The Ascent

On May 13, 2010, in Culture, History, Politics, Religion, by marc

One of the most famous chapters in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is titled “The Ascent.”  The chapter is included in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, and I excerpt this portion for you:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn during his years as a Zek

Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings.  What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary to me.  But just as the waves of the sea knock the inexperienced swimmer off his feet and keep tossing him back onto the shore, so also was I painfully tossed back on dry land by the blows of misfortune.  And it was only because of this that I was able to travel the path which I had always really wanted to travel.

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good.  In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel.  In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor.  In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.  And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that  I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.  This line shifts.  Inside us, it oscillates with the years.  And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.  And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).  It is impossible to expel evil from the world it its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well).  And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.

The Nuremberg Trials have to be regarded as one of the special achievements of the twentieth century: They killed the very idea of evil, though they killed very few of the people who had been infected with it.  (Of course, Stalin deserves no credit here.  He would have preferred to explain less and shoot more.)  And if by the twenty-first century humanity has not yet blown itself up and has not suffocated itself – perhaps it is this direction that will triumph?

Yes, and if it does not triumph – then all humanity’s history will have turned out to be an empty exercise in marking time, without the tiniest mite of meaning!  Whither and to what end will we otherwise be moving?  To beat the enemy over the head with a club – even cavemen knew that.

“Know thyself!”  There is nothing that so aids and assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes.  After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: “So were we any better?”

When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast?  Firmer in our thoughts?”

And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!

Without Marx or Jesus by Jean-François Revel

Without Marx or Jesus by Jean-François Revel

In light of the fact that Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia turned out to be the most fantastic political book I’ve read in a very long time, and the first book that I read cover-to-cover without interruption from another book since forever, I decided to see if I could pick up one of Revel’s earlier works to explore his thought a bit more.  Thanks to Amazon Marketplace, I now have a copy of  1970′s Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution has Begun, in which Revel argued – very much against the current of the times – that the only nation in which true revolution could occur anymore was the United States.  I’m still waiting to figure out what he means by the title, but I do see that the anti-totalitarianism that marked Utopia is very much present in this earlier book.  A sample:

For the past fifty years, every road seems to have led to increased socialism.  Every road, that is, except the socialist road.  And the reason is obvious.  The purpose of the second world revolution is to create real equality among men, and to give men the political means to decide for themselves on the great matters affecting their destiny.  Therefore, the concentration of all power – political, economic, military, technological, judicial, constitutional, cultural, and informational – in the hands of an oligarchy, or even, in certain cases (Stalin, Tito, Castro), of an autocracy must be the method least likely to lead to such a revolution.  And, in fact, what happens under these oligarchies and autocracies is that the oligarchs and the autocrats become more and more entrenched in their positions of power, and the solutions that society expects from them are more and more rarely forthcoming.  For, unfortunately, the qualities necessary to acquire power (even heroically) and to exercise power (even ineffectively) are not the same as the qualities necessary to resolve the problems of modern society.  The result is that, as authority increases, competence decreases. And since no amount of criticism seems able to halt either the increase of the former or the decrease of the latter, society is becoming more and more dominated and less and less governed.  In such a predicament, the question of whether one social system is better or worse than another becomes a matter of purely academic interest.

It strikes me as I type that paragraph that the bolded section could be a commentary on the problems in the American political system in the 21st century.  We have politicians who are fantastic campaigners, skilled in the art of “retail politics,” but who lack the principles and the experience and the restraint that would allow them to become actual effective leaders.  Not to mention that the people often fail to recognize this fact, at least until it is far too late.  Hence – Barack Obama.

Last Exit To Utopia

On April 10, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

U·to·pi·a [yoo-toh-pee-uh]- noun - an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. The opposite of dystopia.
ORIGIN based on Greek ou not + tóp(os) a place

Last Exit to Utopia

Last Exit to Utopia by Jean-François Revel

Note, dear reader, the origin of the term “utopia”: the Greek root indicates that utopia is, literally, nowhere.  It is not a place.  It does not exist.  Sir Thomas More, who first used the term, certainly never considered such a place to be realistically possible.  And the truth of the matter is that anyone remotely acquainted with the reality of human nature and history must admit that we do not live in a perfect world, and that such a place is impossible to create.

Anyone, that is, besides leftist intellectuals and politicians, who continue to insist – against the overwhelming evidence of history – that socialism can work, that indeed it must work!  They argue, in spite of all the plain evidence against them, that socialist solutions are more efficient and equitable than market solutions, and that the classical liberal system that has created the most vibrant societies and powerful economies in world history should be at least reined in and subjected to strict scrutiny, and at most outright replaced by a “more humane” socialist system.

Jean-François Revel was a French intellectual, a member of the Académie française, and one of the greatest French political philosophers of the 20th century, at least in the seemingly small branch of 20th century French political philosophy that wasn’t completely enamored of totalitarian schemes.  Prior to his death in 2006, he penned a book called Le Grande Parade, which has now been translated into English and re-titled Last Exit to Utopia, in which he exposes the intellectual and moral failure of leftist intellectuals who have served as apologists for the brutal communist regimes that brought misery and death to millions in the last century, and examines the project that was undertaken by the left after the fall of communism to rehabilitate Marxist and socialist ideas.

Anthony Daniels – AKA Theodore Dalrymple – contributes a fantastic preface to the English edition of the work.  An excerpt:

As Jean-François Revel establishes very clearly in this book, the left-leaning intelligentsia’s long infatuation with the Soviet Union and other Communist countries was not merely an intellectual error but, if not quite a criem itself, at the very least complicity with crime; and moreover crime on a scale virtually unparalleled in human history before the Nazis came on the scene.  With very few honorable exceptions, the whole of the left-leaning intelligentsia devoted a great deal of its formidable powers of sophistry to denying or exculpating the crimes of Communism, thus siding with the mass executioners rather than with the victims in the mass graves.

When the moral, economic, social and philosophical failure of Communism was admitted in the land of its birth, the Western left-leaning intelligentsia found itself with a serious and embarrassing problem.  It stood revealed for all to see as having, for many years, been morally not very different from, and not any better than, M. Le Pen of the French National Front, who once famously (or infamously) declared that the Holocaust was nothing but a detail of history.  While it is relatively easy, especially as one grows older, to admit to having been in error, even in gross error, it is very difficult to admit to having been a willing accomplice to evil, and evil of the most obvious and evident kind.  As M. Ravel convincingly explains, this accounts for the difference in the reception in France of two magisterial books about Communism by French scholars, François Furet’s Le passé d’une illusion, and Stephane Courtois’s Le Livre noir du communisme.

The first deals with what might be called the fashion for Communism as an intellectual error.  Anyone can be mistaken in his philosophy, and few people never change their philosophy in the light of experience and further reflection.  (An unchanging person would be suffering from what a medical friend of mine once called “a hardening of the concepts.”)  Therefore, however preposterous Marxism-Leninism might be as an intellectual system – “a farrago of nonsense,” as Professor Acton once called it – those who adhered to it do not stand convicted of wickedness or defect of character.  Hence Furet’s book, whose exposure of the errors of Communist doctrine could hardly be denied, was received respectfully and even with acclimation.

It was quite otherwise with Livre noir.  This book showed implacably that evil was implicit in both the theory and the practice of Communism, and that everywhere and anywhere it was tried, it resulted in the same appalling conduct of affairs, differing only as to scale.  Evil was in Communism’s DNA, as it were; and the crimes of Communist polities were not the result of a perversion of noble ideals, but were caused by the adoption of evil ideals.

Thus, those who espoused or sympathized with Communist ideals were convicted of harboring evil within themselves; and this is not an easy thing for people, especially those without a belief in original sin, to accept.  Courtois’s book was roundly condemned, therefore, by France’s left-leaning intelligentsia; and since it could not actually point to any serious factual errors contained in this massive work of scholarship, it resorted to defamation and the raising of smokescreens, such as that the book would bring relief and confort to the Front National.

Revel’s perspective seems to me a necessary antidote to the statist surge currently underway here in the United States.  Goodness knows this book is (unfortunately) on very few shelves among the current cadre of Washington “leaders.”  One can only hope the an electoral corrective is on the way, and that those who assume positions of power after the coming vote will take Ravel’s message to heart.

I was made aware of this book via a book review in the Wall Street Journal.  You can read it here.

A Revolution Without Parallel

On February 16, 2010, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

James Madison, writing in The Federalist #14, answering the objection that the new form of government proposed by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia is likely to fail due to the unprecedented nature of stitching together so large a republic:

James Madison (1751-1836)

Hearken not to the unnatural voice, which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many chords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable, and flourishing empire. Hearken not to the voice, which petulantly tells you, that the form of government recommended for your adoption, is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys. The kindred blood which flows in the veins of American citizens, the mingled blood which they have shed in defence of their sacred rights, consecrate their union, and excite horror at the idea of their becoming aliens, rivals, enemies. And if novelties are to be shunned, believe me, the most alarming of all novelties, the most wild of all projects, the most rash of all attempts, is that of rending us in pieces, in order to preserve our liberties, and promote our happiness. But why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected, merely because it may comprise what is new? Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to over-rule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? To this manly spirit, posterity will be indebted for the possession, and the world for the example, of the numerous innovations displayed on the American theatre, in favour of private rights and public happiness. Had no important step been taken by the leaders of the revolution, for which a precedent could not be discovered; no government established of which an exact model did not present itself, the people of the United States might, at this moment, have been numbered among the melancholy victims of misguided councils; must at best have been labouring under the weight of some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind. Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. They formed the design of a great confederacy, which it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate. If their works betray imperfections, we wonder at the fewness of them. If they erred most in the structure of the union, this was the work most difficult to be executed; this is the work which has been new modelled by the act of your convention, and it is that act on which you are now to deliberate and to decide.

I submit that it is incumbent upon our generation to see that representative, limited government and real federalism are restored.  Our founders bequeathed unto us a system designed to protect the rights of individuals and the prerogatives of the several states.  For too long, we have lived under the illusion that the national government can solve all of our problems and ease all of our difficulties.  We have ceded too much of our liberty to the political class; it is high time that we stand and say “no more.”

Last week, I purchased my copy of The Federalist, one of those books that I considered essential for my library, and did so in honor of the people of Massachusetts, who, in electing Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate, may have managed to save the Republic from the horrors of socialized health care.  (I should note that the entire Gideon Edition of The Federalist is available for download here if you’re interested.)  I’ve plowed through most of the introductory material, but tonight I decided that it was time to commence reading the actual work of Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, 1755-1804

The Federalist No. 1 was penned by Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the man who would go on to serve as the first Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s presidential administration.  I was struck by this passage, which describes the nature of at least some of the debate common at the time over the adoption of the then-proposed US Constitution:

To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts, by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government, will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of power, and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice . . . the stale bait for popularity at the expense of public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearances of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people . . . commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

It strikes me that the situation is reversed today.  Whereas Hamilton had to fight to overcome the suspicions of a population very concerned about the potential creation of an intrusive and too-powerful federal government, we must now fight against the desire of many to cede their liberty to a federal government that is all too willing to pretend that it can provide everything for everyone.  One wonders what the Founders would think were they able to see what has become of the Republic they worked so hard to build and the citizens whose liberty they strove so mightily to protect.

A Quick Hit from Hayek

On January 29, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

The Road to Serfdom, page 174:

…wherever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.

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Tending Towards Totalitarianism

On January 19, 2010, in Culture, Economics, History, Politics, by marc

In honor of the most important by-election in the history of the Unites States of America, I picked up Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom once again.  As usual with this book, I almost immediately ran across a passage worth quoting:

The Road To Serfdom

The Road To Serfdom

No doubt an American or English “Fascist” system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leader.  And, if I had to live under a Fascist system, I have no doubt that I would rather live under one run by Englishmen or Americans than under one run by anybody else.  Yet all this does not mean that, judged on our present standards, our Fascist system would in the end prove so very different or much less intolerable than its prototypes. There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of the existing totalitarian systems are not accidental by-products but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce. Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism.  Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from a liberal regime, the utter difference between the whole moral atmosphere under collectivism and the essentially individualist Western civilization.

Emphasis mine.  We are currently ruled by a collection of miniature tyrants who believe that they can plan our economic life and have little concern for individual liberty.  Today’s election in Massachusetts is an opportunity to discipline said tyrants and send the message that the citizens may be ready to reassume control over their own lives.  I’m hoping and praying for a Scott Brown win, and ultimately a resurgence of individual liberty in the country that did more to bring that concept to the world than any other.

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Books I Really Should Have

On December 1, 2009, in Books I'd Like, General, by marc

“Liberal Fascist Economics”

On November 18, 2009, in Culture, Economics, Politics, by marc

One of the best – and creepiest – books I’ve read in the last year and a half was Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. I recall being very unnerved, perhaps surprisingly, by the chapter on economics.  A taste:

In Nazi Germany, businesses proved their loyalty to the state by being good “corporate citizens,” just as they do today.  the means of demonstrating this loyalty differed significantly, and the moral content of the different agendas was categorical.  Indeed, for the sake of argument, let us concede that what the Nazi regime expected of “good German businesses” and what America expects of its corporate leaders differed enormously.  That doesn’t change some important fundamental similarities.

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

Consider, for example, the largely bipartisan and entirely well-intentioned Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, celebrated everywhere as a triumph of “nice” government.  The law mandated that businesses take a number of measures, large and small, to accommodate customers and employees with various handicaps.  Offices had to be retrofitted to be wheelchair compliant.  Various public signs had to be written in Braille.  Devices to aid the hearing impaired had to be made available.  And so on.

Now imagine you are the CEO of Coca-Cola.  Your chief objection to this law is that it will cost you a lot of money, right?  Well, not really.  If you know that the CEO of Pepsi is going to have to make the same adjustments, there’s really no problem for you.  All you have to do is add a penny – or really a fraction of a penny – to the cost of a can of Coke.  Your customers will carry the freight, just as Pepsi’s customers will.  The increase won’t cost you market share, because your price compared with your competitor’s has stayed pretty much the same.  Your customers probably won’t even notice the price hike.

Now imagine that you own a small, regional soft drink company.  You’ve worked tirelessly toward your dream of one day going eyeball-to-eyeball with Coke or Pepsi.  Proportionally speaking, making your factories and offices handicapped-friendly will cost you vastly more money, not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of the bureaucratic legal compliance costs (Coke and Pepsi have enormous legal departments; you don’t).  Plans to expand or innovate will have to be delayed because there’s no way you can pass on the costs to your customers.  Or imagine you’re the owner of an even smaller firm hoping to make a play at your regional competitors.  But you have 499 employees, and for the sake of argument, the ADA fully kicks in at 500 employees.  If you hire just one more, you will fall under the ADA.  In other words, hiring just one thirty-thousand-dollar-a-year employee will cost you millions.

The ADA surely has admirable intent and legitimate merits.  But the very nature of such do-gooding legislation empowers large firms, entwines them with political elites, and serves as a barrier to entry for smaller firms.  Indeed, the penalties and bureaucracy involved in even trying to fire someone can amount to guaranteed lifetime employment.  Smaller firms can’t take the risk of being forced to provide a salary in perpetuity, while big companies understand that they’ve in effect become “too big to fail” because they are de facto arms of the state itself.

Remember, this was all written well before stimulus- and bailout-mania, or the effective nationalization of GM and Chrysler.  There are certainly lessons in this passage for those on the right and the left – Republicans have a nasty habit of using the state to advance their interests, too.  But examining the current political philosophies popular across the spectrum, one has to note that when those on the right try to utilize the government to advance their agenda, they are usually acting hypocritically, because at least in theory, they believe in limited government and checks and balances.  In contrast, when leftists use the power of the state to push their agenda, they are actually following their principles. And that’s really what we’re seeing right now – the left has control of the levers of power in Washington DC, and is using the mechanisms of government to entrench and empower themselves, often at the expense of our individual liberty and well-being (as in the health care debate).

Lord Acton reminded us that power tends to corrupt; as responsible citizens, we need to remember that axiom when we vote, and must guard against the tendency to leave things we could – or should – do ourselves to people in Washington, or the state capitol, or anywhere else.

This reminds me – I need to dig back into Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and pull some quotes from him about the dangers of economic planning…

Herman Bavinck, from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 – Prolegomena. The following passage is from Chapter 2 – The Method and Organization of Dogmatic Theology:

Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck

The assertion that the religious and moral human being is autonomous is always linked with either deism or pantheism. Deism makes human beings independent of God and the world, teaches the all-sufficiency of reason, and leads to rationalism. Pantheism, on the other hand, teaches that God discloses himself and comes to self-consciousness in human beings and fosters mysticism. both destroy objective truth, leave reason and feeling, the intellect and the heart, to themselves, and end up in unbelief or superstition. Reason criticizes all revelation to death, and feeling gives the Roman Catholic as much right to picture Mary as the sinless Queen of Heaven as the Protestant to oppose that belief. It is therefore noteworthy that Holy Scripture never refers human beings to themselves and the epistemic source and standard of religious truth. How, indeed, could it, since it describes the “natural” man as totally darkened and corrupted by sin in his intellect (Ps. 14:3; Rom.1:21-23; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 4:23; Gal. 1:6, 7; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8), in his heart (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Mark 7:21), in his will (John 8:34; Rom. 7:14; 8:7; Eph. 2:3), as well as in his conscience (Jer. 17:9; 1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12; 10:28; 1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15)? For the knowledge of truth Scripture always refers us to objective revelation, to the word and instruction that proceeded from God (Deut. 4:1; Isa. 8:20; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:19; etc.). And where the objective truth is personally appropriated by us by faith, that faith still is never like a fountain that from itself brings forth the living water but like a channel that conducts the water to us from another source.

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Pope Leo XIII (Papacy 1878-1903)

Rome, understanding perfectly well this impossibility of religious and moral autonomy, bound human beings to the infallible church on pain of losing the salvation of their souls. For Roman Catholic Christians the infallible church, and so in the final analysis the infallible pope, is the foundation of their faith. The words Papa dixit (the Pope has spoken) is the end of all back talk. History teaches, however, that this theoretical and practical infallibility of the church has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition, not only in the churches of the Reformation but inside the Roman Catholic Church as well. It is not unbelievers primarily but the devout who have always experienced this power of the hierarchy as a galling bond to their conscience. Throughout the centuries there has not only been scientific, social and political resistance but also deeply religious and moral opposition to the hierarchical power of the church. It simply will not do to explain this opposition in terms of unbelief and disobedience and intentionally to misconstrue the religious motives underlying the opposition of various sects and movements. No one has been bold enough to damn all these sects because they were moved to resist the church and its tradition. Even Rome shrinks from this conclusion. The extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church) is a confession that is too harsh for even the most robust believer. Accordingly, the “law” we see at work in every area of life is operative also in religion and morality. On the one hand, there is a revolutionary spirit that seeks to level all that has taken shape historically in order to start rebuilding things from the ground up. There is, however, also a false conservatism that takes pleasure in leaving the existing situation untouched simply because it exists and – in accordance with Calvin’s familiar saying – not to attempt to change a well-positioned evil (malum bene positum non movere). At the proper time everywhere and in every sphere of life, a certain radicalism is needed to restore balance, to make further development possible, and not let the stream of ongoing life bog down. In art and science, state and society, similarly in religion and morality, there gradually develops and mindless routine that oppresses and does violence to the rights of personality, genius, invention, inspiration, freedom, and conscience. But in due time there always arises a man or woman who cannot bear that pressure, casts off the yoke of bondage and again takes up the cause of human freedom and that of Christian liberty. These are the turning points of history. Thus Christ himself rose up against the tradition of the elders and returned to the law and the prophets. Thus one day the Reformation had the courage, not in the interest of some scientific, social, or political goal, but in the name of Christian humanity, to protest against Rome’s hierarchy. Frequently, even in the case of the sects and movements that later arose in the Protestant churches, that religious and ethical motive is undeniably present. So-called biblical theology also defends an important part of religious truth. When a church and theology prefer peace and quiet over struggle, they they themselves trigger the opposition that reminds them of their Christian calling and task. Rome, in the name of the case, can never approve of such opposition and has to condemn it in advance. The Reformation is itself the product of such opposition and cannot withhold from others what it assumed for itself. And Holy Scripture, thought far removed in spirit from all revolutionary resistance, nevertheless, in Peter’s regal statement “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29), legitimates the right to oppose every human decree that is contrary to the Word of God.

This passage especially caught my attention as I read today, most likely because on Saturday I attended my first Roman Catholic mass, which was part of a wedding ceremony for a family friend.  I have been struck for some time by the thought that Roman Catholicism is significantly different from the Reformed Protestant tradition in which I have been raised, so much so that I believe more and more that it is legitimate to refer to two entirely different religions – Christianity, which has Christ at the center and relies strictly on God’s word as the source of revelation, and Catholicism, which is much more oriented toward having the church itself as the object of religious devotion, or – in the best case scenario – some combination of Christ and the church, the Word and tradition.  From the Protestant perspective – at least of this protestant - the two systems are distinctly different, and not just over minor issues, but over the central issue of the Faith: and as such, it doesn’t make much sense to pretend that Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are simply different flavors of the same faith.  I’m glad to see that my thinking is at least in the same ballpark as such an eminent scholar as Herman Bavinck.