David Warren: Religion is what separates America’s political parties. Some on both sides will claim to be devout, but their priorities prove otherwise.
Well, if the Trump administration was not in collusion with Russia, with whom WERE they in collusion? My own guess is the voters in the Red States, but I’ve already heard other theories.
It has been more fun following politics (in a desultory, Lenten way) in your country than in mine. Up here in the freezer-section north, we have a Liberal government that was caught by a naïve and apparently principled young member of its own cabinet, doing something criminally corrupt on a huge scale. But it promptly used its majority in a Parliamentary committee to prevent an investigation. Canadian media are now helping them “turn the page” on the issue, as there will be a general election in the autumn, and Canadian media are about as subservient to our Liberal Party as American media to your Democrats.
Or so say I; gentle reader may disagree. One of my motives for opposing union with your United States is purely charitable. It would saddle you with ten more Blue States, and all the expenses that go with that. It is not my only reason, however. For I am not a Republican, myself, but a Monarchist. (At least we still have the Queen.)
Politics, without religion, is a cruel farce. So is politics WITH religion, as one discovers from reading a little history, but there are checks upon it in the form of human conscience. It is wise in a polity to preserve at least the possibility of collusion with the angels; unwise to limit collusion to the contrary, demonic forces.
By the latter, I allude to “the end justifies the means.” It has been, recently, too openly on display, as the very standard of profane political action.
I don’t know whether this view is controversial; I can’t remember the last time I heard it expressed. No one wants to risk the charge of mixing church and state. But note my implied distinction between genuine religion (that changes a person’s behavior), and false.
As Voltaire said, among his elite friends, it is all very well for them to be atheists, but they should not speak of it around their servants. When the peasants lose their fear, of God and of Hell, they will start cheating and pilfering things. This was not the only instance when Voltaire was perspicacious.
Membership in a “liberal” elite traditionally confers two advantages. The first is, you can lie, cheat, and steal, yourself. The second is that you can rely on the “simplicity” of the unwashed masses, to avoid punishment for it. Today, however, thanks to such as the media, even those simples think they are Voltaire.
The scholastics, no simpletons they, were aware of the dangers of democracy. Rather than unifying a society (“One Nation under God, indivisible. . .”) it divides the people into factions.
Of course, there will be politics under any regime. Men (and women) of eminent station will jockey for place and power. But in representative democracy we have politics within politics – politicians jockeying within every party, giving demagogues their chance.
“The peeple,” as I like to spell them, cannot be so well informed as their jockeys, and can be fooled by the manipulation of so-called “facts.” I am sometimes astounded by the extraordinary nonsense otherwise sane people spout in, e.g., public bars. This includes the notion that “liberty” and “equality” are interchangeable goods. Or that perpetual deficit spending can end well.
But let me return to this question of God. And here I am not speaking of true faith, but mere belief. It is sometimes said that democratic capitalism, or socialism, or any other ideological principle, “would work if men were angels.” I oppose this cliché. I do not think they would work with angels, either.
Here is where the Christian – and the Catholic Christian, par excellence – must be on his guard. The obedience he has promised is not to a cause. It is rather subjection to TRUTH, on which topic there can be no voting. And that truth can belong to no faction. It can only belong to – guess Who?
Yet even in our world of political factions, truth is not equally shared. One party will not be as religious as the other. Let me express this more plainly.
In every polity in which I have lived – and I have lived in several – there is the usual two-headed monster. One party, or more, will be colloquially regarded as “to the right,” one or more “to the left,” with a fiery shifting trench between them.
Yes, there are “independent voters,” who swing most elections, but these are invariably the least informed. Those with any brains to use, by environment or heredity, will long since have decided which side they are on. Those between are clueless.
But here is the interesting thing. This divide is essentially religious. While there may be some self-consciously “devout” people on both sides (until comes the revolution) – their ultimate priorities will not be the same.
Historically, in the West, one easily spots the division. Take Olde England, where the Tory faction was from the beginning labeled as the “church party,” against the Whigs who considered themselves to be “emancipated.” The latter were a monied, aristocratic party, the more profane and at ease with “enlightened self-interest,” less patient with “tradition.”
A heritage comes from that, not only in the English-speaking countries. The instinct to be more conservative, to resist change, is pitted against an instinct to be more liberal and change things. Of course, personal self-interest is, as we are all human, seldom neglected on either side.
I am not under the illusion that your Trump gentleman is a devout Catholic, though it interests me that in his position, he makes ever more explicitly Christian noises. They are “dog whistle” from his enemies’ point-of-view. But even a tiny fraction of sincerity let him come out of the Mueller investigation, politically intact.
Truth will out, eventually.
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.
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