Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Charlie Jenkins
There are no easy answers.
Things are reaching the point where even many avowedly feel-good media sites can't help but notice how rapidly the Official Line on a given topic shifts from 'controversial' to 'It Is Decided, You May Not Dissent Or Else.' Some have even described it as 'creepy,' in spite of the fact that American political discourse (note: this is in no way implies political realities before the current time were not horrifying in their own ways) crossed the line from ‘creepy’ to ‘terrifying and Lovecraftian’ sometime back in the 1930s. This isn’t anything new: since the creation of our national media, American political consensus has always ricocheted rapidly from one position to the complete opposite without pause for breath or self-reflection.
Here are three examples:
-The Hollywood blacklist and McCarthyism. In the early 1950s it was considered subversive to criticize them; by the late 50s it was beyond the pale to even make a hint at possible support for them.
-In 1973 the countercultural consensus affirmed the Viet Cong was good and the North Viets were America’s friends. In 1975 they annexed the South of Vietnam and instituted mass terror there. The consensus immediately switched over to being anti-Viet and pro-Khmer Rouge.
-In 2002 the media was on the side of the War on Terror and the Afghan War. In 2003 they covered the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq breathlessly. Once the deed was done the consensus immediately switched over to the whole ‘Stop The War’ efforts.
The timing of these examples isn’t coincidental, either. During the 1950s the propaganda machines constructed during the 1930s and 1940s reached the upper limit from which they have never since come down, having obtained a monopoly over the collective worldview of Americans. People lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, and the horrors of the previous decade were painted over with feel-good utopian dreams. Probably nothing demonstrates this better than Wernher von Braun (who used thousands of slave laborers at the Peenemünde test facility) designing the ‘Rocket to the Moon’ ride for Tomorrowland in Disneyland. His companion, Heinz Haber, received some perfunctory scrutiny, but who remembers that these days? This total detachment from reality is so pervasive that you have conservative commentators like Bill Whittle castigating the movie Tomorrowland as liberal propaganda. On what grounds? Well, because he went to Tomorrowland as a kid and “socialism” isn’t the way to that promise, “capitalism” is the way. This is essentially a mainstream figure in Conservatism.Inc explaining we need to defeat socialism to be able to achieve a sci-fi universe.
‘But the 60s counterculture! The SDS! The revivification of agonizing about fascism and the Holocaust!’
Well, just to focus on that last point, what was revivified during the 1960s was a sanitized and mythologized version of the Holocaust, just like the sanitized and mythologized versions of the war as whole. What people remember are Auschwitz and Anne Frank and Josef Mengele and Nuremberg and Wiesenthal, whereas the reality absolutely cannot be even *slightly* appreciated without the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Aktion Reinhard and the Trawniki men and the Ypatingasis būrys and the Odessa and Bucharest pogroms. Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau are two separate places, one a physical location in space and time, the other existing purely on the spiritual plane, in the realm of the Great Manichaean Struggle between Good and Evil.
So if the 60s and 70s were largely captured by a spirit of phony #wokeness, then consider what came next. I've heard many compare US politics in the 1930s as being far more similar to politics today than to the political atmosphere of the 1920s. And, extending that, there seems to be an idea that politics from roughly 1979 to 2003 bears more resemblance to the 1950s than to our current milieu. It was a more innocent age, before Gitmo or Abu Ghraib or Stop The War. The neocons actually had power, and weren’t mocked or reviled. Everyone lived in the shadow of Reagan and Brzezinski and the Gorbening and Yeltsining. It was the great age of US intervention and democracy-building, with interventions in Granada, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, both Iraqs, and Afghanistan. You had the UN-sponsored coalitions and protectorates not just in Bosnia and Kosovo, but in Cambodia, Somalia, and East Timor. The fall of apartheid, the fall of Suharto! The Oslo peace accords! The democratization of Africa and Latin America, the opening of China, reform in Russia! The End Of History!
But of course the Official Discourse Of Politics during this period was extremely naive and childish and full of, well, derp. It’s not just Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ and everything about Clinton; the 1992 campaigns had hardly anything to say about the Los Angeles riots, undoubtedly the most important event of that year. Joan Didion put it down as the Focus Group Effect, the attempt to make politics and public relations ~*~scientific~*~, and it’s no coincidence she was the one to come up with the term ‘Vichy Washington.'
The tide has turned again, and the 'halcyon' days are behind us. Instead there is the advent of insistence that “what the people want” is some kind of ‘political revolution’, whether Feeling the Bern, or, I don’t know, more free market reforms; getting 'back to the constitution' or something, and America appears on the verge of more 1960s and 70s- style #wokeness. Only the great Jacksonian beast that is American democracy appears to be bucking under the activists; yet, this isn’t the 1830s, this isn’t the 1930s, this isn’t the 1960s. This an era where the US has already achieved apex predator status, has no serious competition, but now has several centuries worth of technical glitches and declining social trust. At some point, that reality has to come home to roost – the question is, can the body politic believe in anything beyond themselves (individually or collectively) enough to transcend total nihilism when it does?
By Zeb Baccelli
Are we able to accept that at least a few dozen kids a year will have the desire and the will to commit mass murder against their peers, but will simply lack the means to carry it out? That’s the unspoken message I hear after every school shooting when the right calls for more armed guards and teachers and the left calls for more gun control. If these measures would reduce the body count (and that's a big “if” which remains to be proven), it would indeed be a welcome improvement on the current situation. But to me, the scariest part of these attacks is not that an attacker isn't killed more swiftly by school staff, or that an attacker doesn’t have to resort to a pipe bomb or plowing people down with a car. The scariest part is twenty years after Columbine we’re still raising kids who want to murder their classmates and likely die in the process. The February 14 attack in Parkland, Florida forces us to face this reality once again.
There are three levels where we can address social problems like school shootings: the causes, the enablers, and the preventers. Armed guards and teachers would be preventers. It's questionable whether armed teachers or guards are actually effective; Parkland did have one armed guard but he did not encounter the shooter during the attack. And having a plethora of adults able and ready to kill students at a moment’s notice would have numerous costs, not all financial. But even if it did work to prevent shooters from accomplishing much, is that enough? Are we alright with a couple kids a year coming that close to mass murder, but instead killed by staff in front of their classmates on school grounds?
So what about the enablers? Guns are the most visible one, but the school itself gathers hundreds of targets into one location. If we got rid of guns would these killers turn to pipe bombs, car ramming, knife attacks? In principle I have no objection to gun control, though I question the effectiveness of efforts to limit access to guns. But perhaps we should also think about decentralizing schooling and not having these visible targets exist in the first place.
This brings me to causes. Mental health issues are a common denominator with school shooters, but so is alienation both at school and at home. Again I'd suggest decentralizing schools and really radically revamping the school system to make it more humane. School staff act "in loco parentis," but for legal, cultural, and economic reasons they do not and cannot act like real parents. Your math teacher will not give you a shoulder to cry on or take you away from the other kids for a game of catch or an ice cream if they see something is wrong.
From a very young age we remove children from a familial environment and put them into an institutional one. Over half a kid’s waking hours are spent in this unnatural environment where the adults have a very limited responsibility to engage him on a superficial level, and where peers who have no responsibility or interest in his well-being have a far more dominant role in determining his socialization. It's an unhealthy and unnatural set up.
So when a child like the Parkland shooter acts weird and scary, the other kids make him a pariah and joke how he'll be the next shooter. The adults may have a parent-teacher conference or two, perhaps giving a detention if he acts out. At home the parents have been encouraged by the culture and simple human weakness to consign the raising of their child to the school, and the child's school life is opaque to them unless he is unusually talkative and self-aware. Meanwhile modern technology and recreation culture continue to drive a wedge between parents and children, and of course modern life fractures any larger community so everyone feels like the kid across the street is none of their business. Decentralizing schools and putting them back in the hands of parents and communities would help reform the social support network that catches kids suffering from mental illness and alienation before they reach the breaking point.
As a society we need to address these root causes, and as a party we should be looking for policies that enable and encourage solutions at the root. I strongly believe in policies that make schools smaller and closer to the parents and community. We need more charter schools, private schools, and homeschool cooperatives aided by the state in obtaining funding and resources. And for a public option, have decentralized neighborhood public schools rather than regional mega-schools.
by Anthony Resnick
Another mass shooting, and again in a school. Another round of recriminations. Another call for more gun control. And, as seems to be increasingly the case, another wave of tying the call for greater gun control to ridicule of those offering thoughts and prayers instead of joining the call for gun control.
Personally, I think greater regulation of firearms possession would be a good thing. I share the scorn for the NRA and the contempt for politicians who seem paralyzed by its political influence. However, tying these sentiments to a condemnation of the offering of thoughts and prayers is wrong and, ultimately, deeply destructive.
There are two general formulations to the anti-"thoughts and prayers" sentiment. The first is "forget thoughts and prayers, do something about our gun laws." This is mostly directed at Republican politicians who make public statements of thoughts and prayers but stand in the way of new gun control legislation, but it can also be directed at anyone offering thoughts and prayers instead of calling their legislators. The tying of offering thoughts and prayers to action on gun control legislation is a non sequitur. Nobody is claiming that the reason we shouldn't enact new gun laws is because thoughts and prayers are sufficient to reduce gun violence. Politicians oppose new gun laws because of a mixture of ideology and political calculation. That opposition should be met with persuasion and building political pressure on the other side of the equation, but everyone, regardless of their politics, should be encouraged to respond to tragedy with sympathy.
The second form of ridiculing "thoughts and prayers" is along the lines of "your thoughts and prayers literally do nothing." This is wrong for at least two reasons. First, it is based on a childish view of religion, as if the purpose of prayer is to bring about some earthly outcome. Second, even if you don't believe in a higher power, things like saying "please," "thank you," "good morning," and "I love you" also "literally do nothing", yet (for now) nobody is arguing that we should do away with basic human decency altogether.
The ridiculing of "thoughts and prayers" is not just wrong, but destructive. Several years ago, following the Senate's failure to pass gun control legislation inspired by the Sandy Hook school shooting, I wrote an essay arguing that the "politicization" of tragic events is appropriate. My argument then was that minimizing human suffering is an appropriate aim of public policy, and the wake of mass suffering is an appropriate time to talk about whether any changes in policy could have avoided or minimized that suffering. I stand by that argument, but it is incomplete. It is incomplete because it leaves out just how much of our world is beyond the reach of public policy, and how much power we have to collectively shape the world in ways that have nothing to do with who we elect and what laws they enact.
There is something deeply unhealthy about a country where, with such regularity, people are moved to kill as many of their fellow humans as possible. The many causes and symptoms of this sickness are far beyond the scope of this essay and far beyond my capabilities to diagnose, but responding to great suffering primarily with righteous condemnation strikes me as one of the symptoms of this sickness -- many magnitudes different from mass murder, but not entirely unrelated. I suspect that the "forget your thoughts and prayers" half of the formulation does more harm than the "pass better gun laws" could ever do good.
We need better gun laws. We need better mental health services. We need campaign finance reform that doesn't allow the side that's able to raise the most money to dominate a particular issue. But if our politics (in the broadest possible definition of that term) has decayed to the point that we cannot pursue those goals while putting everyone's basic humanity at the center of all that we do, then I despair for how far even the best laws can take us.
By Amar Patel
Since the beginning of humanity men and women have had to work. Our earliest ancestors hunted and gathered to survive. Scientists speculate the reason you want an afternoon nap so badly is because for far longer than farming has been a way of life, people would work all morning to obtain food after which they would feast around noon. They would follow this meal with a long nap. After the nap they would eat the remaining food and prepare to sleep for the night. Without refrigeration or cupboards they could store little foodstuffs for any length of time. This continued for many generations, imprinting the behavior into our DNA through natural selection.
Then came farming and domestication of animals. Along with consistent food sources we found ways to store grains which would ensure food through difficult crop seasons. This didn’t lessen the amount of work people did. It only changed it.
As society progressed and specialization began, other occupations sprouted up. Towns became cities and massive farms produced enormous amounts of food so that few people needed to work their own land and had non-agrarian jobs. It seems to me that the purpose of a job seems to be to do it long enough so you don’t have to do it anymore. Then you can rest and relax.
The thing about rest is you have to work first. Technology is driving society to a point where many people will not be able to find work and/or we just won’t need them to do it. It may not happen in our lifetimes, but I can conceive of a time where automation will relieve the necessity of labor. What then? Can we rest and relax all the time?
I think we need to address this future now. We need to educate people about S and S, solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity is the idea that we should act to benefit our common goals and interests. Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Currently our daily lives revolve around work that occupies most of our time and attention. We make money to support our families, obtain choice for entertainment, etc., but the main goal is to eventually retire and not work. What if the goal of work could be to create a better world around us? What if we could collectively agree that by improving our local community we would have a greater comfort than we could enjoy in our insulated bubble?
Unfortunately, I don’t think this could happen organically. Culture acts in exact opposition to both solidarity and subsidiarity. Despite technology allowing for greater connection between neighbors we end up with less. Look at the popularity of Netflix and similar binge streaming channels. I am guilty, like most, of entering a cave of entertainment on many nights where one show turns into four and I get to bedtime having accomplished nothing. My own children have built connections with their devices that rival relationships with peers. The world steps more into isolation while we all hunger for connection.
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals the American Solidarity Party could have with respect to these issues? They need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Limited. I propose that we should stick to the most centrist of issues and focus on local resource structuring. Three specific goals I would put forward are supporting of pregnant women through their delivery and for a transition time after birth, coordinating the efforts of local food banks and shelter to reduce hunger and homelessness, and provide after school support for poor children to improve educational prospects. We should be able to measure how many people are helped, how many people are contributing, and what cost it takes for the action to be implemented. The documentation of these results should be shared in order to promote similar action in other locales. None of these goals require massive capital outlay. They require volunteerism and the passion of hopefully a growing number of individuals who want to make a difference in their communities. The difference made would be relevant as it would target the neediest and most vulnerable of our neighbors. There should be hard targets set for how long programs have to take root. It would be acceptable to reassess timelines if agreement exists that original plans were too optimistic but dates should be set for goals to be completed.
If we could focus on these issues and make connections we could create the voice for solidarity by utilizing our communities to show subsidiarity in action. Make a difference in the neighborhood under the flag of ASP to really show others what we are about.
Ivan Illich, The Right to Useful Unemployment and Its Professional Enemies (Marion Boyars,1978; republished 1996)
by Dr. Stephen Beall
The life of Ivan Illich (1926-2002) is a bundle of contradictions. Born in Austria of a Croatian father and a Jewish mother, he pursued studies in histology and philosophy, theology and history. After completing a doctoral dissertation in Salzburg, he served as a Catholic priest in one of the poorest Puerto Rican neighborhoods of New York City. At age 30, he became the vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, but he lost that job a few years later for his support of Luis Marin’s Popular Democratic Party. In Mexico, he founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentacion (CIDOC), which simultaneously functioned as a language school for missionaries and a mecca for progressive intellectuals. Having attained the rank of monsignor, he resigned from the priestly ministry, although he still considered himself a priest. He completed his life as an itinerant professor in the United States and Europe. A missionary who distrusted missionaries, a cleric at odds with the clergy, an educator who despised educators, an intellectual who heaped scorn on ‘experts’, Illich would have been fun to have around the DDC. As it is, we must be content with reading his books, which are thankfully still in print.
The Right to Useful Unemployment is a short book (95 pages), which Illich composed as a postscript to one of his major works, Tools for Conviviality (1973). It reprises his thesis that industrial society has ‘disabled’ nearly all social classes by making them dependent on goods and services that they do not need or could make for themselves. Borrowing Marx’s distinction between exchange-value and use-value, he multiplies examples of commodities, such as automobiles and processed food, that have not only replaced, but virtually criminalized the unrestricted use and enjoyment of the human body, the soil, and community. The loss of these values is what Illich calls ‘modernized poverty’, and its negative ‘internalities’ strike much deeper and broader than the unequal distribution of wealth. While the super-rich and the desperately poor can unplug from consumerism, most of us are jerked like marionettes in the constant pursuit of imputed and artificial ‘needs’.
Illich saves most of his ammunition for the people who pull the strings. The villains of this piece are not the plump capitalists of classic leftist cartoons, but a vast array of ‘disabling professionals’, including educators, health-care providers, social workers, and scientists. Together with the apparatchiks of government and industry, our new patrons have acquired the power not only to package and distribute needless goods and services, but to proscribe and even ration them to their admiring and gullible clients. In the political sphere, the imputation of ‘needs’ leads to the creation of ‘rights’, such as the right to public transportation, which arises only when it is no longer possible to walk to the market or ride a bicycle to work. As such ‘rights’ proliferate, personal freedom and democratic control are reduced, since we must rely on technocrats to secure and regulate these new entitlements. Eventually, the professions themselves are absorbed into bureaucratic systems, which determine from a remote and mathematical perspective precisely what we ‘need’ and how much of it we can get. The evolution of health care is a perfect example of this dynamic.
Eventually, people are bound to notice that they are neither happier nor healthier in a world where rest, exercise, and a good diet require so much supervision. The disabling professions must therefore rely on a set of cultural controls to maintain their dominant position. One of these is the manipulation of language. Illich recalls a time when ‘problems’ was a word found mainly in textbooks of mathematics. Now it denotes any aspect of life that requires a technical ‘solution’, from production quotas to strained relationships. Readers will be able to add their own examples; I myself have witnessed the shift from ‘erudition’ to ‘productivity’ as the standard measure of scholarship. Manipulated language can be used to build a mansion of illusions, such as the ‘technological imperative’ (we *can* do x, therefore we *must* do x, in just this way) and the cult of academic credentials (which has descended to the absurdity of granting credit hours for ‘equivalent’ work experience). Last, but not least, there is the increasing identification of useful employment with holding a job or, worse yet, with pursuing a career. Employment no longer includes things like growing your own food, raising your own children, or building your own house. We have ‘people’ for that.
Illich’s style is rhetorical and pedagogical rather than organized and systematic. He often makes the same point in different ways, and so readers should be prepared to go with the flow and enjoy his memorable anecdotes and striking metaphors. Who better to illustrate our reliance on professionals than the obstetric nurse who pushed an emerging baby back in the womb because ‘Dr. Levy has not yet arrived’? As an example of Illich’s language, let the following quotation suffice: ‘People are told they need their jobs, not so much for the money as for the services they get. The commons are extinguished and replaced by a new placenta built of funnels that deliver professional services. Life is paralyzed in permanent intensive care.’
Illich’s analysis will resonate with members of the American Solidarity Party, particularly those who have been involved in the recent battles over leadership and branding. We have our own version of ‘credentialism’, which goes hand in hand—not coincidentally, from Illich’s perspective—with a preference for centralized and bureaucratic policies. When a JD or Master’s degree (or ‘equivalent’ professional experience) is required for a seat on the National Committee, we will know that our party has joined the others on the royal road to a dystopian future.
If we wish to embark on a different road, however, what are the alternatives? In this respect, the present book is less helpful, since it merely directs the reader to Illich’s earlier study, Tools for Conviviality. In general, he foresees ‘a post-industrial economy in which people have succeeded in reducing their market dependence and have done so by protecting—by political means—a social infrastructure in which techniques and tools are used primarily to generate use-values that are unmeasured and unmeasurable by professional need-makers’. In other words, we would create a social space in which we could determine our own needs and satisfy them with tools and resources equally available to all.
The creation (or re-creation) of such an infrastructure will require time and experimentation.
In the short term, it is not easy to see how much we can or should opt out of the industrialized and professionalized world in which we live. It is true, for example, that the health care ‘system’ has subjected us to an increasingly invasive regime of medical supervision. But for all that, should we take a pass on the next scheduled colonoscopy? This points to another problem with Illich’s analysis: to what extent are we ourselves implicated in the technocratic ‘march of progress’, not only as dependent consumers, but as specialized providers? There is plenty of blame to go around.
Nevertheless, the march has accelerated so much in recent years that nearly all of us can all remember life before the invention of this gadget or that procedure. If we cannot stop the train, we can at least slow it down by relearning old habits and skills and teaching them to our children. We should also hold the ‘experts’ in our orbit accountable for the results of their prescriptions—medical, legal, and political. The proof is in the pudding; if it doesn’t taste better, let’s make our own.
by Tara Ann Thieke
The Dorothy Day Caucus began last summer with little identification beyond "social conservative" and "radical." Unintentionally (but happily) a phrase used by namesake and patroness Dorothy Day has come to define the temper and principles of the group: Revolutionaries of the Heart.
Here people who may be described as left-wing, right-wing, centrist (and some other very interesting labels) have come together with more than civility: they have met with genuine openness towards listening to one another. Those willing to pay attention and listen to their neighbor have had their openness repaid with the joy of encountering new approaches and ideas. As this has happened, the quality of openness and commitment to hearing the word of our neighbor has shifted the identity and mission of the DDC; surely one of the most promising indications of building meaningful relationships
ASP Ohio Vice-Chair and The Kitchen Table contributor Christopher Zehnder shared a post several weeks ago discussing the danger and failure of the left-right-center dichotomy. With the awareness of how toxic that paradigm has come to be in our culture, I'd like to talk about how the Dorothy Day Caucus offers more than yet another alternative label, but a fulfillment.
Division is writ into what is most frequently seen as a left-right binary, though this occasionally branches out into graphs with axes or even evolves into a horseshoe. To embrace any of these classification systems is to fall into an "othering" process where identity dominates and living persons and ideas wither. One can try to escape the prison by bounding into the wild forests of anarchism, but that too becomes a launching ground for purity tests; woe to the anarchist who thinks they can escape the identity markers of horseshoes and binaries! From anarcho-syndacalism to anarcho-monarchism to anarcho-capitalism, all attempts to break out of power structures inevitably involve recreating power structures. What is there to do with our brave taxonomers of human beings but stand at the door with Whit Stillman and offer some variation upon: "Good luck with your Fourierism!"
Yes, there is truth to be found in these structural analyses, and many good ideas as well. But this is only because these paradigms encompass everything: swallowing, naming, and dividing us so completely that nothing is left unclaimed.
It is of little use trying to grow out of the binary and into the horseshoe. The point and problem are intrinsic to these labels. "Authoritarian, centrist, neoliberal, socialist, capitalist;" all of these describe attitudes towards the world that are not necessarily contradictory. An individual may comfortably possess a neoliberal foreign policy, a socialist domestic policy, and a libertarian morality; as long as our attention is drawn to the things of this world, the deep choices will be ignored. The Marxist accelerationist and small-business owning luddite may both, in their own way, be determined to immanentize their different visions of the eschaton.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase, "immanentize the eschaton" was used by the 20th century political philosopher and refugee from Nazism Eric Voegelin; it was subsequently popularized by William F. Buckley. It refers to the attempt to build Utopia on earth: some via the Marxist proletarian revolution, others through technological developments, still others through Francis Fukyama's "End of History." Those familiar with the phrase may have heard it used so often that its force has grown dull. This is a tragedy. To hear it afresh is to face the choice always before us: to pursue our own will, or to put down our will and open our eyes, ears, and hearts to God and His creation.
Binaries, axes, and horseshoes will always fail and lead to squabbling because they are rooted in our own will to self-creation. They put the identity of ourselves first and our neighbor, who is Christ to us, second. Liberalism is the governing system for managing these different identities. Define yourself in terms of this world. Commodity capitalism loves this: leave personhood behind and instead adopt an identity which can always be added onto, a fantasy with ever new tastes before us. Lost in the quest of pursuing our own Utopia, our gaze firmly upon our desires, the labels mutate and expand. How much dialogue is possible between the xenofeminist-marxist-wolfkin-accelerationist and the radical-traditionalist-neothomist-Luddite?
The definitions divide us entirely, and we've seen the people of the world ravaged in their name. What reconciliation is possible when the world is at stake, when the truth of your heart (as sold by Disney) is at stake? In the quest for the earthly kingdom, all people are doomed to become objects standing in the way of the expansion of their personal paradise onto all (yes, libertarians, you too.) Liberalism is all that is left to shield us from the weight of one another's identity.
The word I've used most often to oppose such divisions is "radical," which is ironic for a word that summons to mind divisiveness. It's etymology (Latin), though, refers to roots, the origins of things. But it is too difficult to get people to drop their association with the word; rather than revisiting first principles and final ends, it often summons the image of hateful discontent (though instead of attempting to reclaim "radical," one could switch to "radish," which shares the "radix" root and has a certain feisty humility.) In the end, "radical" is not enough. It still defines itself by the terms of this world, even if in revolt rather than identity. It still searches for a place in this world to stand against the rest. While its uses are many and valuable, it is not the word that helps us lay down our swords or slow the fingers of keyboard warriors.
The true way, which gently speaks out dissolving all labels by calling them to raise their eyes, is more than a label. It is a way of life, it is to be a follower of Christ.
Why Christian? Why not pantheist, universalist, or agnostic? During the days of bloodshed in ancient Rome, the word "atheist" was invented as a slur for Christian. A Christian was one who did not believe in the gods of Rome, who did not kneel before the idols. Those ancient martyrs reflected the heart of what it means to be Christian: to refuse to kneel before false idols that promise to immanentize the eschaton, leading us away from God and our neighbor.
Our obsession with labels, from Myers-Brigg personality types to political spectrum quizzes, are idols. No matter how many subcategories are delineated, each one heralds the triumph of the self and the gods of this world. We focus on our desires, our diagnoses, our vision, our desires, our griefs. Liberalism, as it has guided us since the Enlightenment, possesses great talent in helping us navigate these conflicting identities. But there are yet better principles. They are found in the Gospels.
The Dorothy Day Caucus will always welcome members who feel comfortable using labels. They can be helpful signposts and there will always be times when they help clarify ideas. But our call is to transcend liberalism, to rise above the bonds of this world, to see one another as fellow children of God rather than the branded product of a label. These political labels place us in opposition to our neighbor. They capture our heart and cause us to wage war against others in pursuit of our personal Utopia. Even if this war manifests in no more than the comfortable use of violent rhetoric, the result is the same: we remain governed by our own broken hearts and desires.
A revolutionary of the heart must lay down their personal idols. They must accept they do not know all things, cannot see all things, nor can they understand all consequences. They must accept the risk of never convincing everyone to go along with their private agenda of universal prosperity. In turn, the "metanoia" of their heart (the old Greek term for repentance), can point them to true peace, true love of their neighbor.
All things are political. All things are also theological. Politics and theology begin in the heart, move to the tongue, manifest in the home, and spread to the world. True political change begins by orienting our hearts to Christ's teachings and the message of His death and resurrection.
St. Paul, as he stood before his judges in Jerusalem, said he was on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6). Not for his hope in flying cars. Not for his dream of never suffering. Not for his wish in having his every desire or scheme granted. Not for recreating the Shire. Not for his plans of perfecting the Roman Empire and instituting global governance.
He was on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead. What was the manifestation of this hope? It was the love of his neighbor, his dogged pursuit of reconciling human beings to God and one another rather than to the gods of this world. St. Paul was a revolutionary of the heart. The DDC seeks to follow him, recognizing we are political and theological creatures at every moment, and our lives are our witness.
Liberalism is a theological view as much as any other religion or political philosophy; we are all theocrats of a sort. What does our religion testify to? Does it look to the geodesic dome of the futurist city? Is its highest end speed, the pursuit of a horizon of pleasure which ever recedes from our fingertips? Does it look to perfectly plan and manage our existence? Or does our religion call ourselves to break free of the shackles of our appetites, to escape the chains of the utopias of a million would-be tyrants? Our redeemer calls us beyond self-pity to encounter the suffering of our neighbor, to pay attention.
The novelist Iris Murdoch wrote: "It is in the capacity to love, that is to SEE, that the liberation of the soul from fantasy consists. The freedom which is a proper human goal is the freedom from fantasy, that is the realism of compassion. What I have called fantasy, the proliferation of blinding self-centered aims and images, is itself a powerful system of energy, and most of what is often called 'will' or 'willing' belongs to this system. What counteracts the system is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love."
The revolutionary of the heart pays attention. They stand silently beside St. Paul, placing their hope with him in the truth of the world-shattering Resurrection they've opened their hearts to receive. They allow the label-makers and Utopians to rend their garments and wage war; meanwhile they professing their love of their neighbor through ceaseless devotion and commitment to a truth older, higher, and bigger than any earthly end-of-history project. They pursue the truth and do good while refusing to break other human beings in pursuit of the good. The revolutionary of the heart can see their neighbor because their vision is not clouded by a furious need to preserve one's self-image. The revolutionary of the heart lays down the will to power.
Let idolatrous labels wither, thanking them for the good they have done and forgiving the evil, and then orient our hearts back towards their proper home. Let politics begin in the heart, kneel beside the broken-hearted, and let them end in God.
by Dr. Skylar Covich
On Saturday, November 18 I attended the Caring Not Killing conference, a gathering of those opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, at Biola University in Los Angeles. Assisted suicide is becoming legal in more and more jurisdictions. Not only is the increased acceptance a problem in itself, but we are seeing troubling problems in places where it has been legal for some time: reports of patients pressured to commit assisted suicide, or patients allowed to commit assisted suicide even if they are not terminally ill. These practices are grave threats to civilization and liberty, and no political party wants to speak out. The American Solidarity Party, fortunately, condemns assisted suicide and euthanasia strongly in its platform, but has not focused on these issues as much as I would wish.
The arguments presented at the conference can be divided into three major types; Christian, medical, and disability rights. From a Christian perspective, assisted suicide is the taking of a life unnaturally. Put most simply, because man is made in the image of God, it is immoral to end a human life prematurely. All of the speakers who made arguments from Christian ethics also spoke out in favor of the rest of the pro-life movement, and there were numerous organizations in the display room linking opposition to assisted suicide with opposition to abortion, which is also the taking of a life prematurely.
Yet, while for many of us, Christian truth guides our final decisions on these matters, the movement against assisted suicide needs the insights of those grounded in practical medical professionalism. The speakers with medical experience, most of whom professed a Christian background, presented indictments of unethical practices now common to the medical profession, including hospices providing substandard care and defrauding the government of funds meant for patients, and hospital emergency rooms turning off life-saving care when there was still reasonable hope of saving the patient. The medical speakers also tried their best to dispel concerns that patients are being kept alive by machines only to preserve life for as long as possible out of a misguided quest to avoid death at all costs.
Some wonder whether medical technologies, by keeping patients alive artificially when they would have died a more peaceful natural death, are incentivizing people to consider assisted suicide in order to avoid increased suffering. The medical professionals at this conference argued that human bodies generally die fairly quickly when, in some unquantifiable sense, they are ready to. Furthermore, they can recover to a surprising extent, even if not completely, with the right medical treatments, often when hope seems lost. Determining the specific point at which care will end is not easy, either for the average person creating a living will, or for a medical professional, but the medical community must remember its oath to do no harm, and return to a spirit of care for each patient as a person in the image of God.
This ethic of care for each individual patient, especially those persevering amidst suffering, brings us to the disability rights arguments. When some claim that assisted suicide prevents suffering, groups such as Not Dead Yet reply that even in the midst of suffering, life is worth living. When people are allowed to choose to end their suffering, inevitably others will be pressured to make that same choice, which essentially becomes a civil rights violation. Like the Christian theologians and medical professionals, disability rights activists would like to see a revitalization of the local community as a safe space for the disabled, and a mobilization of volunteers to help the disabled in varieties of ways, especially independent living centers, that improve their living conditions.
Disability rights activists, though, were more likely than other speakers at the conference to argue that federal programs, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are necessary to protect the disabled, and somewhat alleviate the pressure they might otherwise face to partake in assisted suicide. Whereas much of the Christian Right and some of the pro-life movement arrive at the conclusion that such programs do more harm than good because of their inefficiency and their lack of pro-life commitments, disability rights activists see the need to protect these programs no matter their shortcomings or additional costs. In critiquing these programs, and the progressive politicians who keep them running, we need to understand their immediate importance to the disabled.
Would disability rights activists who do not adhere to a conservative Christian perspective ever be likely to fit into the American Solidarity Party? There are some who adopt an anti-abortion position, through secular pro-life and Consistent Life perspectives. However, it became clear based on my experience at the conference that many tend to be rather politically progressive on social issues, except end of life care. In speaking to one representative, we discussed that even though disagreements on LGBT issues have the potential to strain the coalition between disability rights activists and socially conservative Christians, the disability rights activists are often also unwilling to commit to a strict anti-abortion position. While they are concerned that women might be pressured into abortions, many fundamentally accept pro-choice arguments on abortion if safeguards are in place.
Despite these disagreements, Christian Right and politically progressive disability rights activists have succeeded in forming coalitions. In what may be a good lesson for many of us, it is telling that they do so by avoiding interference in each other’s organizations, and with an acknowledgement that their efforts are, for the most part, separate, yet also complementary.
Those of us who adhere to principles of solidarian politics and Christian democracy can hope to build bridges between the different movements opposing assisted suicide by further examining the ways in which legal challenges, governmental programs, reform of the medical industry, and efforts to build local community can stop the tragic practice of prematurely ending lives.
by Zeb Baccelli
In my twenties I was a Christian anarchist. This stance was rooted in my pacifistic reading of the Gospels. I did not want a revolution to overthrow the government, I just couldn’t support the violence that is necessary for a state to exist. Nevertheless, any time I told people I was an anarchist they thought I must support the kind of street violence practiced by Black Bloc anarchists and that my ‘naive’ anarchism would lead to the kind of chaotic violence seen when governments collapse in places like Somalia and Afghanistan. It was while working in Detroit at a Franciscan-run urban farm that I found a metaphor for the kind of anarchism I espoused. The urban tree is the ideal anarchist. Even now, as a non-anarchist in the American Solidarity Party working for radical political change, I see a valuable lesson in the example of the urban tree.
Detroit has become a mecca for urban agriculturalists because there is so much open space interspersed throughout the city. Fifty years of economic decline left 90,000 open lots and 70,000 abandoned buildings scattered through every district and neighborhood of the city. Those empty lots grew up into thickets and meadows which are ready to be cleared by industrious community groups and entrepreneurs if they are lucky enough to find uncontaminated soil and a way to contact the owner. But most of the empty lots and abandoned buildings are left to grow wild, and there we see nature reversing the process of urbanization and industrialization. City is turned back into wilderness through a slow and peaceful revolution.
How do trees and grass overcome the might of man without having the use of mobility, thought or technology? You don’t have to go to Detroit to understand this. Next time you’re in town look at a tree, even an intentionally planted one, growing in the swale between sidewalk and street. The tree doesn’t know it, but it is a foot soldier in the revolution. And it is much more effective for not knowing. The tree merely follows its God-given nature. It never looks at the city and says “Damn you, I will defeat you eventually!” It looks up, always up, reaching for the light of the sun which is the source of its life. With total disregard for the row homes that shade it, the pedestrians that scuff it, the cars pollute it, the tree seeks only the light. And it doesn’t hurry around seeking allies and looking for the best spot to attack; it sends out roots wherever it is.
Slowly pushing and digging, following the path of least resistance just enough to find the nutrients and water it needs, the tree begins to break up the concrete and black top, lifting slabs of sidewalk millimeters per year. By the end of its life a single tree won’t have made a big change. A few cracks in the concrete, a few hundred pounds of carbon dioxide turned into organic matter, a few thousand seeds scattered mostly where they will never grow. But those cracks will serve as sites for the next generation to grow and that organic matter will serve as food to feed the next generation. And a few of those seeds will grow. And in a scale of time much longer than man is capable of considering, nature to turn the city of man back to wilderness without ever raising a hand in violence.
Of course unlike trees we do have mobility, thought, and technology, and we should use them. As a political party with a radical agenda we must use every tool we have. But we should use them the way the tree uses its roots, digging in deeper where we are, reaching out to what is nearest us. And like the tree we should not be looking at our enemy, searching frantically for its weak spots and scheming to exploit them as quickly as possible; rather we should simply look always toward the Light that enlivens us. Let our every act be an act of fidelity to our God-given nature and calling. Let us simply speak and live the radical truth as faithfully was we can, not watering it down to fit in and gain allies. The urban tree neither combats nor compromises: it simply is itself, and by being so it wins the slow revolution.
by Patrick Harris
"Nobody had sex until roughly a century ago, and even then, it didn’t really become fashionable until the Sixties.
Let me qualify that: nobody “had sex” until about a hundred years ago, give or take. Google ngram’s survey of the corpus of English literature reveals that very few writers using that phrase in print until around the First World War, or even the mid-1920’s. The exact results vary depending on the wording, but essentially our most basic language for one of our most basic human activities is about as old as Girl Scout cookies or the Boeing corporation.
The real linguistic take-off occurred in the mid-to-late 1960’s, however. If we allow a little time for the written word to catch up with facts on the ground, then it coincides with Phillip Larkin’s famous couplet:
Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three / (which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban / And the Beatles' first LP.
Funny thing about Lady Chatterly’s Lover: aside from providing the occasion for a groundbreaking 1960 obscenity trial in Britain, D.H. Lawrence’s novel was also the one of the first notable works to use “sex” to refer to erotic behavior, as opposed to the male/female distinction (sex meaning “split” in Latin). Back in 1928, phrases such as “the sex act” or “sex relations” were in circulation, but Lawrence’s clipped, three-letter transition from adjective to noun was a relative novelty. In retrospect the reader can see the ambiguity being worked out in favor of its modern meaning:
“Well, Charlie and I believe that sex is a sort of communication like speech. Let any woman start a sex conversation with me, and it’s natural for me to go to bed with her to finish it, all in due season.”
It’s the one insane taboo left: sex as a natural and vital thing…You have to snivel and feel sinful or awful about your sex, before you’re allowed to have any.
Academics are fond of calling what’s going on here “reification:” sex is being made into a “thing” that one can have or not have— and indeed, Lawrence speaks of “this sex thing” several times over the course of the book. “Sex” may still be related to the man-woman pair, but the primary meaning has shifted. To borrow a line from the estimable Carlo Lancelotti (h/t to him for part of the idea behind this piece), it has become an “abstract consumable.”
This, of course, is the primary meaning of “sex” for all of us now. It ought to be clear by now that this change is of more than just etymological interest. Even those who dissent from the social revolution Lawrence was helping to inaugurate speak in its peculiar dialect. In this way of speaking, sex is not just an alternative gerund for a much older four-letter Anglo-Saxon word- it is something a person can get, or withhold, or demand. If it can’t exactly be counted, it can still be quantified, whether a lot, a little, or “any,” as in Lady Chatterly. It is less a quality than it is a commodity.
One consequence of this shift is the conceptual ease of separating “sex” from the male-female distinction at all: the word “sexual” for us moderns mainly denotes anything related to the erotic drive, not things pertaining to males or females as such. In a larger sense, though, it is the “thingification” of sex that represents the real legacy of this past erotic century. Even if humans beings have always been tempted to view sexual behavior in impersonal terms, that assumption is now embedded in our language at a fundamental level. In assessing what we have gained or lost in the process, it’s worth looking back to the very first known appearance of our sense of “sex,” in H.G. Well’s Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900):
"He thought of the bitter words of an orator at Hammersmith, who had complained that in our present civilization even the elemental need of marriage was denied. Virtue had become a vice. 'We marry in fear and trembling, sex for a home is the woman’s traffic, and the man comes to his heart’s desire when his heart’s desire is dead.' The thing that had seemed a mere flourish came back now with a terrible air of truth."
“Sex” first appears not as an expression of rebellious exuberance, but as a melancholy, transactional business. The very passage in which the word was coined is a protest an older sexual ideal, one that Wells found to be a dead faith. By the latter half of the twentieth century, most people in the West had internalized many of Wells’ beliefs; virtually everyone in the English-speaking world had adopted his language.
A century and more later, the question for us is whether we are any closer to our “heart’s desire,” or any further away from a gloomy “traffic” abstracted away from human persons. If not, it is worth considering whether the past several decades of “having sex” have been enough, and whether we ought to start doing something else.
by Christopher Zehnder
The American Solidarity Party is facing a crisis. How it weathers this crisis will determine whether it will offer a real political alternative for American society or sink into the morass of confusion that is American political thought today.
This morass is precisely the American inability to rise above the dichotomy of "left" and "right," "liberal" and "conservative.” It is the penchant to see all questions as lying on a political spectrum that is defined by its extremes – extremes that represent no coherence in themselves but operate from the presupposition of radical individual autonomy. What separates the extremes is merely how and where they apply the principle of “personal freedom.” And even this distinction has increasingly become blurred. Pornography, for instance, is where the “left” and “right” principles of sexual license and economic freedom find their common locus.
It is thus a sorrow to find that those whom one might expect to think outside the political box continue to define themselves by “left,” “right,” and “center.” Of course, culture is powerful, and it is hard to escape its influence; and our culture insists on such a dichotomy. Still, one would hope that that the failure of the left-right cultural paradigm would stir people to an awakening. But it does not. Rather, we see desperate attempts to collapse the extremes into a center of compromise. A little bit of left here, a little bit of right there, mix them together, and, lo! We have a new recipe for – more of the same.
One finds that even American Solidarity Party members cannot pull themselves from this mire. We continue to identify ourselves with the dichotomy and thus fail to outline a real, alternative political vision. Ironically, we do not have far to seek for that vision; it is the tradition of Christian Democracy: the CD on our party's logo. That tradition calls us to seek a real alternative vision not in the weary and boring schools of a failed Enlightenment but in a politics of the transcendent – a politics founded on an understanding of the integral, human common good and the justice that it demands. We are doomed if we want to be a left party, a right party, or a centrist party. We have plenty of these already. This real alternative vision is what our people need, not a rehashing of failed political programs and ideologies.
What is the common good? It is simply human perfection and all the means necessary to achieve that perfection. It is that good for which are made and exist. It is the good not only of one class, of the few or even of the greatest number, but of all. It is the good all people share in common. It is human fullness. It expresses itself in material goods (food, shelter, and all means of livelihood), but more eminently in culture and, finally, those spiritual goods by which we rise above the level of mere beasts. It is common, moreover, because it includes every single person; and it is common because only by life lived in and dedicated to community can we obtain it. The means of attaining the common good are justice and solidarity.
If the American Solidarity Party is to speak to the deepest social and political longing of our age, it must be willing to go forth boldly and break old paradigms. Or, rather, it must be willing to embrace the oldest paradigm – the premise of the common good, the only foundation of a natural, human society. We cannot simply take some solutions from, say, the Republicans and some from the Democrats and stitch them up into a crazy quilt of a political platform. To do so would be to define ourselves in terms of other parties, whose fundamental problem is that their basic principles are wrong, for they are founded on the primacy of individual autonomy, not personal devotion to the good of all. We have to operate from clear principles that derive from the integral political vision of the common good and then examine issues in light of that vision. In doing so, we won't please everyone, but pleasing everyone should not be the goal. Offering real solutions to our society based on and advancing the common good should be our goal, our only goal.
There has been much talk about making the party a “big tent” as a means of advancing candidates and winning elections. But this is to see the party merely as a mechanism for power with only a passing nod to the content of its principles and platform. Indeed, in this view, these seem to exist only to serve the goal of political expediency. Such an approach is good, old-fashioned American politics, but it is corrupt to the core. Even if the approach could win us elections (and I doubt it could), it would be tantamount to gaining the whole world and losing our souls in the bargain. We should want political victories because they would allow us to implement sound policies. We should not create policies in order to win elections. That's what the major parties do, and people are sick of it. Younger people, today, are looking for something better. We need to speak to their longing, casting our seed, not onto rocky ground, but in the deep loam of the best inspirations of our Christian tradition – the radical, integral common good.
Tara Ann Thieke