students most to do is re-conceptualize their view of identity (both individual and collective) and rethink how identity perpetuates, facilitates, generates the mechanisms of exploitation.

This year, my students read Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Karen and Barbara Field’s Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, Jeff Spinner-Halev’s Enduring Industice, and Chris Gilligan’s Northern Ireland and the Crisis of Anti-Racism: Rethinking Racism and Sectarianism. It’s been a heady semester, with plenty of good discussion and (always the meat upon which teachers live) an acknowledgement by many that this class had really changed their perspectives. However, especially as we neared the end of the semester, I kept hearing from more and more students something along the lines of: This is all good theory and everything, but how do we fix these problems? What is the solution to all of this?

And I wanted to say, “Don’t you think if we had the solution to all of this that we would be implementing it right now instead of conducting a philosophical, sociological, and historical survey of these issues for you students?” Students reported being challenged and excited by the material but also depressed because it didn’t impart to them the knowledge they needed to go out and solve all of these problems, because it didn’t shorten that horizon to utopia. At the end of each semester, I bring in some folks who have done public service and activism in the state, across racial and class boundaries, to discuss their work. My students usually like this, at least more than they like hearing me ramble yet again. However, they still seemed disappointed that my activist friends had no “solution” for them but, instead, rather heartily endorsed the idea that public service and social justice were lifelong pursuits.

My students, they just want a way to “fix things.” And I’ve been struggling, wondering where this expectation even came from. Is this a generational divide? A consequence of a culture of slacktivism? Reaction to the trauma of the Trump regime?

The answer may relate to how we misinterpret Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

According to Rebecca West, in The Court and the Castle: A Study of the Interactions of Political and Religious Ideas in Imaginative Literature, we do great injury to the original meaning of Hamlet when we regard its eponymous hero as tormented by indecision and emotion. Hamlet’s not incapable of making quick decisions. Hell, the moment he discovers that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are bearing a letter demanding his execution he swaps it for one that gets them killed, despite their innocence in this scheme. And he’s apparently not too emotional, for they were, after all, apparently friends of his.

We misread Hamlet because we lack Shakespeare’s conception of the nature of authority, especially royal authority. As Rebecca West writes:

“To Shakespeare, a king was a man who had been appointed by fate, by a force half within him and half outside him, to be the custodian of an idea, and to exercise this function in the midst of a mob of barons who were rarely if ever entirely loyal to him or the idea, because some part of even the justest among them must regret the old days of feudalism when they would riot and thieve unchecked.”

To continue:

“We know from the historical plays that Shakespeare recognized danger as the climate of the courts, and it follows that he saw the palace at Elsinore as a place of tension, where it might well be that Hamlet was much less tense than the people around him. He was above all the onlooker, who is detached and preserves his detachment even when he is involved in action. He was in fact detached from the Danish royal situation; because the electors had passed over his candidature he was not sitting on the throne, he was standing beside it, he was not involved in the struggle between the Danish people and their nascent institutions. He was also the new-born Renaissance man, whose liberated intelligence had given him a form of self-awareness differing from the earlier forms of introspection, because it had no tinge of the confessional about it. When Hamlet soliloquised, he was really talking to himself, and taking pleasure in a recently acquired accomplishment. There could be no greater mistake than to see Hamlet as the only troubled figure in a court that was otherwise wax-work calm in the arrogant composure of an imaginary absolutism. Readers who see him thus must mistake the theme of the play, and see it as the failure of a weak human being to restore a pleasant status quo. But Shakespeare was writing about the failure of a strong and gifted man to alter a repellent situation, for the reason that he is tainted with the same guilt which had caused others to produce that situation.”

To restore a pleasant status quo–that, I suspect, is what my students want, because even if they devote themselves to studying the long history of othering and exploitation in this nation and beyond, they cannot yet relate to that history at a personal level. They came of age politically during the presidency of Barack Obama, and knowing intellectually the history of the United States but being privileged to live during the administration of the first black president, well, it has to lend a somewhat Panglossian (or at least Pelagian) patina to one’s political perspectives. And then along comes the vulgar talking yam, imported straight from Russia, and it feels rather like a usurpation. If we could just get the right king on the throne, all would be right again. But even at my modest middle age, I have seen war criminals in the White House, monsters such as Reagan, who helped to fund genocide in Central America and did everything he could to let gay men die of AIDS without remorse, as well as George W. Bush, architect of the Iraq War and its related body of memos justifying the crushing of a small boy’s testicles. All in the name of freedom. Trump, from this perspective, is no aberration.

But there is another factor here. If Hamlet exercised a form of self-awareness different from previous forms of introspection, so, too, do today’s inhabitants exercise a form of self-awareness radically different from Hamlet’s, with their soliloquizing constituting a discourse with the wider world through social media. (And yes, you can still call it a soliloquy if it’s a discourse because all soliloquies in theater are performed for the sake of the audience. We are just all performers now.) As Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell write in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic:

“The social psychologist Mark Leary coined the term sociometer to describe the mental gauge that tells us, moment by moment, how we’re doing in the eyes of others. We don’t really need self-esteem, Leary argued; rather, the evolutionary imperative is to get others to see us as desirable partners for various kinds of relationships. Social media, with its displays of likes, friends, followers, and retweets, has pulled our sociometers out of our private thoughts and posted them for all to see. If you constantly express your anger in private conversations, your friends will likely find you tiresome, but when there’s an audience, the payoffs are different–outrage can boost your status.”

But this critique of social media, as valid as it be, misses some of the larger, structural reasons why struggles for justice invariably find their way onto various social media platforms. Namely, it has to do with a historic loss of rights. As Bruce P. Frohnen writes in his essay, “Individual and Group Rights: Self-Government and Claims of Right in Historical Practice” (part of the anthology Rethinking Rights: Historical, Political, and Philosophical Perspectives), an “insistence on seeing rights in purely individualistic terms has resulted not just in the erosion of group rights, but also in the erosion of individual rights–particularly those individual rights aimed at meaningful participation in social, political, and economic life.” He tracks this erosion from the Middle Ages onward, examining how medieval Europe was home to a variety of institutions that jealously guarded their group rights–the Church, guilds, boroughs, kingdom, and more–and thus protected the individual rights of their members. However, over the centuries, these sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing organizations have largely withered away in the advance of the modern state, so much so that philosopher Hannah Arendt in the twentieth century ultimately defined citizenship as “the right to have rights,” the state being the only institution that could guarantee individual rights for a person by this point in time. One of the only organizations that could feasibly compete with the state, the corporation, is not as corporate as its name implies, with the role of shareholder being stripped of decision-making potentiality and essentially reduced to a fictive personage assumed to be interested solely in profit.

The result of these dramatic changes, writes Frohnen, “is a loss of individual as well as group rights. It has become extremely difficult for the individual person to influence the institutions in which he or she makes a livelihood, in which he or she works and lives. Not only can one not fight city hall, but even influencing it increasingly requires influencing the statehouse, courthouse, or even the White House. And influencing corporate headquarters? Well, it is no wonder that Americans increasingly look to methods of mass publicity and litigation where once their membership in the body of a corporate group afforded them the right to be heard.”

My students seem to believe that they live in a time of exception with Donald Trump (piss be upon him) in the White House, but they don’t. Instead, they live during an era when individual and group rights have been so eroded that Americans turn toward mass publicity and the potential for ideological purity it brings, and they are rewarded for this vaporous online pseudo-life. But nothing really changes, and they want to know why, they want to know what will make things better again without understanding the necessity of a full and complete commitment to this world and all of its flaws, and all of its dangers. If you want to be king, you must understand that the various dukes and barons will be plotting constantly to restore the localized anarchy of feudalism, or will undertake conspiracies to take your throne for themselves, because those who have had a taste of power only want more. And if you want to undertake the work of social justice and public service, you must understand that there is no magical formula you can incant in order to get people to “see reason.” Millionaires won’t be satisfied until they are billionaires, and billionaires dream of being trillionaires, and that is the only goal that matters to them no matter how much human suffering it causes other people.

In other words, the solution is fully engaging at a personal level with that might theologically be termed “original sin,” or a recognition of certain inherent flaws in human beings and the societies they create. You cannot detach yourself from this reality without causing still more damage to those you aim to help in this world. Or as Rebecca West put it:

“We are members of an imperfect society, and when we cooperate with it, we are committed to imperfection, because we are all imperfect beings and cannot conceive a perfect thought or act. The peculiar force of Hamlet lies in its contention that there is no escape from this guilt. Our imperfection cannot be sweetened by our acts or limited in its effect by our caution. Hamlet is exquisitely accomplished, but it does not aid his moral power. He is an egoist and annuls his natural affections so that he achieves no valid human relationship: he is a disobedient son to his father, he mauls his mother, he is a querulous and fugitive lover, he is not a husband and not a father, and he treats Horatio as a listening ear rather than as a friend. Yet in this detachment he is responsible for the perpetuation and extension of evil. When the play opens, the crime which stains the court is the theft of the throne by the fratricide and regicide Claudius; but when the last curtain falls the state as spread. Hamlet has killed Polonius and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, Ophelia is drowned, and Claudius has dipped himself in other crimes and has made an assassin of Laertes. These things have happened as the result of Hamlet’s refusal to bind himself by the same ties of flesh which have, through the ages, been generally blamed as the sources of sin. To our species all gates to innocence are barred.”

The Perpetual Decline of Academia

Recently, I’ve had extended stays in the pub closest to my place of work with friends and colleagues describing what they see as the ongoing decline of academe. And they have sufficient substance for their worries. Enrollments at universities are down across the board as the population boom upon which much of our educational infrastructure was established starts to taper off. Fewer young people are willing to saddle their lives with permanent student debt to earn degrees that might not get them the job they desire, what with the state of certain fields being in perpetual motion. Reactionary states, such as mine, are investing less and less in higher education, thus planning the burden more and more upon students, because they regard learning as adjacent to brainwashing. And higher education itself is facing the blowback of the boom it has created, especially in the field of humanities, producing a constant stream of doctorates when the job market is declining and fewer and fewer of these highly educated and experienced people can find employment in academia. Moreover, universities tend to be saddled with more and more administrators who see their job as expanding the corps of well-heeled administrators rather than actually educating the public.

In other words, there is reason for worry, and what I am about to say doesn’t try to deny that.

But last night, I was having a few beers with a public history professor friend of mine who related to me the latest “sky is falling” report from his own university. A few years back, his own department made the decision to get rid of its adjunct workforce and hire only full-time professors, a move that normally wouldn’t be lamentable given that university departments have, in recent years, relied too heavily upon adjuncts at the expense of tenured professors. However, with the current decline in enrollment at his institution, his department is now left without the flexibility that part-timers provide, and as morale sinks and people begin to leave, there’s a real possibility that the history department could shake out in a way that leaves it weaker, with all the Americanists, for example, finding berths elsewhere, leaving a department at an urban university in the heartland with only specialists in Asia and Europe. And why are people so ready to leave? Well, because they might not have the chance to teach upper-level courses on their area of expertise. At this particular university, most professors have a load of three courses in the spring and fall each–two survey courses and one upper-level course. Lacking adjuncts to fill in on the survey courses, full-time professors are being ask to teach a semester exclusively consisting of survey courses. And even when they get the chance to offer an upper-level course, the decline in enrollment means that sometimes it just won’t make.

For many people in my friend’s department, this is the veritable apocalypse, the sure sign that academia is on decline. For his part, my friend doesn’t mind teaching survey courses and laughs at the general mood of panic among his associates, but that panic is pervasive. And I was contemplating it this morning on the commute to work, and I had a thought–

What if academia has always been in decline? That is, what if academia arose within the very conditions that led its adherence to believe it was always in a state of decline?

You see, modern universities arose from monastery-based schools in medieval Europe. Sure, the idea of formal education predates this development, for the philosophers of Ancient Greece were often hired as tutors for the elite. But an important shift had occurred by the time incipient universities had begun to emerge, a philosophical shift that shaped the institutions responsible for later universities (the monasteries), and thus shaped the expectations that would be knit into the DNA of academia. By the Middle Ages, the Christian Church had largely baptized Platonism and Neo-Platonism, especially the divisions that Plato had erected between the ideal World of Forms and the shadow world, our world, that reflected imperfectly that ideal realm. In many ways, monasteries signify the material embodiment of this division, closed off from the world so that its members can more fully reflect upon the pure light of the divine.

How frustrating it must be, then, for idealistic novices entering these sacred spaces for purposes of communion with the creator of the universe to be asked to do the dishes or fix the meals one day a week. During one of the stranger career diversions I have undertaken, for some years I was a freelancer for a Catholic newspaper and regularly visited the local convent, just outside of town, to cover the goings-on there. My visits there quickly disabused me of the notion that convent life constituted a higher order of spiritual existence, freed from the petty squabbling that subsumes interpersonal actions here in the secular realm. Get one of them away from the convent for a while, and it was nothing but a stream of complaints about Sister So-and-So who was smoking in the recreation room again or Sister Whats-Her-Face who is still trying to figure out who voted against her in the election for prioress twenty years back. Not that there weren’t some generally good people in the building, but convent life constituted a reflection of human society, not an exception to it, and contained all the interpersonal friction you find in any collective enterprise, from government on down to a marriage.

But that’s not how it’s advertised, is it? We want to believe that the sanctified life is set apart, and likely most of those who entered this convent did so out of a genuine desire to devote the better part of their lives to meditation upon the divine, not to being stuck with laundry duty for the third week straight because the other sister says she threw out her back, when everyone knows she’s exaggerating. Plus, in this aging convent, people had to work. They were expected to get jobs to support each other, because the decline in religious vocations, and the decline in donations, means that even fewer in religious life are privileged to spend their hours in prayer and meditation. And so the realm of the Ideal you had hoped to find begins to look a lot like this degraded world the more you stay, and the distance between expectation and reality only grows, and you begin to become cynical, seeing this as a sign that we inhabit the waning days of Babylon, that the apocalypse is nigh, for how can this be?

And so, if academia grew from the roots of monastic life, might its own expectations have been similarly shaped by the Platonic division at the root of Christian culture? Might those in academia conceive of their mission as rooted in pure knowledge and resent any infringement upon their time and energy with more mundane responsibilities? And when confronted with the necessity of adapting to changing conditions, might they not similar adopt an eschatological viewpoint that regards this present moment as one of the expected signs of societal collapse?

In other words, academia is always in decline because academia was born aspiring to a sense of fulfillment that could never be attained.

There you go. The Chronicle of Higher Education can now cease its endless hand-wringing about the current state of affairs.

Equivalencia

Okay, so Pope John Paul II “rehabilitated” Galileo in 1992, ending 359 years of official condemnation. Although this condemnation was typically presented to the public as a relic of antiquated bureaucracy, rather like those laws which continue to outlaw chewing gum on the Sabbath or some such, we must understand that the Roman Catholic Church remained earnest in its condemnation up to that very point in 1992, even if certain modernizing segments were embarrassed by the fact that it remained on the record. In fact, as Yves Gingras notes in his book Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue, while the conflict between Galileo and the papacy is presented primarily as a struggle of wills and only tangentially related to the science, the Church’s official position on the nature of the universe firmly geocentric through the 1800s. The 1757 Index of Prohibited Books did not remove Galileo’s Dialogue, and French astronomer Jerome Lalande’s popular book of astronomy would be put on the Index in 1830. Only in the 1835 edition of the Index were the works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler removed from prohibition. However, on through the 1900s, the Church was particularly sensitive of any publication regarded as too favorable to Galileo.

Of course. The Church had, centuries prior to Copernicus, baptized certain pagan thinkers and made a Christian dogma of their conception of the universe, and to deny that, to say that the Church was in error on something so fundamental, would upend society. As science historian James Burke noted in The Day the Universe Changed, “Belief in Aristotle and Ptolemy was the bedrock of social stability.” So when Copernicus and then Galileo came along and challenged that, their only recourse was to stand by their previous assertions, to double down on the geocentric tradition with the hope that they could contain the spread, because social change can happen fast like that, the moment an institution’s credibility begins to be questioned. Gingras again: “Conservative by nature, institutions are virtually forbidden to admit error without running the risk of losing credibility and authority.” We can see these actions as indicative of weakness or close-mindedness, but if you were within that institution or relied upon that institution, you had every reason to back its stance.

Although the contagion could not be contained, the Church retained its position on these issues, doubling and tripling down on its contrast with the secular world with the hopes that one of these retrograde bets would pay off. As Peter Sloterdijk writes in Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation, “The fact that Catholicism presented itself after 1870 as being at the peak of its antimodern campaign does not change the general situation. All of its efforts on the theological and political fronts were only the effects of weakness: the flight of the pope into the dogma of infallibility, the mobilization of an external mission, the militant incitement of Marianic fervor, the condemning of liberal and secular books, the founding of ultramontane parties in the parliaments of the secular world. All of these actions reveals the frightful panic of a declining power.”

Why does that sound so familiar right now? Can we not perhaps look at our modern world and find one issue in which the scientific consensus constitutes a threat to the structure of stability, a threat that is met not by a rational consideration of the evidence at hand but, instead, the manufacture of dogmas and the incitement of speculative fervors? And do we not increasingly have political parties that—if not ultramontane in the sense that they advocate for absolute papal authority in matters relating not just to faith but also discipline—do insist upon disciplining the population at large by reference to an absolute faith?

Yes, climate change is our heliocentric revolution of the twentieth century, the simple recognition of the fact that what goes up in smoke comes down in fire. And the faith that demands we doubt the evidence of experience is the market economy, the capitalist system, which has so much invested in the notion of infinite and infallible growth, world without end, amen. And the reason they will not debate this subject at all is because, to adapt that Burke quotation, “Belief in Adam Smith and Milton Friedman is the bedrock of social stability.”

The parallels are plenteous and obvious, and I’m certainly not the only one who has ever made this argument. But my goal is to draw attention to the other factors relating to the growing acceptance of heliocentric theory, as well as the time span over which change finally occurred. Copernicus and Galileo had the great fortune to be formulating their theories in an era when the power of the Church was no longer universal in Europe, thanks to the various Protestant reformations, and so the ideological enemies of the Church had room to adopt science that actually worked, especially if it came with the added bonus of driving the dagger a little deeper into the reputation of Rome.

However, when it comes to the Church of Capitalism, we are not quite so fortunate, for, ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and other communist powers, the world has lacked for a true alternative economic system, no matter how flawed it was. After all, the mere presence of the Soviet Union was a boon to anti-racist activists in the United States, if only because American authorities were sufficiently worried about looking bad on the world stage that they began sending in the feds to investigate lynchings and assassinations across the country, because each murder could constitute a propaganda coup for a communist superpower more than happy to broadcast the racisms of its chief rival to the Third World. But where is our chief rival today? And don’t say China, for it has become less a communist state and more a state capitalist state, outstripping the West in its ability to produce goods and exploit its workers.

A sufficiently powerful rival to the capitalist system could adopt the mantle of environmentalism for propaganda purposes and thus spur the rest of the world to good deeds, but we are rather lacking that during these waning days of Babylon, which means that grassroots activism must need be all the more intense in order to accomplish the necessary ends.

And that intensity is all the more necessary when considering the time across which the original geocentric-heliocentric debate actually raged. Yes, the Copernican view was quickly adopted due to its utility, thus making this one of Burke’s days in which the universe changed. But as Gingras noted, the Catholic Church always retained faith in its dogma of yore and, had it the ability, would most certainly have enforced that, at least down until that day in 1992. And so even if the world makes a successful transition from “free market” fundamentalism and to an economic system that allows us to live upon this planet sustainably, there will, perhaps for centuries, be powerful people dreaming of their economic Arcadia, planning and scheming how to get the planet back from us. Just as they will pass down the legends to their descendants of those glory days, so, too, must we pass down to those who come after us an awareness of just who the enemies are and how to recognize them. This is an intergenerational struggle, and so the lives we save will not be just our own.