Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Can We Talk?

Some Eclectic Reflections on the Pitfalls and Promises of Dialogue

(The Remnant, September, 2005)

Although Catholic proponents of dialogue with a capital "D" seem to be doing just fine in my neck of dismantled Christendom, their own perception of the future is apparently quite gloomy. I recently found one such example of their sense of impending disaster in an article in the September 19th issue of the Milanese daily newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera. This described a crisis round table discussion entitled "Can We Talk?" to be hosted by Fordham University in New York City that very evening. I gather that the fear of the organizers of the meeting was that Catholics were becoming so polarized that they could no longer engage one another in rational discourse, and that there was no telling what the long-term consequences of this breakdown might be for their intellectual openness towards the outside world as a whole.

If Fordham were next to my apartment in Greenwich Village, I might, perhaps, have attended the gathering to see what all the terror was really about. As it was, the expenditure of four dollars for a round trip subway ride was four hundred pennies more than I was willing to cough up for the event. Better to plunk that kind of dough down at the neighborhood café and actually enter into a rational dialogue with trusted friends about the broader theme of whether traditionalists should ever sit down and have a serious dialogue with "the others"--whether these be Catholics at the Fordham round table, or non Catholics in other situations.

Answering such a query has to begin with a recognition that the meaning of contemporary dialogue is infallibly defined by that venal sub-class of rhetoricians which I identified in a recent article as "word merchants". Such manipulators of the language learned very swiftly that they could make big time bucks serving as the spokesmen for a bizarre alliance of self-interested groups horrified by the obstacles placed by the Christian message in the path of unrestricted "business as usual" in our fallen natural world. Throughout the centuries, these word merchants have seized upon one powerful image after another to depict the truly thick descendants of the crowds in the Roman arenas calling out for Christian blood as intelligent, far-sighted agents of all things bright and beautiful. And it is these same creatures who have now managed to milk the potentially noble concept of free and open-minded dialogue to give the servants of sinful nature yet another chance to humiliate their Christian enemies; this time, by stripping them of their brains and their integrity.

This fraud was already seen for what it was by many Catholics in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolutions, after endless efforts to engage contemporary Italian, French, and German opponents in the profound discourse to which they all claimed to be dedicated had proven to be utterly pointless. Catholics of the day were astounded to learn that their "open-minded" debating partners made prohibition of all discussion of their own anti-Christian axioms the one essential precondition for "rational" discussion. What this meant was that the Catholic who wished to be considered reasonable had to make a blind act of Faith in the judgments of secularist ideologues and even make believe that that act of Faith was actually an act of Reason. In short, the absolutely incredible price of admission into the realm of free-thinking, rational discourse was actually the total abandonment of free-thinking, rational discourse. The penalty for failing to comply with the inexorable demands of the freethinkers was steep: exile from civil society and, in many cases, enough death. Taparelli d’Azeglio, one of the writers for the Roman Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, and Louis Veuillot, the editor of the Parisian daily, l’Univers, expressed Catholic bewilderment over this fideism disguised as thoughtfulness thusly:

"A sad condition of the times is this: in civilized Europe, where in the nineteenth century an alleged freedom of conscience is highly extolled, and particularly in those European countries in which this liberty is most solemnly proclaimed, not merely the clergy but all Catholic peoples in the name of that same liberty are reduced to the harsh alternative of choosing between the observance of the law like apostates and the holy disobedience of martyrs".
(Taparelli, La Civilta Cattolica, ii, 11, 1855, 336)
"In the islands of Oceania, the savages who fill the office of priests often indulge the whim of declaring some specific object to be…taboo, that is to say, sacred, and from that point on no one can touch it under pain of sacrilege and death. Are we going to accord the same faculty to the priests of the ideas of 1789, and will everything that their eye has viewed with pleasure be taboo for the rest of us mortals?…All revolutionary institutions and all their consequences, whatever they may be, taboo! One must be quiet and adore or perish!"
(Louis Veuillot, Mélanges, vi, 435).

Whenever the hypocritically open-minded lament a Catholic "retreat" from dialogue, and ask the question "can we talk?", what they really are mourning is our refusal to play our submissive role properly; what they really are calling us to do is to read the script the way that they themselves have written it. Their cries of "polarization" and anti-rationality increase in direct proportion to the extent that they sense an awakening to reality in our ranks. Hence their outrage over Blessed Pius IX, the Syllabus of Errors, and many of the papal encyclicals which took up Taparelli’s and Veuillot’s arguments, and clearly put Catholics on warning regarding the false character of modern rationality, right up to the Church’s pitiful embrace of mental illness in the 1960’s.

Do these people really see such a momentous awakening today that global round tables are required to repress it? This would, at first glance, appear to be the thinking of the Corriere, a running dog of our democratic capitalist New World Order, which subtly laments every sign of Catholic intransigence (i.e., breathing) in Italian political and social life. I would love to think that such fears are correct, but I still notice all too many powerful Archbishop McCarricks around, so attuned to slavish dialogue that they cannot open their mouths to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, without the name of Allah emerging.

It seems to me to be more likely that the proponents of the kind of dialogue demanding Catholic silence are eager to sound the alarm bell today not due to their belief that our troops are really on the march and fired up with orthodox élan vital, but because they spy just a petit soupçon of the possibility of our one day beginning to shake off our lethargy and move into action. Hence, following the example from the American High Command, they have decided to launch a preventive war against us and ask in an almost whiney way if we "can talk". Should I be correct about this, the round tables are designed to remind us much more delicately of the distinction between unacceptable and really nice, kosher dialogue; of the boundary between what we can say in polite company without offending anyone, and what might identify us as Catholics, rock the boat, and actually set people to thinking about their personal conversion; of the punishments for our lack of compliance. What such round tables under all circumstances would have to do is prevent Catholics from ever making hard-hitting points that could lay the weaknesses of the anti-Christian position on the table and show the world that the dialogue really is a con game serving the purposes of the criminally libertine, rich and powerful. Our nineteenth century forebears were well aware of the consequences of acceptance of such rules of discourse, the special temptation of "conservatives" to succumb to their call to sweet reasonableness, and their final, devastatingly emasculating effect. Let us hear Taparelli d’Azeglio and Veuillot on this score once again:

"Now whence comes so much disagreement in opinions both with regard to theory and practice? Everyone knows. It proceeds from that absolute freedom of thought, of speech, and of the press which, as Gregory XVI said, perpetually engenders new monsters of error, eroding even Catholic minds and their doctrinal principles little by little, as with corrosive acid. The error that in previous times had been locked up in scientific volumes and learned languages, and had deceived the hearts rather than the heads of instructed and erudite men, was popularized and simplified in flyers to be hurled at the mob by the ham actor on the stage, by poets in odes, by musicians in songs, by the fop in the salons, by pedantic schoolmasters for children, and so found entry into the heads of idiots incapable of unmasking sophisms and of consulting documents. An impiety which at the beginning of a revolution made horrified souls shiver, was repeated audaciously by the libertine press and weakly contradicted by the majority of the timid, the moderate, the indifferent, and infiltrated into the social atmosphere through ambiguous words that were tolerated by good men and blindly adopted by simple ones. Thus was formed an erroneous body of opinion, even among many good Catholics, which compelled those who should correct it to respect it, and therefore to combat it weakly. One error then sprouts forth another. One weakness leads to another weakness. The logic of error silences the good sense that still would like to hear the truth. False principles are embraced unconsciously. Their consequences are then tenaciously maintained so that one combats and destroys true principles that would have offered a thread to grasp onto to exit the labyrinth. Finally, an immense chaos is formed in the society of Catholics, rendering impossible all energetic exercises of will, all unity of effort. It is not possible to combat with resolute courage when one fears to fight, perhaps not our of fear of being unjust, but at least out of fear of being accused of exaggeration and fanaticism. Thus, impoverished society loses that immense force which both Catholics and other honest men would have from the unity of conscience and of faith. Meanwhile, the impious triumph, and remain tightly unified in their hatred and in their self-interest."
(Taparelli d’Azeglio, "L’impotenza del governo pontificio", (La Civilta Cattolica, iv, 4, 1859, 680-681).
"Those men have been labeled conservatives who, since 1815… have seemed to fight the Revolution, but {have actually worked} for the profit of the Revolution. The conservative majorities have not conserved anything. They have gradually delivered everything, and have themselves been delivered to the violent minorities they have seemed to combat, but to which in reality they have submitted".
(Veuillot, Mélanges, xii, 236).
"No more men anywhere! The production of man has ceased….There are some men of more or less complete honesty, but lacking genius; some very incomplete men of genius, but lacking all honesty; there is not attachment to truth, only the most senseless attachment to the most insane errors; there is no more good sense, except what is employed in uselessly damning the impotent and evil works one persists in pursuing; there is no more pride in the face of anything ignoble, but there is puerile and dangerous and even cowardly arrogance in the face of everything one must fare…"
(Veuillot, Mélanges, XII, 360-361).

What final answer must we then give to the question posed by the Fordham round table, "Can We Talk"? I think that that answer would have to be a very nuanced one. It would first of all have to depend upon whether we ourselves were sufficiently enlightened regarding the fraudulence of modern civilization, its institutions, and their manipulation (along with dialogue regarding them) by word merchants for the benefit of the wicked. For the influence of modernity in shaping our own mentality is enormous, as Taparelli himself warns us, and not to be shed without conscious effort:

"I will candidly add that in the past I experienced in myself the force of social influences that rendered plausible and just to me many of those institutions the fallacy, insufficiency, contradiction, and iniquity of which I see today so plainly, and have seen ever since the facts of experience constrained me to bring a new light of examination to the principles that inform them".
(Taparelli, "Gli ammodernatori dello stato pontificio", ii, 11 (1855), 176).

Once we have intellectually de-loused ourselves, our next step before responding to the Fordham query must involve identification of the nature of our debating partners. If these prove to be men who outrightly deny even the possibility of the modern fraud, then a myriad of other questions have to be tackled. Are the reasons for that denial a hypocritical participation in the swindle or a mere naïve acceptance of it? Do we have a duty to talk with them, as we might with a modernist bishop and his curia, in order to clear up evils in our diocese, or are we trying to preach to the audience that may be present? Here, questions of our personal temperament, strategic strengths and weaknesses, and potential impact upon our listeners are all very important. A superhuman patience is sometimes required in dealing with hypocrites who can so falsify the character of our arguments that, as Taparelli noted, "we have often asked ourselves if we have written in Sanskrit or Chinese" (Taparelli, Carteggi, 371). An all too swift exposé of the extent of the modern fraud can so painfully effect the naïve as either to send them more slavishly back into their shells or turn them against their deceivers in an uncontrollably unthinking fashion. One could only wish that the different, warring wings of the traditionalist movement would tacitly let one another have a go at dialogue according to their varied, peculiar charisms whenever circumstances dictate a more subtle approach or one that draws blood.

Finally, if we discover that we are being called to talk with people, Catholic or non-Catholic, who do have some real inkling of the nature of the fraud we call modernity, then dialogue may even be an eye-opening experience for us. After all, the beast we are fighting is a many-headed one. quite eclectic conference that I am invited to every year in Austria, organized by a group of Swiss who began to grow wise about the ways of the modern world while dealing with the drug problem in Zurich, pulls together people of truly diverse backgrounds, allowing a thousand anti-modernist flowers to bloom simultaneously. They have their difficulties, but they allow me to present my unadulterated Catholic critique freely, and present me others of quite startling sociological, scientific, and psychological character. If the Fordham round table had such organizers, I would finish my coffee quickly, count my remaining pennies, go through the subway turnstile, and take up the challenge willingly.

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