I’m working on a post right now about Pope Francis’ much discussed comments on economics from Gaudium Evangelii (I know I’m a little late to the game, but I can’t help but jump in). It will be ready in a few days, God willing. In the meanwhile, I ran across a couple of things in James Taranto’s column in Friday's Wall Street Journal Online that dovetail nicely with the some of the themes in the Pope Francis post, so this can serve as a sort of introduction to the upcoming piece.
Let me start with a caveat: I’m not much interested in writing about Politics per se, but there is an inevitable overflow of secular politics into the cultural and religious issues that I am concerned with. So also with the terms “liberal” and “conservative”, which refer to secular political categories, and do not properly apply within the Church; unfortunately, I have no better terms handy right now. Also, there is a real relationship between those who are political liberals and those who take a “liberal” stance in the Church. In any case, I will be using the terms to refer to broad outlooks, or worldviews, rather than specific policy preferences.
All right, first item. We start with Bill de Blasio, newly sworn in mayor of New York and a hard leftist, perhaps even an actual Marxist (he and his wife spent their honeymoon in the paradise known as Castro’s Cuba). It seems that after a heavy snow earlier in the week the municipal snow plows somehow missed the Upper East Side, one of the wealthier sections of NYC. There was a suspicion in many quarters that the mayor was playing hardball with “the 1%”. At first, the mayor and his aides denied that there was anything wrong; after a couple of days, however, the mayor said “I determined more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side,” and he ordered the Department of Sanitation to “double-down on cleanup efforts.” As Taranto comments, “he can’t afford to alienate the people who make up a large proportion of the city’s tax base and a significant share of its Democratic political base.” Most of the affluent denizens of the Upper East Side, in other words, were fellow liberals who had been his backers.
Second quote. Todd Zywicki, in a post on the Volokh Conspiracy, is explaining an experiment conducted by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. As part of the experiment, liberals have to answer a series of questions from what they believe to be the conservative position, conservatives must answer the same questions from what they believe to be the liberal position. The result, as summed up by Zywicki: “moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to understand the conservative worldview.” He quotes a friend to the effect that “Conservatives think liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people.”
I considered myself a liberal for many years, and these characterizations ring true with my experience; like many other people I know, after I returned to the Church I found it impossible to maintain my liberal loyalties. At first, I could no longer justify supporting candidates who favored legal abortion; after that, the spell was broken and I found that so much of the liberal agenda simply did not stand up to the test of faith and reason. I found that much of the liberal worldview is a myth, and to question any part of the myth threatens the whole structure. I still remembered what I believed as a liberal, but I could also see where it went wrong.
In any case, that explains what happened to Bill de Blasio: he really believed that wealthy New Yorkers were the Republican Plutocrats of liberal legend, when in fact they had supported him with their money and their votes. Obamacare is another prime example: the President and his supporters really seemed to believe that all they had to do was to pass a law saying that everyone would be covered, exclusions for pre-existing conditions eliminated, premiums lowered for everyone and somehow, in spite of the laws of economics and human nature, it would work, simply because their intentions were good. That’s also why, in order to maintain their myth, liberals need to shut down any voices that might expose it to the light of reality, even trying to make disagreement with their views illegal, as they are doing in the case of “gay marriage” (see also my post on Religious Freedom in Maine).
As I said at the outset, my purpose is not to discuss secular politics. I mention all this because a similar mindset prevails among those who style themselves “liberals” in the Church, and comparisons to secular liberalism can cast some light. There are some important differences however, chief among them being this: secular politics, while ultimately tested against reality (see Obamacare, above), is composed in very large part of differences in opinion, of different interests and perspectives. And that’s completely legitimate. Magisterial Church teaching, on the other hand, is not a matter of opinion: it is the Deposit of Faith as handed down by the Apostles, and to reject it is to break communion and no longer be Catholic. “Liberals” opposed to Church teaching, therefore, don’t simply need to silence their antagonists (although they certainly try to do so when they can), they need to invoke genuine authority to support their position (even when it really doesn't support them), often theologians (including even St. Thomas Aquinas, link) . . . sometimes even the Pope. Which is where we’ll pick up the story when I return to this topic.