May 4, 2016


Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters. - Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, 1791
Wow, Lyin' Ted Cruz really went wacko today. Made all sorts of crazy charges. Can't function under pressure - not very presidential. Sad! - Donald J. Trump, Twitter, May 3, 2016
Years ago we began forging the fetters of passions, ignoring the need to retain our own moral chains. Now we have nominated a man without apparent moral chains to be the Republican candidate for president. We will now be lead by our fetters, like Marley's Ghost, upon the ruined field of the Republic.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post called "The Sunset of the West." It was (happily for me) re-blogged by Rod Dreher here, and garnered some nice compliments around the blogosphere for its five minutes of fame. 

In that post, I stated:
We are at war. It is a war we did not wish, but it is thrust upon us.  And the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can raise the barricades. We must take every opportunity in law to argue against the eventuality. But we should not expect the law to do much for us any longer.
Today, the Hoosiers among whom I reside nominated Donald J. Trump to be the Republican candidate for president, causing Ted Cruz to suspend his candidacy. Curious as to who in Indiana might have voted for DJT, I looked to CBS news polls, which stated thusly:
Trump is getting the support of men, with over half of Indiana Republican primary voters supporting him. Women are more evenly split between Trump (46 percent) and Cruz (42 percent).
Trump does well with independents, garnering support from over half of those voters.
Among the 58 percent of Indiana Republican primary voters who say they would like the next president to be an outsider, 76 percent support Trump.
Trump and Cruz are running about even with white evangelical voters (Cruz 45 percent, Trump 48 percent) -- who make up more than half of the Indiana Republican voters.
Among the 32 percent of voters who describe themselves as "very conservative," Cruz gets the support of over half of them. Cruz also gets the majority of support from Republican Indiana primary voters who attend religious services at least weekly which is about half of the voters.
For the half of Indiana voters without a college degree, the majority support Trump. The contest is tighter among college graduates (45 percent for Trump, 41 percent for Cruz).
I find the issue of Evangelical voters very curious and troubling. As Ross Douthat noted:
Trump proved that many evangelical voters, supposedly the heart of a True Conservative coalition, are actually not really values voters or religious conservatives after all, and that the less frequently evangelicals go to church, the more likely they are to vote for a philandering sybarite instead of a pastor’s son.
As a conservative Catholic, I can only say with sadness that I suspect this is this truth. And not only that, I suspect that it spells the beginning of the end of any real coalition of social conservatives large enough to influence elections. I think the best we can hope for is some sort of armed detente, whereby we are expected to vote in exchange for being left alone, and I doubt even that detente would last for long.

In his various books on Millennials, Christian Smith identified various traits that we are now seeing played out among both Millennials and their parents in regard to social conservatism (the Millennials had to get it from someplace). Smith identified the idea of "moralistic therapeutic deism" (or "MTD") - that is (as described by another researcher, Kenda Dean), a religion consisting of the following characteristics:
(1) A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
(2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
(3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
(4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
(5) Good people go to heaven when they die.
The problem comes from another characteristic associated with MTD - "Millenial young people have a high external locus of control (i.e., they believe that their decisions are mostly made for them, and they have little agency or influence in the world." Consider for a moment the idea that the followers (so to speak) of MTD believe that "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair" and that "the central goal of life feel good about oneself."

How could such a person react in any way but negatively to the idea that people (for example) who believe they are transgender could be offended or emotionally damaged by laws that mandate using public restrooms in accordance with biological sex? As this could impair an individual's ability to feel good about themselves, and seems to offend against being nice to such an individual, Millennials (and their parents) would react negatively against any this law. Or, in fact, against any law which carried the potential of social impact.

I do not think it surprising that economic considerations are at the forefront of MTD concerns. How can one fulfill one's true happiness without freedom from worry or concern? In a strange way, this means that some supporters of Bernie Sanders and of Donald Trump are not too far apart in what they want (economic security for all), only in the means needed to achieve it...and sometimes not even then.

This leaves those who see a moral component to the law (beyond the demand for radical egalitarianism) out in the cold, so to speak. As Patrick Deneen and others persuasively argue, the liberalism represented both in modern Republican and Democrat circles admits of little contest with its centralized demands which pretend to neutrality, but (in reality) seek to impose a nihilistic vision of atomized life through the machinery of the bureaucratic state. As we have seen with this President, and others in the near past, the use of executive machinery to bypass Congress and impose the secular will happens quite often, and Congress is all but impotent to stop it. And, indeed, members of Congress who oppose it often end up on the negative end of their own constituents, who are uninterested in religious freedom when it is opposed to "good feelings and fairness."

I suppose this is where Rod Dreher's Benedict Option comes in - to seek to form strong, local, communities of like-minded believers who can preserve and defend a Western and Eastern Christian tradition against the downfall of society and a new Dark Age. We can hope and pray that it is unnecessary to take these steps for long, but one need not be a prophet to lack sanguinity as to this point.

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