Progress You Can Wait On

I overheard the pitcher for the Astros talking about how much the baseball has changed over the course of his life in an interview with the press. I am not a fan of baseball, but what he was saying made plenty of sense. He said that on the one hand you have manufacturers saying the balls are just the same as they have always been, and on the other you have many players saying the new baseballs are different.

What stood out to me about this is that this is the reality of progress. While we in the modern world insist that life is better than it was in the past because we have this or that technology, this or that reform, this or that institution, every step along the way has meant sacrificing something in exchange for the new.

This is not just the case with technology either. We have come to live in a world where we are always acclimating to the policies, advice, technology, scientific findings, food sources, and education that is being constructed for us. AS a Catholic, I can point to the clear reality of Vatican II as just one such case, and many of the attempts inside the Church to modernize the whole institution. Outside of the Church, I can point to a mother who told a progressive professor of mine in college that she is struggling to keep up with all of the new technology out there. One has to wonder when all of this will stop, or are we forever doomed to maintain this rate of change simply because we content ourselves with lies about the Middle Ages  and the rest of history.

All I can say it is exhausting and we should wonder why we are so proud to be alive when we are dependent on forces at compelled almost strictly for profit and power.


On Pope Pius XII’s humility

In public, my uncle wanted to always look perfect, impeccable. He represented the Church, feeling a high sense of this supreme dignity. His behavior and his clothes, outwardly, were impeccable as that of a sovereign. But in fact he was very poor. After his death, we discovered that his kit bedding was poor: only had three shirts, worn and patched, which changed often starched cuffs because, as you could see. He had two or three pairs of shoes that was continually adjusted and resoled. During the war years he gave everything he had to the poor, all the money he received. When he died, he left nothing to anyone, because he had nothing. As we all were able to see by observing the photographs published after his death, he slept in a room bare, on a cot iron.”

On the Roman Mass

Michael Davis does a fine job of elucidating the history of the Mass of the Roman Rite without a hint of bias or irony. He is quite straight forward so far as I can tell.

What I took to heart from reading this book was that the codification of the Mass by St. Pius V was the eventuality of the Council of Trent, which was the Church’s most significant and formal response to the Reformation. The Mass was meant to prevent Catholic liturgy from becoming infused with novelties and disparity that already existed to some degree. It was meant to put into rubrics the theology of the Church which must forever contest any and all other theologies.

Secondly, it is the oldest form of Christian worship around. I have been told that if I want old liturgy, I should just become Orthodox. Turns out, the Tridentine Mass is older because all it’s prayers and the canon itself originated from the earliest days of Christian life after Christ’s death.

Lastly, I was reminded that St. Pius V actually did leave the possibility for other rites to exist, so long as they had been practiced for more than 200 years.

All this clarifies what a stark difference there has been in the history of the Church with Vatican II as the divider between.

Tru Azz Conservatism

From a source I have fallen away from reading lately, The American Conservative, here relayed as the positions of the anti-federalists:

They insisted on the importance of a small political scale, particularly because a large expanse of diverse citizens makes it difficult to arrive at a shared conception of the common good and an overly large scale makes direct participation in political rule entirely impracticable if not impossible. They believed that laws were and ought to be educative, and insisted upon the centrality of virtue in a citizenry. Among the virtues most prized was frugality, and they opposed an expansive, commercial economy that would draw various parts of the Union into overly close relations, thereby encouraging avarice, and particularly opposed trade with foreign nations, which they believed would lead the nation to compromise its independence for lucre. They were strongly in favor of “diversity,” particularly relatively bounded communities of relatively homogeneous people, whose views could then be represented (that is, whose views could be “re-presented”) at the national scale in very numerous (and presumably boisterous) assemblies. They believed that laws were only likely to be followed when more or less directly assented to by the citizenry, and feared that as distance between legislators and the citizenry increased, that laws would require increased force of arms to achieve compliance. For that reason, along with their fears of the attractions of international commerce and of imperial expansion, they strongly opposed the creation of a standing army and insisted instead upon state-based civilian militias. They demanded inclusion of a Bill of Rights, among which was the Second Amendment, the stress of which was not on individual rights of gun ownership, but collective rights of civilian self-defense born of fear of a standing army and the temptations to “outsource” civic virtue to paid mercenaries.

A lot of what I’ve read about Distributism echoes much mentioned here. Distrubitism seeks to distribute power as widely as possible, discouraging it’s coalescing into a central authority or bureaucracy. I am willing to bet if the right followed the tract initiated by the Anti-federalists above, the country would look a lot different, be a lot fairer, and most people would lean right as well.

More to the point of what I said on an earlier date about conservatives being definable as those willing to admit and respond to life’s tragic character, the article puts this fact in another light, namely the recognition of the law of unintended consequences.


…there is the conservative disposition, one articulated perhaps most brilliantly by Russell Kirk, who described conservatism above all not as a set of policy positions, but as a general view toward the world. That disposition especially finds expression in a “piety toward the wisdom of one’s ancestors,” a respect for the ancestral that only with great caution, hesitancy, and forbearance seeks to introduce or accept change into society. It is supremely wary of the only iron law of politics—the law of unintended consequences (e.g., a few conservatives predicted that the introduction of the direct primary in the early 1900’s would lead to increasingly extreme ideological divides and the increased influence of money in politics. In the zeal for reform, no one listened). It also tends toward a pessimistic view of history, more concerned to prevent the introduction of corruption in a decent regime than driven to pursue change out a belief in progress toward a better future.

“The kingdom is at hand.” “Read the signs.” Do you see the language I’m playing with here? I love this messianic concept that’s explored by some of the European philosophers. As the Silicon Valley technocrats might put it, “We’ve got it all figured out. It’s all perfect now. We’re all progressing towards it. Once we balance the equation, everything will just be perfect. There will be no more suffering; there will be no more evil. It will be the end.” That’s precisely the blasphemy maniacs like me utterly and completely reject. – John Maus

Dorothy Day, briefly, on Usury

“The Money is Not Ours”

City Treasurer: Dear Sir,

We are returning to you a check for $3,579.39 which represents interest on the $68,700 which we were awarded by the city as payment for the property at 223 Chrystie Street, which we owned and lived in for almost ten years, and used as a community for the poor. We did not voluntarily give up the property–it was taken from us by right of eminent domain for the extension of the subway which the city deemed necessary. We had to wait almost a year and a half for the money owed us, although the city permitted us to receive 2/3 of the assessed valuation of the property in advance so that we could re-locate. Property owning having been made impossible for us by city regulations, we are now renting and continuing our work.

We are returning the interest on the money we have recently received because we do not believe in “money-lending at interest.” As Catholics we are acquainted with the early teaching of the Church. All the early Councils forbade it, declaring it reprehensible to make money by lending it out at interest. Canon law of the Middle Ages forbade it and in various decrees ordered that profit so obtained was to be restored. In the Christian emphasis on the duty of charity, we are commanded to lend gratuitously, to give freely, even in the case of confiscation, as in our own case–not to resist but to accept cheerfully.

We do not believe in the profit system, and so we cannot take profit or interest on our money. People who take a materialistic view of human service which to make a profit but we are trying to do our duty by our service without wages to our brothers as Jesus commanded in the Gospel (Matthew 25). Loaning money at interest is deemed by one Franciscan as the principal scourge of civilization. Eric Gill, the English artist and writer, calls usury and war the two great problems of our time.

Since we deal with these problems in every issue of THE CATHOLIC WORKER since 1933–man’s freedom, war and peace, man and the state, man and his work, and since Scripture says that the love of money is the root of all evil, we are taking this opportunity to live in practice of this belief, and make a gesture of overcoming that love of money by returning to you the interest.

Insofar as our money paid for services for the common good, and aid to the poor, we should be very happy to allow you to use not only our money without interest, but also our work, the works of mercy which we all perform here at the headquarters of THE CATHOLIC WORKER without other salary or recompense than our daily food and lodging, clothes, and incidental expenses.

Insofar as the use of our money paid for the time being for salaries for judges who have condemned us and others to jail, and for the politicians who appointed them, and for prisons, and the execution chamber at Sing Sing, and for the executioner’s salary–we can only protest the use of our money and turn with utter horror from taking interest on it.

Please also be assured that we are not judging individuals, but we are trying to make a judgment on THE SYSTEM under which we live and in which we admit that we ourselves compromise daily in many small ways, but which we try and wish to withdraw from as much as possible.

Sincerely yours,


Editor, The Catholic Worker


You Think It’s Easy, But You’re Wrong

The real difference between a conservative and a liberal is not so much how traditional a person is. A correlation exists, yes, but many liberals are happy to maintain certain traditions in their own life and suggest broader populations enjoy those same or other traditions. Many liberals support traditions but call them culture, and they are especially suggestive of supporting these cultures when they belong to minorities or disadvantaged people.

Many conservatives are not religious, and many who are still find themselves saying they see nothing wrong with this or that group being afforded the “rights” they believe they deserve to have.

So the difference must be made along some other characteristic. Best I can tell at the moment, that characteristic is a optimistic belief about human nature. Liberals affirm such a belief. Now many will tell you they admit and know of a lot of evil and wrongdoings. They know that human beings are capable of grave harm, they know people shoot up masses of people, rob, lend for profit (yes, usury is still a sin), start wars, and so on. But that is not the same thing as believing human nature has a certain inclination towards evil. For this reason, I’d say even many conservatives are liberal. Christianity has become a means by which such optimism has been passed on and embraced. Christ has redeemed us, by His blood we are saved, God has already forgiven us and so on and so forth. Christianity, for these, means that one has no reason to suspect human beings are capable of such grave evil that they may do it as easily as waking up in the morning. Again, admission is not the benchmark. Plenty Christians admit to much evil, but at root, they believe human beings are inclined to behavior for the better.

And of course many people who are not Christian are optimistic about human nature. Some because they’ve been privileged enough to see so many examples of positive behavior, others because they have no faith in anything and consequently cling to the idea that people are capable of good and mostly want to do good. Still others accept such an idea because it’s popular and they’ve never really experienced enough to contradict it.

The motives are still more, but the point is that these people are liberal and find a value in being optimistic about human behavior, the interaction of corporations and the public, the policies of our governments and their application by large bureaucracies, the ongoing involvement of our military in the conflicts of other countries, deregulating the market as well as human behavior in general. I don’t wish to inform any litmus test for all that a liberal thinks, but these are major points of contention between them and conservatives.

A conservative, however, regards human behavior with significant prudence and caution. It is not so much that they are even pessimistic about human behavior. It is not a matter of being pessimistic or optimistic — it is about being either when there is cause, that moderate quality being perfectly worded by the virtue of hope which is an admission of good constantly thwarted by and at odds with evil. Those with hope know the latter tragically often wins out. As a result, they don’t become blind to it and suddenly disregard evil in hopes of encouraging more good simply by being optimistic all the time, nor are they foolish enough to think that anything good comes from succumbing to despair. These people are rarely those who come off as cheery and easily excited. They’re more often balanced and even tempered. They are weighing the good against the bad in any given situation.

Because they must always weigh things, they hold on to their traditions. They believe that something once good may never happen again, so it is best to maintain a form to once again produce the substance. This is one reason the Sunday obligation is more or less common sense and why daily mass is encouraged. Secularly, this is why people suggest to addicts and the lethargic routinizing their days.

Now, the distinction between conservatives and liberals that I have pointed out cannot be compared to any current understanding of how we are politically divided. I would argue that many people who I’d say are conservative identify as liberal. Nonetheless, liberals often support the things they do because they believe there can come no harm from them. Divorce, the right to marry, abortion, greater progress in the sciences and technology, workers rights, etc. are all agreeable to the liberal because these things bring overall good and only a negligible amount of bad. This is the precise way of looking at gentrification that I’ve heard from anyone not bewildered and distraught by it. Neighborhoods improve, they argue. I’ve also heard it from people about legalizing drugs. All of these things the liberal mind views as an expansion on human liberty that works for the better.

Hopefully I’ve made it clear how I would differentiate a liberal from a conservative. At the end of the day, a conservative may support many of the same things as liberals, but the reasoning is different. For this reason, we cannot, again, understand these frameworks based on how the terms are applied demographically in our current society.

Now the distinction may seem arbitrary to some, but given the name of this blog, I think a little more credit is due to conservatives. Over the last few years, perhaps since I saw Sicario, I’ve really been struggling — more like King David as he wrote psalms, not as an actor with drugs and fame — with the fact that I simply do find the more darker and tragic art more fulfilling. I won’t walk any present audience through that journey, but I can say that at the current moment I feel evermore with the day that tragic art and recognizing as well as embracing the tragedy in life is what people need to do. Maybe at all times, but, if not, especially now. The tragic provokes change while the joyful embraces the current reality. This acceptance of life’s inherent harrowing, heartbreaking, and hapless tendencies comes with a temperament and outlook that I’ve come to associate with conservatives. The whole nation has leaned left and lost this temperament and outlook. We think so highly of science, politicians, the wealthy, technology, capitalism (meaning economic actors acting without intervention), plenty of other systems too, and every other ideal we pursue. It is daunting to see the amount of faith people put in everything from an iphone to a BLM march. It doesn’t seem to make any difference what we’re cheering for, because we’re obsessed with the cheering. Causes vary, but in the end we’ve lost that prudent, patient approach. For the fact, we are thanked by conditions that worsen in all the expected ways and a few we didn’t foresee.

One of Joseph Sobran’s pieces raised the project of asking the Liberal, firstly, what kind of society would they be a conservative in — in what kind of society would a liberal believe we’ve settled in to a good place that we oughtn’t mess with too quickly. I don’t think anyone can say “Ah yes, our current society, of course,” but anyone who gives an answer to the question would inevitably hinge that ideal society’s perfection on it’s flexibility and ability to change, progress, and update. Broadly speaking, this means we can never say we want a society in which the average person really does have their say because the average person cannot effect the sweeping changes that the progress-minded want to see. More personally, it means we will always struggle with one another and our world like actors and singers trying to get used to a fleeting brush of success.