Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
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.
by Tara Ann Thieke
Several days ago I spoke with a stranger as we were off to the side of the same event. He asked how I knew a mutual acquaintance.
"The American Solidarity Party," I answered. His eyes stepped back.
"Ah, the magician. I voted for him." I waited to hear what else he wished to say. The gentleman shook his head, and when it became clear I wasn't about to engage in a soliloquy on the virtues or vices of the party (I've saved that for here!), he continued:
"For one brief shining moment in time I was able to say 'Yes' to something. To a political party. To do more than choose between 'No's.' But your platform changed, and the way they talked changed. It became so terrible. Well, that was that. A lost moment." He looked back at me.
"I'm sorry," I said. "You're not the first person to have that reaction." And then I changed the topic, because he wasn't the first person.
Over the past six months I have had some variation of that conversation many, many, many times. The individuals are not combative. They do not wish to participate in the ugly rhetoric far too many indulge in. They are not part of the very small, prolific block which now dominates the discussion pages at all hours. For the main part, they are simply the people who saw something promising in the ASP in the second half of 2016. They cast their vote for a magician and hoped they were voting for more than a glimpse of an alternative, as the gentleman said. Some became very involved; others stayed on the periphery.
What they shared in common was none of them wanted to partake of a long drawn-out fight for the soul of the American Solidarity Party. When the sea-change became clear, they quietly bowed out with dignity (and grief).
If their frustration tells us something, so does the reaction that many of these departures received. When they are referenced, the response is a shrug, a sneer, or outright glee. These reactions also come from the most vocal and prolific online voices, who have all too often engaged in outright slander and celebrated the departure of those who disagreed with them. This is concerning enough, but even more confusing is that faction's loud and repeated commitment to solidarity and creating a "big-tent." How can we possibly build something when people celebrate the departure of so many who came to help carry the weight?
Yes,we have morale and structural problems. In my view they are the result of discord within the party that has two sources. The first source of discord is strong differences of opinion about what the party should stand for, how it should conduct its business, how it should be structured, and how it should orient itself towards our current political system. The second source of discord is personal ill will, a breakdown of trust and good faith among different factions of the party.
The first part of this discord is inevitable. Strong disagreement is inevitable in any political party, and especially a grassroots third party made up of people of different perspectives who all have their own story for turning away from the major parties. Fortunately, the answer to this problem lies right there in our name. Affirming our commitment to solidarity recognizes that we will not always agree, but that we must work through our disagreements in pursuit of the common good.
But while solidarity is the answer to the first type of discord, solidarity is difficult, nearly impossible, in the presence of the second kind of discord. Fortunately, the second type of discord is avoidable. It is avoidable if we treat each other respectfully. Treating each other respectfully means speaking honestly with one another, even when we know our honest sentiments are disagreeable to the listener.
The blog of the DDC is titled "The Kitchen Table" because it is meant to mimic more of a familial atmosphere than typical online spaces. When we sit across from loved ones at the kitchen table we may disagree fiercely and passionately, but we remain bonded by something stronger than our disagreements. We feel a mutual sense of obligation that calls us to something higher than simply winning the argument, something that prevents us from treating the other person as merely a means to an end. I am proud to say that in its short history the Dorothy Day Caucus has lived up to this ideal; not perfectly, since we are all sinners, but to a degree I take great joy in. We have many disagreements, and those disagreements can get heated, but focus stays on the substance of the arguments and not the person making them. We invite anyone to come on our Facebook page to participate in these discussions, asking only that they refrain from personal attacks and spamming.
I will not pretend to be neutral on either the vision for the party or personal conduct within the party. I have a side in these debates, and I believe my side is right.
On the question of party vision, I will be writing a post this weekend for the The Kitchen Table renewing our vision for what the ASP should be and the type of politics we should be practicing (if you're unfamiliar with the DDC and would like some idea right now, you can scroll through our blog or read my recent talk at the ASP Midwestern Conference here).
On the question of personal conduct, I believe the greatest cause of discord on this count is duplicity. People saying one thing in private and something else in public. "Let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no. Anything more is from the evil one."(Matthew 5:37).
Duplicity is wrong in any context, but is especially wrong for a party rooted in solidarity. Solidarity is premised on everyone not getting exactly what they want, but making mutual sacrifices towards the common good. That requires, however, honest discussion about who is making what sacrifices, and what the vision of the common good is. A party rooted in solidarity can have no pawns. A party rooted in solidarity can have no elite guarding their personal mission of the party while conniving how to get the rank and file to follow along.
It is quite possible many will hear that our chair dismisses them as "f'in theocrats" or that the National Committee member chosen to moderate our Facebook operates, by his own admission, under only an "appearance of impartiality," and still conclude that the American Solidarity Party is the best political home for them. That is the choice I make, because I believe the ASP is more than the actions or statements of a few members. It is, however, a choice everyone is entitled to make with open eyes. Everyone deserves to know what they are putting their time and energy towards, and how the people chosen as stewards for the party intend to hear their voices and direct their energies. If a new leadership faction privately believes large sections of the party are undesirable, members deserve to know that information.
It is a good thing, an outright good thing, if multiple persuasions are recruiting like-minded folk into the ASP. Yes, it is good if progressives, centrists, or conservatives are drawing in fellow travelers. The outside political world will be hostile to a third party. We have an uphill battle. If we cannot work with one another then we have already failed. The aim of this self-examination and call for accountability is to make sure we really do work together, we really do listen to one another, we really are aware if good faith disagreement is devolving into slander and private machinations. And if a few people are conspiring to remove or verbally attack anyone who disagrees with them, then we will never be taken seriously. A "real party" brings people together without destroying their differences.
Anyone who wishes to lead this party should speak openly, clearly, and honestly about what their vision for party is and what role they see for people of different views within the party. Anyone who is unwilling to do so should step aside and go work in one of the many political parties built on artifice and tactics (under the guise of realism and professionalism) rather than solidarity. Solidarity is not a brand to be managed, it is a principle to be lived.
Maybe once we live it ourselves, beginning a revolution in our own hearts, then those seeking a party they can say "Yes" to will return.
by Dr. Stephen Beall
Two weeks ago, Tara Ann Thieke gave an address to the Midwestern Conference of the American Solidarity Party, entitled ‘Politics and Eggs’. Her remarks have important implications not only for the external messaging of the ASP, but also for its internal culture.
I would like to touch on a few of these implications with the help of one of my favorite spiritual writers, Joseph Tissot (The Interior Life Simplified and Reduced to its Fundamental Principle). According to Fr. Tissot, any major undertaking, including the spiritual life itself, must take into account three things: the goal or end of the undertaking, the way that leads to the goal, and the means that one uses to achieve it. The ASP is on an uncertain journey, and we should make sure that we take the right road to the right destination, using reliable equipment.
So what is the goal of the ASP? Some of our friends say that it is ‘to build a real party’, presumably on the monumental scale of the two establishment parties. Tara takes us in a different direction with a striking quotation from the Japanese author, Haruki Marukami: ‘Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.’ Tara develops this image to contrast the fragile structure of the individual human being with the monolithic indifference of ‘the System’, sustained by numbers-crunchers in the Beltway and on Wall Street. The distinguishing feature of Christian Democracy, she argues, is that ‘it places the human person at its very core.’ Human beings are so many eggs, and the goal of the Christian Democrat is, quite simply, to prevent them from being crushed. To change the asymmetrical relationship of the person and the System, however, is no easy task. It requires a complete re-ordering of our attitudes and social practices—what Dorothy Day called ‘a revolution of the heart’.
Anyone with a little ambition can be (or pretend to be) a politician; to be a Revolutionary of the Heart requires mental and moral discipline. The project outlined by Tara obliges us to be on guard against a number of distractions, the most dangerous of which is the worship of power. As a tiny third party, the ASP is exempt, at least for the time being, from many of the temptations that beset public servants. But the worm lurks deep within the apple. In the last few months, we have seen an increasing preoccupation with issues of control—control of the the party’s platform, its governing structures, its name and symbols, its external and internal media. Most of us have been caught up, at one time or another, in earnest discussions of personalities, alliances, and committee resolutions. Surely this is grabbing the wrong end of the stick. Our Lord himself warned us about this when he said: ‘You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant’ (Mt. 20:25-27). In other words, we cannot be on the side of the egg while building our own structures of dominance and oppression. We need to be and support the kind of leaders Jesus was looking for—servants of the servants of God.
Some of us are uncomfortable with the word ‘revolution’, as it conjures up images of guillotines, unruly mobs, and burning palaces. But if we sincerely desire a transformation of society, what is the surest way to that destination? The Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and National Socialists chose the path of simplification: they conceived a procrustean model of society and tried to squeeze people into it, relying on violence to overcome resistance. Revolutionaries of the Heart must go in the opposite direction and embrace the complexity of properly ordered human relationships. This is why Tara insists on the defense of marriage and the family as the bedrock of our political program. The family is the school of the heart, which is ordered to the good of others. Likewise, she insists on political and economic subsidiarity, which she refuses to qualify with concessions to technological efficiency and economies of scale. Society, she believes, should be scaled to the human person; the test of our institutions is their sensitivity to the egg.
It goes without saying that the principle of subsidiarity should regulate our internal policies, as well. We will know that the ASP is truly gaining strength when candidates step forward with clearly articulated policies on local issues, when state committees raise their own funds and present their own platforms, when families are the public face of the party, and when every individual member receives a direct accounting from leadership and is allowed to participate in decision-making. A stronger and less centralized party will not be tempted to ‘partner’ with more powerful interests or, worse yet, imitate their elitist modes of communication and fund-raising. We understand, of course, that these developments require a critical mass of energetic volunteers, as well as a firm confidence in a common ideology. We must come to terms with the fact that the ASP is a very small organization, and that many local chapters number less than a dozen souls. Nevertheless, we can design our structures in such a way that the party will eventually reflect the kind of society that we wish to live in.
To summarize: if our goal is a ‘revolution of the heart’, the way to the goal is a respect for persons and the communities that persons naturally form: families, churches, clubs, unions, neighborhoods, towns, and cities. Our political program and our internal governance should mirror each other; we should be building a new politics within the shell of the old. But knowing the way is not enough; we must consider the means we would employ to make progress along the way. This is the most challenging aspect of Tara’s talk.
Classical theory looked at politics as an art; we moderns have transformed it into a technology. Our political language reflects the modern preoccupation with ‘machinery’ and ‘markets’, with ‘professionalism’ and ‘expertise’, with ‘quantitative measures’ and ‘problem-solving’. In such an environment, ends and means are easily confused; ‘solidarity’, beautifully represented by the self-sacrifice of the Pelican, becomes a ‘brand’. In keeping with her desire for a human-scaled alternative, Tara proposes that we put down our electronic megaphones and ‘meet our neighbor, not just with words on our lips, but with ears to listen.’ Persons are more than votes. They must be encountered, not manipulated, and certainly not vilified as rubes, racists, and reactionaries.
Lest we think that these challenging neighbors are only the Trump-voters in fly-over states, Tara brings her observations home to the ASP. ‘We must treat one another in good faith,’ she writes. ‘We must not harass, bully, or deliberately choose to assume that someone acts from malice or hate.’ We know how far we have fallen from this standard, especially since the 2016 campaign. It is easy to blame it all on the platforms we use to communicate, as if the demons that inhabit Facebook would vanish if we resort to some other medium. Don’t believe it. 'Homo homini diabolus'—we are devils to each other, if the heart is not right.
Nevertheless, it is true that information technology has weaponized the frustration, resentment, and mistrust that have vitiated American political discourse. How can we turn this around? Perhaps we can recover the ‘technologies’ that characterized the early Christian church: the works of mercy and the fellowship of the table. The example of Dorothy Day is particularly instructive: mass communication, in the form of a newspaper, was inseparable from houses of hospitality. If we cannot open soup kitchens, we can certainly break bread with each other from time to time. To the extent that we need the internet, we might learn to practice ‘custody of the fingers’. A friend once suggested that before every post or comment, we should repeat the verse, ‘Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round my lips’ (Ps. 140:3). An occasional internet fast might not be a bad idea, either. It will help us develop the interior silence required to become better listeners.
In Rome, there is a small church beside the road on which, according to legend, St. Peter traveled as he was fleeing the persecution of Nero. At that very spot, the Apostle met Jesus, who was carrying his Cross and heading in the other direction. ‘Where are you going, Lord?’ he asked in surprise. Jesus replied, ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified again’. Peter got the message. The well-traveled road is not always the way to the destination. He turned around.
by Alastair Roberts
In his insightful, if often quixotic, series of essays on the subject of economy, Unto This Last, the Victorian art critic and social thinker, John Ruskin, challenged some of the leading capitalist thought of his day. While most work in economics operates in terms of fundamental convictions that aren’t directly examined, the work of Ruskin, like other thinkers such as Marx or Proudhon, sought to unearth and unsettle what he regarded as the tendentious and mystifying metaphysical assumptions upon which much of the superstructure of capitalist economy and thought is based.
Ruskin addresses the question of value, upon which he argues against the thought of John Stuart Mill. Mill claims that “The word ‘value,’ when used without adjunct, always means, in political economy, value in exchange” and elsewhere that wealth “consists of all useful and agreeable objects which possess exchangeable value.”(1) Exchange value rests in turn upon the usefulness of an article to satisfy a desire or serve a purpose: if no one wanted or had use for an item, it would have no exchange value.
Ruskin contends that Mill’s account is neglecting some key elements of the picture. In particular, Mill’s approach carefully brackets certain moral considerations. While Mill draws some distinctions between money expended by a capitalist to purchase more luxuries for his private consumption and that which he might expend to increase the production of items for wider consumption by hiring more labourers, the distinctions that he draws are not the necessary ones. Ruskin wants to know whether, if the capitalist reduced his private consumption in order to produce more bombs or bayonets, he would still be employing ‘productive’ labour and producing ‘valuable’ goods. Mill’s approach, with its emphasis upon an exchange value freed from moral considerations, leaves him incapable of answering such a question satisfactorily.
Ruskin proceeds to argue that “the economic usefulness of a thing depends not merely on its own nature, but on the number of people who can and will use it.”(2) A horse is of no use if there is no human who can ride it and there will be no market for a painting if no one can be taught to appreciate it. Consequently, political economy and our account of wealth “must be a science respecting human capacities and dispositions.”(3) Yet Mill’s insistence that political economy shouldn’t be concerned with moral considerations implies that human capacities and dispositions have nothing to do with moral considerations, an unsustainable position.
Ruskin proposes that value needs a better definition, proposing that to be ‘valuable’ is to “avail towards life.”(4) By extension, ‘wealth’ should be defined as “the possession of the valuable by the valiant”: unless valuable items are possessed by worthy people who can make good use of them, they are of limited use or even detrimental.(5) Developing this point further, he writes
There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others. (6)
In Ruskin’s critique of Mill some much deeper issues are raised, issues that are profoundly relevant to contemporary society, for which certain questionable understandings of value hold very considerable sway. Ruskin’s approach, though it may seem eccentric and quite impractical at points, reveals the degree to which the economic notions of Mill and others invite the detachment of our notions of value from the actual flourishing of human life.
The narrow equation of value in the realm of political economy with exchange value and of wealth with those things that possess such value has the effect of blinding us to the deeper issue, substituting an abstract notion for the true and actual wealth of a people—their concrete well-being. Ruskin writes:
[T]he wealth of nations, as of men, consists in substance, not in ciphers; and ... the real good of all work, and of all commerce, depends on the final worth of the thing you make, or get by it. This is a practical enough statements, one would think: but the English public has been so possessed by its modern school of economists with the notion that Business is always good, whether it be busy in mischief or in benefit; and that buying and selling are always salutary, whatever the intrinsic worth of what you buy and sell,—that it seems impossible to gain so much as a patient hearing for any inquiry respecting the substantial result of our eager modern labours.(7)
The notions Ruskin is challenging have given rise to the beliefs that value and wealth are principally measured by money. Money is our chief means of exchange and the way in which we can render items commensurable. Our focus upon money as the measure of value and wealth has encouraged an indifference to the actual ends towards which we use our money: whereas for Ruskin, consumption is the most important matter. We consider that the wealth of a nation is to be measured largely in monetary terms, rather than requiring a close investigation of our actual well-being, seeing how our labour and resources are being employed.
The agnosticism or ill-founded presumption concerning the actual commonweal of a people that results from this blinds us to the many ways in which our supposed wealth may even leave us poorer off. It also prevents us from asking the more searching questions that need to be asked. Beyond this, however, such a measure of value and wealth in political economy has also increasingly set the terms in which all value in society is considered.
The concept of value seems commonsensical to us, yet when we look more closely at it we discover that it disguises a great deal. Marx exposed something of the mystification of value in Das Kapital. He drew his readers’ attention to the bizarre character of commodities. While a commodity might appear to be a concrete object with physical characteristics, the commodity’s concreteness and characteristics are quite accidental to its character as a commodity. Rather an object is rendered a commodity by virtue of its possessing exchange value. While this exchange value may be grounded in the use value of the object, it can float free of the material properties of any given object: one commodity can be exchanged for another, while the value remains. This abstract value comes to be regarded as the substance, while physical commodities are just a rapidly cycling series of accidents.
Indeed, we find it almost impossible to regard objects without perceiving them as bearers of this mana-like quality of ‘value’. When we look at commodities, it is as if they were surrounded by an aura of value; we unreflectively perceive items as expensive or cheap, sometimes in ways that render us blind to their natural properties. Their character as commodities is an aspect of their very phenomenology in our society. Much as we would perceive the weight of an item, so we perceive its exchange value. This isn’t just an external ideology, but a stubborn feature of our perception, an issue of how we see the world around us.
Recognizing the true weirdness and perception-altering potential of money is important here. Money is a medium of exchange and of expressing value. However, money is also the arch-commodity, an object that functions purely as exchange value. You can’t eat money, wear it, or use it to keep your family warm (Pablo Escobar’s burning over a couple of million dollars to keep his daughter warm while on the run being a very rare exception). Goods were once largely produced to serve the immediate needs of a community, with only excess goods being exchanged. Within such a context, goods would be principally perceived in terms of their usefulness and only on occasions in terms of their exchange value. Even then, the exchange value would often not have been reified in money, as the exchange would have taken the form of barter. However, as the arch-commodity, radically fungible and abstracted from use value, money has come to represent value itself. We increasingly live in pursuit of money, labouring for pure exchange value. And, as money is value, what we earn comes to represent our value and our social standing.
Yet as money becomes the overwhelmingly dominant way that we perceive and pursue value, our world will be reordered around it. It will impose a logic of abstraction and alienation upon everything. Money makes it possible for us to convert the specificity of particular forms and acts of labour into pure exchange value. While my labour might once have primarily been a matter of exercising my own agency, living out my specific vocation, and developing my dominion in the world, my labour is now more likely to be alien to me, something from which I and my employers seek to extract value in the form of money. Money frees me to exercise a more general power and influence, detached from the specificity of personal relationships and local bonds, with their attendant responsibilities.
Our society is often described as a ‘materialistic’ society. However, we must recognize just how hostile our society is to matter in its notion of value, which both alienates value from matter and seeks to render all matter homogeneous and conformable to abstract value, power, and knowledge. Our society is built upon alienation, abstraction, and extraction from matter. We extract power, knowledge, and value from matter and abstract ourselves from its binding particularity. Matter is to be broken down and departicularized for the sake of our autonomous power. This is what defines reality for us today.
This hostility to the concreteness and particularity of matter isn’t just true in the case of money. It can also be seen in the way that we regard power as a homogeneous reality to be extracted and abstracted from the particularity of the material world. It can be seen in our modes of mass production and digital replication. It can be seen in our scientific posture towards reality that reduces reality to universal laws acting upon indistinguishable particles, purged of the particular or local meanings or qualities that render them salient to us. It can be seen in the way people are trained to be self-effaced, fungible, and optimized raw human material for labour. It can be seen in the way that the market steadily dissolves particularities of culture and persons to create homogenized markets. It can be seen in the way that the particularity of personal skill is replaced by universal abstract processes. It can be seen in the replacement of the deep wisdom that arises from lengthy enculturation with the study of detached technique.
David Bentley Hart writes:
"The abstraction of the market, its lightness, is a fire that attempts to burn away the weight of glory as so much dross, as exchangeable tokens of wealth; unlike the fire of God, it does not transfigure but consumes. The market, then, is a particular optics, a particular order of vision. Its aesthetic of immateriality suspends all difference in the univocal formalism of the aleatory; all more refractory values—beauty, need, awe—are transformed into the universal value of price (the transvaluation of all values, endless evaluation). Within the world descried by such an optics, there is no theme to vary in the fabric of things, no distinct orders of beauty and grace, but only random series of simulacra whose unitive logic is uniform: exchange value." (8)
Once we recognize just how powerfully determinative our reigning vision of value is for society, how deeply embedded in our consciousness it is, and how thoughtlessly we accommodate ourselves to it (indeed, accommodating ourselves to it is necessary for survival for most of us in modern society), some of the more specific threats that it poses may begin to dawn upon us.
This discussion of value may itself seem to be fairly abstract and theoretical. Let’s bring it a little more down to earth. Here it may be illuminating to consider the contrasting ways in which the accounts of Ruskin and Mill might lead us to regard the labour of the homemaker with regard to the production of value and the wealth of a people. For Mill, the labour of the homemaker would have little value in this regard, as it doesn’t produce much that is fungible or exchangeable: you can’t sell your home or your children on the free market. For Ruskin, by contrast, the work of the homemaker would carry value beyond almost all other labour: she brings new life into the world and is the living heart of a world that she creates around herself and extends out into her surrounding community.
The homemaker’s labour is highly specific to the particular home and family that she is creating and resists abstraction or alienation. Her labour isn’t alienable and abstractable, but is material in its most stubborn form (note the etymology of the word ‘mater-ial’). Her labour can’t be regarded as ‘production’ as such in pursuit of ‘value’ as such, but is labour ordered to very specific goods and ends, whose ‘value’ is the commonweal of her own home and family.
Men have always been much more conformable to the logic of abstraction and alienation. In his most characteristic forms of labour man stands over against the world and acts upon it. However, the same isn’t the case for the woman. The connection of the woman’s labour with the fertility of her own body is important to notice here, for instance. In Genesis, the body of the woman and the body of Mother Earth are bound together symbolically; throughout Scripture, the earth and the womb are paralleled. As Robert Farrar Capon has observed:
"To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and our noses wiped. She is geography incarnate, with her breasts and her womb, her relative immobility, and her hands reaching up to us the fruitfulness of the earth." (9)
In a culture that idolizes Mammon in the abstraction of pure exchange value and which pursues autonomous power, both the woman and the earth will suffer as the nature of both will suffer serious indignities. While the alienation such a society encourages is destructive and oppressive for men, it is even more so for women. It is important to notice the way that alienated labour increasingly sets the terms in which we regard and establishes the conditions within which we practice non-alienated labour. While the homemaker can establish deep and particular value as she pursues the well-being of her household, she is pitied and may even not be regarded as producing at all, as she has no money to show for it. Far better, it is suggested, that she outsource her domestic labour to other paid labourers and pursue a high wage through alienated labour for employers.
While earlier feminist writers like Betty Friedan may have endeavoured to expand women’s horizons of meaningful labour beyond the limited realm of mid-century American suburban domesticity, without abandoning the non-alienated formation of their own homes and families, contemporary feminists have been more prone to idealize the pursuit of autonomy through alienated labour and look down upon homemakers or decry the injustice of their ‘unpaid labour’. In a society ordered around abstraction and alienation and the pursuit of pure exchange value, such a stance is not unreasonable. In such a society, the conditions under which one could form a stable and enduring family, home, and community are increasingly precarious as marriages, localities, and ways of life become ever more fluid and unstable in order to conform them to the logic of the market. Homemaking is a very dangerous gamble in such a context.
In the tensions that women experience between their work and their lives, they are not mistaken in feeling that in many respects the game is rigged against them. Their particular natural attachment to, embeddedness in, and symbolization of the realm of the home mean that they return home from work to a ‘second shift’, whose weight falls far less heavily upon the shoulders of their husbands. Robbed of its proper dignity, and reduced to a realm of the preparation and consumption of commodities, the work of the home is broken down to largely thankless chores, within which the woman is the chief labourer. She bears the greatest burden of what Ivan Illich calls the ‘shadow work’ required to keep every member of the household prepared for their labour in the economy.(10) And, as she will struggle to earn the equivalent of the men around her, she will often find herself deemed lesser in value.
While the challenges faced by women in our society are more acute and more widely discussed, they will never properly be addressed apart from a more general transformation in the way that we approach value—for both men and women. For the alienation of men’s labour is, in many respects an original driving mechanism of the problem. This alienation detached the labour of men from the dominion and vocation concretely manifested in the building up of their own households, a form of labour whose value was inextricably intertwined with the value of their wives’ labour. In sacrificing the more concrete forms of vocation and dominion grounded in their own house for the wage earned in the ‘house’ of another, men could enjoy a more autonomous form of power relative to their wives and also steadily diminish the power and significance of the home and women’s labour in it to one of the consumption of commodities and the refreshment of the ‘breadwinner’, the chief of the capitalist labourer’s pit crew.
The role of the state in all of this shouldn’t be ignored. The state has always had an especial interest in the expansion of the money economy and the drawing of areas of life that exist outside of it into its orbit. In the past, kings could establish economies by paying their soldiers in coins and requiring the general population to pay taxes in coins.(11) This rendered society more scrutable to the state, increased the control of the government, encouraged greater production and consumption, produced more taxes more efficiently, and put populations under various pressures and gave them various incentives to move in the direction of wage labour. The imperative of growing ‘the economy’ and strengthening the state means that governments have always had strong motives for pushing people out of the subsistence economies of households into the pursuit of pure exchange value in the money economy.
Opening our eyes to the distortion of our entire perception through an inverted vision of value is profoundly difficult. It initially requires something akin to an epiphanic moment in which we appreciate the disorienting strangeness and perverseness of the ways of experiencing the world that prevail in our society. However, beyond that it requires a continual effort of correcting our vision, over which the obfuscating distortions of mistaken perceptions of value retain considerable influence. Such discipline is not without its rewards. Our eyes do not merely open to the prevailing distortions, but to possibilities for goodness and beauty. Seeing value as life itself, as Ruskin teaches us, is inherently much more fulfilling than seeing value as money. As this way of seeing things starts to be internalized, it can release us from things we hadn’t realized were holding us in bondage. As I illustrated in the case of the homemaker, it can change the way that we view and appreciate people too.
Alastair Roberts' podcast and other writings can be found at his website, Alastair's Adversia.
(1) Cited in John Ruskin, Unto This Last and Other Writings (London: Penguin Classics, 1997), 206.
(3) Ibid 207
(4) Ibid 209
(5) Ibid 211
(6) Ibid 222
(7) John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive and the Ethics of the Dust (London: Cassell and Company, 1909), 18-19.
(8) David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 437.
(9) Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965), 62.
(10) Ivan Illich, Gender (London: Marion Boyars, 1983), 45ff.
(11) David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (New York: Melville House, 2011), 50.
by Kyle Herrington
One of the most important concepts I have encountered is that of human-created systems of discrimination and unequal treatment. G.K. Chesterton showed how both capitalism and socialism distort our understanding of the human person. Recent events such as the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally have brought attitudes and polices that disenfranchise and persecute minorities to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Progressive voices have been instrumental in pulling back the curtain on these discriminatory systems. Yet, progressive voices are silent on the systematic prejudice perpetuated by abortion.
Frank Stephens, a man with Down syndrome, recently testified before a congressional committee about research on Down syndrome. In his opening statement, Stephens argued for the necessity of research on Down syndrome. He refused to be silent about the epidemic of abortions which take place after a Down diagnosis. “I completely understand that the people pushing that particular ‘final solution’ are saying that people like me should not exist. They are saying that we have too little value to exist. That view is deeply prejudiced by an outdated idea of life with Down syndrome.” (1)
Unfortunately, this “outdated view” is not innocuous. As Stephens mentioned, places like Iceland, Denmark, and South Korea are grotesquely stating they will eliminate Down syndrome in the coming decades. By “eliminate Down syndrome” they mean eliminating people with Down syndrome via prenatal diagnosis and abortion. Nearly 100% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in Iceland are aborted and about 67% of US children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome are aborted (2). The right to abort fetuses diagnosed with “fetal anomalies” has been a key talking point in the debates around the potential repeal of the 8th Amendment in Ireland.
Stephens believed the most important thing he could say to the Congressmen and Congresswomen was that his life is important: “If you take nothing else away from today’s hearing, please remember this, I AM A MAN WITH DOWN SYNDROME AND MY LIFE IS WORTH LIVING” (emphasis in the record). The promotion and acceptance of abortion as “taking care” of people with Down syndrome and other fetal diagnoses perpetuates ableism. Mothers and fathers who receive the news that their child has a condition like Down syndrome or a medical condition that will result in the child losing their life during or shortly after pregnancy deserve robust support from their families, doctors, and communities. (If you or someone you know has received a potentially fatal pre-natal diagnosis for their child, I encourage you to reach out to Alexandra’s House. If you are able, please also think about supporting this charity’s amazing work.)
Everybody’s life is worth living, but legal abortion perpetuates a system that says otherwise. Legal abortion says that every life is only contingently worth living: If you are conceived in a violent act, your life may not be valuable. If you are conceived at the wrong time, your life is only potentially worth caring about. You're less than equal; you may even be an inconvenience. The system of abortion legalized by Roe v. Wade and solidified in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (3) makes the value of a child’s life contingent on the “liberty…to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
In other words, a system has been created to disenfranchise those who cannot speak for themselves and the disenfranchisement is death. How much more ableist can it get?
Both major American political parties and many powerful interests tacitly support this system. Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood, recently tweeted that birth control is good for business and is encouraging “brands” and businesses to protect birth control. Birth control is good for business because less children mean less time employees are off work. I am sure Richards believes abortion is good for businesses (it surely is for her business). The attitude behind legalized abortion is utilitarian and built off the elimination of the defenseless in society, especially children with a medical diagnosis in utero. This isn’t surprising given that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist and considered “[t]he most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” (4)
Legalized abortion is founded upon a system of eugenics that dealt with poverty and disease by killing people. No other institution would get such cover by progressives and powerful interests. Why is the logic of dehumanizing people allowed to be perpetuated? How many people have to be murdered and traumatized before the US wakes up to the system of oppression sold as a system of freedom?
According to the logic of abortion, the bodies of those who are deemed expendable or not suitable for life are violently extinguished. It is necessary to create a culture that is honest with itself about the unacceptable system it has enshrined in law. But that is not good enough. Only a culture that replaces a discriminatory system is one that respects all people’s lives as worth living. Every level of society should promote and support this principle. The goal is a lofty one, but we should not waver in our commitment to solidarity with the least amongst us because this is a goal worth supporting, working towards, and voting for, because as Frank Stephens reminds us, “Every life is worth living.”
(1) Watch the whole statement here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4687834/frank-stephens-opening-statement-syndrome or read the transcript here: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AP/AP07/20171025/106526/HHRG-115-AP07-Wstate-StephensF-20171025.pdf
(3) Majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:
(4) Margaret Sanger, “Chapter 5: The Wickedness of Creating Large Families” in her book Woman and the New Race. http://www.bartleby.com/1013/5.html
Tara Ann Thieke