Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

A View From Rocco's Cafe: Chartres, Dr. James Hitchcock & the Social Kingship of Christ

(The Remnant, June 15, 2008)

Chartres sonne, Chartres t'appelles, gloire, honneur au Christ Roi

(The Song of the Pilgrimage)

Visitors bearing knapsacks frequently press close to my beloved Stammtisch, downing all too hurried espressos before trudging dutifully onwards towards yet another vital tourist destination under a brutal sun or a relentless rain. Their utterly miserable countenance inevitably reminds me of my Chartres knapsack and certain undeniable discomforts accompanying the pilgrimage experience: the omnipresent odor of Desitin smeared onto anything human that can chafe and blister; the nocturnal visits to a portaloo from whose door all tents look the same, thereby delaying rediscovery of one's home base until morning reveille; and, worst of all to a city slicker, those diabolically inexplicable rural sounds---the ones reawakening my first, terrifying camping expedition, when several teenage buddies and I, seeking refuge from the infernal hoots and howls of wandering feral creatures, stood up inside our tent, picked it from its moorings, and stumbled clumsily out of the woods under its protective shield.

"I don't want to pressure you", a somewhat sheepish Michael Matt whispered tentatively as we parted company in Rome; "but might you come again next year?" Uttering a shaky and somewhat grumpy "yes", I nevertheless kept my fingers tightly crossed and promised myself that I would make use of even the shabbiest excuse to avoid ever approaching the Road to Chartres again.

As I write this article, I still soothe myself with the satisfying thought that I do not have to sling a knapsack around my shoulders for another eleven months; i.e., until Pentecost Weekend, 2009. But that I will indeed be there on that same old Desitin-stained highway is, God willing, already, once more, a given. To quote my colleague, Chris Ferrara: "I just have to be part of this".

Why? One major reason is connected with something else that arrived at my Stammtisch at Rocco's this week: a knapsack's load of new lamentations regarding the "Catholic Right" from the pen of Dr. James Hitchcock, writing in the Human Life Review. This second critique of the evils of Catholic Rightism is a response to the reply of writers like Chris Ferrara and myself to his first assault. Once again, The Remnant figures high on his list of dangerous threats to the pro-life movement.

Dr. Hitchcock was particularly irritated by the tenor of my Remnant piece last November. Parts of that essay were admittedly quite sarcastic---no debate on that score. But Dr. Hitchcock, who began this depressing war, never seems to have asked himself the obvious question as to why I might have adopted the tone that I did.

The answer is a simple one. His first article was not a serious attempt to understand the "Catholic Right", rationally critique it, and offer suggestions for correcting its perceived errors. Instead, it was an imaginative and frequently downright absurd polemic designed to humiliate its targets and turn them into objects of ridicule. How could I enter into a rational dialogue with an author who invented arguments from the Twilight Zone regarding our adulation of George III as a divine right monarch? No, Dr. Hitchcock, the sarcasm did not emerge out of nowhere. It was what Dietrich von Hildebrand might have called a "response to negative value": in this case, to a tangle of misrepresentations that might have made a big hit with a neo-con crowd used to bullying the traditionalist lower orders, but which I found outrageous and personally very insulting.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hitchcock's second installment continues along the same contemptuous and misleading track. Anyone who tried to discern what I said in my November article from his latest attack would be totally lost in space. Just as in his previous piece, he plays word games for the sake of winning points: butchering the context of arguments, leaving out those parts of them that disturb his thesis, and turning his fertile imagination to the invention of statements that one has never made. While tossing off assertions of incredible audacity as though they were unquestionable givens, he nevertheless demands scholastic proof for obvious facts. Moreover, while celebrating his devotion to nuance, he illustrates more than ever his refusal to allow the tiniest pipsqueak of an objection to that Liberation Theology which is Enlightenment Americanism.

Rehashes are never really all that interesting. Therefore, rather than rehash the entire battle with Dr. Hitchcock, I have followed the example given by my colleagues in past issues of this newspaper, and have prepared a Syllabus of Distortions summarizing a number of his complaints and then responding briefly to them.

  1. The Remnant does not accept the authority of Vatican Two:

    Of course it does, exactly as the Church herself receives Vatican Two; namely, as a Pastoral Council which must be understood in the light of the teaching of all previous Councils, and definitely not as Modernists and many Conservatives treat it---i.e., as though it were a Dogmatic Council, and the only one in the History of Christendom to boot;

  2. Rao gives no definition of the Enlightenment:

    Of course I did. I repeatedly defined the Enlightenment as an historical movement which attempts to deal with life on a purely natural basis, without allowing Christ and Christian Faith to play their distinctive part in guiding human society. Moreover, I suggested two radically different works, those of Peter Gay and the recent, massive Histoire de Christianisme, published in Paris, to demonstrate a truth that could be amplified ad infinitum: the fact that the scholarly world, Left and Right, shares with me the same understanding of the Enlightenment and the crucial role that America has played in incarnating its ideals. It is apparently only many American Catholic Conservatives who do not want to face the reality of the Enlightenment and its influence over America. They want its anti-Catholicism to be whitewashed and even declared essential to the Catholic Faith without doing damage to the substance of the latter. This reduces them to a state of perpetual contradiction, step-by-step appeasement of a voracious enemy, and creeping liquidation of their own historical memory of the Faith;

  3. Rao gives no precise proof of Fr. Neuhaus' adulation of the American system:

    This objection, while strictly speaking "true", simply boggles the mind. Fr. Neuhaus cannot open his mouth without adulating the American Way. I did not make any direct citation from him for the same reason that I do not ask students to footnote the statement that World War One began in 1914.: because it is an obvious fact. If Dr. Hitchcock has any doubts on this score, why does he not just ask Fr. Neuhaus for clarification? I'm sure the editor of One Thing would not deny the essence of his whole oeuvre.

    Still, since proof for the obvious is demanded, allow me to quote one passage from Fr. Neuhaus' Doing Well and Doing Good: "America is the first credal nation in human history. America did not just happen. It was professed into being. In that sense, America is the first universal nation, for all who are convinced can join in professing its creed…" (New York, Doubleday, 1992, pp. 4, 55). Fr. Neuhaus goes on to insist, in the same section of this book, that any problems of the American Creed can be resolved through further study and commitment to its underlying genius: the "Puritain-Lockean synthesis", or, in other words, an amalgam of the radical Reformation and the Enlightenment.

    Hence, I stand firmly by what I said in my first article. Fr. Neuhaus is a Liberation Theologian, just like his co-sectarian, Michael Novak, who waxes even more eloquently about the same subject, and whom he named as a model for Catholic public activism at a recent meeting of the American Catholic Social Scientists at St. John's University in New York City.

    There are two reasons why the term Liberation Theologian can be applied to such men, despite its early Marxist connotations: 1) Marxism and Americo-capitalism both share the same Enlightenment roots and reflect the same exaltation of the natural over the spiritual realm as the key to progress and perfection; and 2) The Americo-capitalist branch of the common Enlightenment enterprise has a longer and more successful history of combining Christian language and subversive naturalist themes. The fact that Dr. Hitchcock does not like this reality is of no significance. His personal preference is overridden by the requirements of logic;

  4. Rao gives no illustration of how Catholics are seduced by the Enlightenment-Americanist vision:

    Of course I did. I gave two, one of which Dr. Hitchcock simply refused to mention, the other of which he butchered.

    My first example, the one which was excised, concerned "The Catholic Moment". This, for Fr. Neuhaus, is the golden opportunity Catholics now have both to accept the American Creed (with its Puritain-Lockean Synthesis) as well as to declare it to be a purer Catholic Faith, one that has been liberated from its obscurantist, anti-Enlightenment, pre-conciliar past. If Dr. Hitchcock does not think this is so, then, once again, I believe that he should ask Fr. Neuhaus for clarification. One Thing rises or falls on this key point.

    Here, as well, I reiterate what I said in my November article. I personally know all too many believers who admire Fr. Neuhaus and listen to his counsel because they have heard his Catholic-sounding words and have seduced themselves into thinking that he is arguing for the bending of America to the traditional Catholic Faith rather than the bending of the traditional Catholic Faith to the American Creed.

    My second example, the one which was butchered, pointed to the way in which Catholics have been emasculated by making an act of faith in the "peace and harmony" offered them under the regime of "American freedom". Dr. Hitchcock mentioned only my dislike of Americanist "peace and harmony", to make it seem as though I somehow mocked the goods of social tranquility and fraternity in and of themselves. But he left out the sentences in which I noted that the "peace and harmony" promised by the system were bought at the price of abandoning witness to distinct Catholic positions in public life---one of the central demands of the Enlightenment---as something unacceptably divisive.

    But now I see that I can add a third illustration of the seduction of Catholics in America: Dr. Hitchcock's own stated position. His constant reference to the doctrine of religious liberty shows that he shares John Locke's teaching that Christianity, at least as far as the social order is concerned, is all about "tolerance" rather than substantive Truth. His Lockean standpoint is confirmed by his rejection of the importance of the Social Kingship of Christ. And the fact that he has lost his Catholic sense in this field is revealed by his treatment of that concept as though it were some vague, utopian invention of my own, rather than one of the cornerstones of Pope Pius XI's attempts to fight the manifold evils of the Enlightenment in the interwar period.

  5. The Remnant criticized Dr. Hitchcock for demanding that people support the war and be present at a Catholic Prayer Breakfast which he himself has never attended:

    This is a silly fabrication. What we at The Remnant said was: 1) that Catholic indifference to or support for an unjust war is an evil, and; 2) that pro-life indifference to or support for an unjust war is harmful to the logic and the credibility of a movement concerned for the protection of the innocent.

    Since much of Dr. Hitchcock's first article attacked complaints that I had aimed at the Prayer Breakfast in question, I naturally assumed he was a friend of that event. I am glad to be disabused of this error. In any case, no one ever suggested that he called for compulsory attendance at the morning nosh;

  6. Rao is critical of the popes of the last fifty years, especially John Paul II, whom he called the Master of Murk; he is a writer for the Remnant, which does not accept the decree on religious liberty, is sympathetic to the Lefebvrite schism, and only recognizes as Catholic teaching whatever fits in with its own beliefs;

    As Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand noted, it is my perfect right as a Catholic openly to criticize popes on non-infallible matters, even while accepting my responsibility as a layman to obey them as the constituted authorities of the Body of Christ.

    I have indeed had many disagreements with the popes of the past fifty years, but with respect to the need for greater clarity in their pastoral teaching and their granting of justice to the traditional liturgy. I never called John Paul II the Master of Murk, as Dr. Hitchcock claims. I said that Americanism was the Master of Murk, since it creates a situation wherein everything becomes unclear in people's minds, and society can easily be manipulated by the strongest wills. John Paul II's statements and policies allowed for the development of a similarly anarchic atmosphere conducive to the usurpation of Church authority by the strongest and most willful spokesmen for their own pet causes.

    Dr. Hitchcock and Company have not been without their problems with recent popes either. They certainly have not appreciated papal statements on war and economics, although Fr. Neuhaus was indeed able to utilize the "murky situation" that grew up under the previous pontificate to interpret John Paul II's critique of capitalism as an enthusiastic defense of the same. I am almost certain that Benedict XVI---whom I deeply admire---is less to their tastes. This would be due to the fact that the reigning pontiff has, bit-by-bit, begun to mention many of the themes of the pontiffs of the previous one hundred and fifty years---the themes of popes who attacked Americanism and proclaimed the need for society to recognize Christ as its King.

    I presume that Dr. Hitchcock's claim that The Remnant only accepts what pleases it in papal teaching---an assertion that actually describes the approach of his own camp---is based upon our criticism of the Second Vatican Council's decree on religious liberty, our sympathy for Archbishop Lefebvre, and our conviction that the motu proprio (which he must loathe to the core of his being) would probably never have been published without the existence of and pressure exerted by the Society of St. Pius X.

    We at The Remnant have always been deeply concerned with our duties as faithful Catholics, which, one needs constantly to reiterate, have nothing to do with that slavish acceptance of every word from the Holy Father's lips that many exaggerated conservative interpreters of Vatican One deem necessary. The decree on religious liberty has never been considered part of the infallible Magisterium of the Church. One was always free to critique it, and it is continually being "re-explained" by Rome in ways that respond positively to many of those critiques, gradually defusing any unacceptable Lockean gloss on its meaning.

    As far as being "close to the 'Lefebvrites'" is concerned, we are in good company. Rome, which does not speak of the Society as being in schism, and long ago recognized lay attendance at its masses as perfectly legitimate, seems regularly to want to get closer to it as well.

  7. Rao exaggerates the influence of ideas and is closed to the nuance of the serious social observer (i.e., Dr. Hitchcock), who understands the many varied factors which have entered into the development of the American system. He is an historical determinist:

    Anyone familiar with my pamphlet on Americanism, or anything else that I have ever written relating to that subject, knows that I am convinced that modern America is what it is due to the interconnection of many factors: radical Puritan and Enlightenment ideas productive of change, a conservative British spirit frightened of alteration to the status quo and the intellectual speculation fomenting it, and the need to deal with the problems of an ever more diverse immigrant society being most important among them.

    I have, therefore, consistently argued that it is absolutely essential to a full understanding of how "the system" works to take not only intellectual matters into account, but historical, political, economic, sociological, and psychological ones as well. It is only when one does so that he can really grasp how Enlightenment naturalist individualism made its progress in the United States; why it did so in a non-violent manner here as opposed to elsewhere; and how this country "squared the circle" of its simultaneously radical and conservative soul by convincing a plethora of individuals and groups that they were all sublimely free while stripping their freedom of any substantive meaning threatening to the status quo.

    I have never said that America had to develop in this manner; simply that it has done so, and that a Catholic who wants seriously to use the system to obtain a victory for his own deeply held beliefs had better grasp the formidable array of powerful pitfalls confronting him. The same would have to be said for Catholic attempts to deal with other flawed historical systems. In fact, I have dedicated a good number of articles to this very enterprise. All systems have been flawed---even, shock of shocks, the American system!---and thus must be marked: "handle with care".

    Dr. Hitchcock does not want to hear any of this. In order to disculpate John Locke & the Philosophes from any responsibility for the society around us, he ridicules belief in the significance of ideas and their ability to shape individuals and institutions as "historical determinism". Anyone who perceives ideas as having consequences is, for Dr. Hitchcock, an ideologue who views human beings as automatons. The free man and the free society must be liberated from the tyrannical constraints of Aristotelian logic and the principle of non contradiction. They are just too dang un-American.

    Dr. Hitchcock tells us that we would do better to identify "sin" rather than "ideas" as the cause of almost all of our woes. I agree that this can be done, but one needs more particulars for the "sin" argument to be in any way useful. A man who learned from histories of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, and modern Spain that the problems faced by these societies were all caused by the same undifferentiated "sin" would not be very far advanced in explaining their peculiar situations. Modernity's most important differentiating "sin" is precisely its domination by an Enlightenment vision that builds individual fulfillment, as well as political, social, and economic order upon the liberation of sinful, fallen nature to do its worst. It is modernity's enslavement to a vision transforming sin into the foundation of an acceptable system guiding personal and social life which marks it off as being truly unique in the history of the world. But to say this, for Dr. Hitchcock, is, once again, nothing but "historical determinism".

    Dismissal of the impact of ideas does not mean that Dr. Hitchcock is really open to an investigation of non-intellectual factors central to the development and functioning of American political and social life. For, after denigrating the value of ideas that lead to a critique the Unquestionable American System, he attacks serious consideration of other kinds of evidence which might bring the American Creed under scrutiny and threaten its domination of our nation and its citizens.

    Dr. Hitchcock took umbrage at my bringing up history, by making reference to the political structures of the United States as basically an inheritance from medieval Britain which could be seen as ideologically "neutral"---I used the term "an empty shell". I brought this up in order to indicate that Catholics did not have to treat the structures of our government as evil; to show that in and of themselves they could be used by believers---so long as the faithful worked to dethrone their Enlightenment masters and utilize them in a Catholic spirit.

    Dr. Hitchcock refused to allow even the tiniest of discussions of the specific problems of a Catholic plunge into contemporary electoral politics---something which ought to be open to rational investigation. He simply declared contemporary, Republican boot licking electoral politics to be an obviously successful enterprise, which I, in my ideological blindness, refused to admit. I don't admit it. I want an honest response concerning the strengths and weaknesses, not just snarling.

    Finally, rather than critiquing the alternative kinds of political action I have repeatedly mentioned (the model of the Italian Opera dei Congressi being one of them), Dr. Hitchcock told his readership that I never offered any such suggestions at all. Once again, he would liquidate alternatives from the historical record!

    Clearly, examination of raw data stands in the way of the two things Dr. Hitchcock most wants to hear from The Remnant and myself: 1) a wholehearted acceptance of the Puritan-Lockean American Creed as the only possible spirit that can infuse the political shell handed down from the medieval past; as a spirit written into the very nature of things; a spirit, dare I say, "historically determined"?;and, 2) a heartfelt proclamation of this destructive Liberation Theology as the sole permissible Catholic approach to social activism.

  8. The Remnant is an enemy of the pro-life movement:

    This is an insult, pure and simple, especially to a man like Chris Ferrara, whose American Catholic Lawyers Association has been continuously active in all aspects of the defense of innocent unborn life.

    The Remnant is the opponent of only two things: 1) the idea that Dr. Hitchcock represents the entire pro-life movement, and that his dicta are infallible; and, 2) A gullibility about electoral politics under current conditions that blinds Catholic men and women to the compromises with self-destructive Enlightenment principles of freedom, popular will, and consensus politics that they entail, and the gradual changes that take place in their own Catholic minds and hearts as they do so: changes that lead them to mock as vague utopianism concepts such as the need for society to bend its knee to the Kingship of Christ; changes which, I still insist, would easily have led many of them to find excuses for supporting Rudi Giuliani if he had become the Republican candidate for president.

All this clarification of silly misrepresentations, this belaboring of the obvious, this painful representation of long-term Catholic principles to people who must at one time in the not so distant past have been familiar with and cherished them, this realization that no argument seems capable of denting the armor of the American Sect or of One Thing and its Liberation Theologians is deeply depressing. That depression should please Michael Matt, because it helps mightily to ensure my return to Chartres.

Why? Because on that annual pilgrimage one sees no confusion regarding what is Catholic and what is not. Instead, one is confronted with the past and the present of Catholic Christendom in full, self-conscious, militant, Faith-and-Reason-filled union. And because Catholicism on the Road to Chartres makes no apologies for what it is, it attracts legions of clerical and lay youth of all races and nations. There are more seminarians on that road than are ordained in all of North America. And every year there are more bishops present who never dreamed in the 1970's that they would be celebrating a Traditional Mass of the Roman Rite for teenagers who deeply cherish the memory of Archbishop Lefebvre. The Chartres Pilgrimage shows me where the future of the Church lies: it lies with the ever new but unchanging Tradition that the "Catholic Right" dedicates itself to promoting.

Standing with our bread rolls and coffee, waiting to begin the morning trek of the last day of our journey to one of the greatest of Gothic cathedrals---where the local bishop would welcome us into his church, one by one---Michael Matt, Chris Ferrara and I asked ourselves what it was that we most admired about the French Catholics who make up the majority of the pilgrimage participants. I cannot say who it was who summed up our conclusions, but I remember the words. We admired them "because they are a People, while we were only individuals who ‘came from somewhere'". This is because they were formed by a culture which understood what the Social Kingship of Christ meant and allowed itself to be infused with its teaching and its spirit.

We at The Remnant want Americans to become a Catholic People of the same admirable quality. We believe that the Traditionalist Movement can do magnificent work in making this desire more than just a pipe dream. I, for one, think that parishes with traditional masses ought to expose themselves to the formative influences coming from "the spirit of Chartres" by establishing "sister church" relationships with the various chapters from other countries taking part in this great pilgrimage dedicated to Our Lady.

But in order to become a true Catholic People we also have to wrest American institutions and American lawmaking from out of the hands of the worshippers of the "Puritain-Lockean synthesis" and allow them to be guided by a spirit that will truly exalt and perfect them. Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapter marches to Chartres behind an American flag with a Sacred Heart---a traditional symbol of Christ's Social Kingship---sewed onto it. Catholics should have that same symbol "sewn" onto their own spirit whenever they engage in political activity. It takes a Sacred Heart to build a civilization that can really last.

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