April 23, 2008
The Pope's Challenge to ConservativesBy Christopher Chantrill
The mainstream media seem to think that the pope's visit to the United States was all about the delicious priestly sex-abuse scandal and liberal agenda issues like abortion and women priests.
Even some conservatives wonder about Benedict XVI. Last week Catholic convert David Allen Tate worried to host Hugh Hewitt about Benedict's background in German philosophy.
Conservatives are right to be worried by the Germans. Over the years they have managed to tie our liberal friends up in knots. On the one hand our liberal friends like to call the German pope a Nazi and conservative Americans "fascists," and this is considered the very height of sophisticated fun by advanced liberal humorists like Bill Maher. On the other hand our liberal friends take many of their ideas straight from the German tradition of Marx and Nietzsche, not to mention the Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger, father of existentialism and postmodernism.
At least Josef Ratzinger has an excuse. As a youngster in wartime Germany he was forced into the Hitler Youth and drafted into the German Army.
If only, conservatives seem to wish, someone had stood astride history after the happy year of 1787 when our remarkable Constitution was ratified in Philadelphia. But nobody did. In 1789 George Washington was inaugurated President of the United States and the sensible people. In the same year the French birthed the modern Left with their Revolution of the silly people. A smart Anglo-Saxon like Edmund Burke could immediately understand and predict where that would all end up.
Less than ten years previously the author of relativism, Immanuel Kant, had published his Critique of Pure Reason, and it was just coming into public notice in Germany through articles published by Karl Reinhold in 1786.
In 1790 a practical politician like Burke had nothing to say about Kant. Nor did anyone else. But 160 years later Russell Kirk still couldn't detect any response to Kant in The Conservative Mind.
Conservatives might hope to ignore Kant's relativism, but we cannot ignore relativity. Kant's notion that we cannot know "things-in-themselves" but only appearances leads directly to a physics of relativity and quantum mechanics.
If relativity is here to stay, then so too is relativism. And ideas have consequences. The relativist narrative of creativity and godlessness and its enticing apology for political power are the chief components in the "belief system" of our modern educated progressive class. Unless that belief system is engaged and challenged in its own terms its naive adepts will continue to believe that all opposition to its ideas and to its power is bitter-end bigotry.
The German pope answered this challenge. He had to. Josef Ratzinger is a German who came to manhood exactly at the moment, in 1945, when the proud German ideology of creativity and state power had crumbled to dust and humiliation and the most advanced country in the world lay at the feet of four foreign armies.
All the world now knows Ratzinger's personal response to the German national cataclysm.
It was his warning about a "dictatorship of relativism... which only leaves the ‘I' and its whims as the ultimate measure" before the Conclave that propelled him to the papacy.
But how should we oppose the dictators? His answer is simple and timeless. He proposes Christian love, as discussed in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," and Christian hope, the subject of his second encyclical, "Spe Salvi." If you read the encyclicals you will find that they are not just "about" Christian love and hope but utterly drenched in them.
Our progressive friends have been wrong about a lot of things over the years. One of them is the idea that Christianity is a severe "patriarchal" religion. The fact is that Christianity has always had a special appeal to women. There were women at the foot of the Cross. And today in the Christian growth areas of South America and China it is estimated that two-thirds of adherents are women. Why is that?
Lord Byron gives us a clue in "Don Juan:"
Christianity is the religion of love. God loves you; you love God. God loves you so much he forgives everything and sacrifices His Son for you.
Our progressive friends try every way they can to entice women out of an existence of love. They teach them to scorn marriage, to coarsen their loving relations with "a sexual life," to replace loving service with a selfish "career," to abandon their circles of care and take jobs in hierarchical government welfare bureaucracies. One fine day even liberal women will discover just how deeply this progressive culture scorns them and denies them everything that matters.
Pope Benedict XVI is a role model for conservatives. He shows that you can engage with the German tradition and not just survive but come out drenched in Christian love and faith.
He's not the only conservative to have engaged German relativism. British conservative Roger Scruton, author of a book on Kant, has also dared to engage the German philosophers and lived to tell the tale. Jewish conservative Jonah Goldberg had to study the German canon to be able to annoy liberals with his Liberal Fascism.
What are the rest of us waiting for?