Edith Stein once wrote about a fellow student that while she (the fellow student) was a good enough person, she was not at all a deep thinker. She was more of a synthesizer, taking other people’s ideas and weaving them together. This in Edith’s eyes was an intellectual sin, as she demanded from others what came so easily to herself: brilliance and original thoughts. I admire Edith for many things, but she wouldn’t have approved of me in the classroom, as I, too, am a synthesizer.
This morning I am fresh out of original ideas. I attribute this to a combination of a horror of the news and a horror of the political convention season. What more can possibly be said? Every possible thing has already been parsed, analyzed, tweeted, texted, or admonished, so why add to the noise when no one is listening anyway? Fortunately, I stumbled on several thoughts that just wanted to be introduced to one another.
One of my heroes is Fr. James Schall, S.J. I consider it bad luck that his time at Georgetown was after mine, because I have no doubt I would have loved sitting at his feet. He writes, among other things, a column every two weeks for The Catholic Thing in which he makes brilliance and clarity seem so easy, and practically within the grasp of us mere mortals.
Another writer and thinker I admire very much is David Warren. He, too, writes a bi-weekly column for The Catholic Thing, as well as posting almost daily on his own site. A bit of a renaissance man, David frequently reminds me of things I had forgotten, or teaches me things I had never learned in the first place (no doubt because I missed having Fr. Schall as a professor.) He is at his best when he is mildly exasperated with current events and advising that we broaden our perspective.
This morning , Fr. Schall in his Catholic Thing column, wrote:
Few people know the technical definition of wisdom: “knowledge of conclusions through first causes.” Still a few wise men are found. They say: “I believe that character, not wealth or power or position, is of supreme worth. I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world.”
Much current political rhetoric is precisely about how “wealth, power, and position” dominate our public life, rather than character and a love that is unselfish.
Yesterday on his own site, David Warren wrote:
Civilizations are created by religion, and destroyed by politics. In the very word, “religion,” we find the principle of true social order — the voluntary direction of each human soul to a higher, encompassing, futurity. It is the unifying principle: men, animated by faith, gathered to serve something “higher” in the sense of transcending the conditions of human existence.
Politics consist in the appropriation of this organic authority by specific men, who put themselves above God, and naturally demand worship…
For success in the sphere of total politics requires ruthlessness. The man in pursuit of absolute power dares not stop at anything. He dares not ever be humble and meek, nor dream of reconciling with his enemies. He must not concede; he must break them; he must be seen to break them. It is “triumph of the will.”
Religion, by contrast, is ever commanding us to stop; to study and to know our limitations. It builds upon humility, not wrath.
Reading these articles, one after another, all I could think of was the spectacle of the political convention in progress and the one yet to come. Character does matter. Proper ordering of man’s passions and affairs does matter. And, yet, for reasons I don’t understand, no one seems to think that this is important.
I suspect it is because people think it is too hard. Good behavior is only for saints. And so we don’t feel bad about ourselves, we have liberated everyone from all that old-fashioned, stifling morality.
Leaders have character. There is not one leader on display in either party. It’s a club of craven, political hacks, seduced by the thought of becoming like gods with power, privilege, money, ego and a “legacy.” It is going to end badly, because, in any venture, getting priorities wrong always does. And while that is frightening, it is also really, truly sad.
However, so as not to end on a downer, I’ll let David have (almost) the last word:
Given only a few centuries of “dark ages” with physical insecurity and economic stasis, (the world) is quite capable of reassembling itself. Patience is the key.
At the bottom of Pandora’s box, there was hope. Remember that.