Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
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.
Tara Ann Thieke