The View From Rocco's: On Revolution, Globalism, Traditional Catholics, & the Roman Forum
(The Remnant, February 28, 2010)
"Even if the wounds of this shattered world enmesh you, and the sea in turmoil bears you along in but one surviving ship, it would still befit you to maintain your enthusiasm for studies unimpaired. Why should lasting values tremble if transient things fall?"Here I am, seated at my Stammtisch on a rainy New York February morning in order to write my annual article indicating why the Summer Symposium sponsored by the Roman Forum each year on Lake Garda in Italy is an immensely valuable enterprise, deserving of both your participation and your support. My thoughts today took shape, in ways that I would now be hard pressed to explain, around the question of how many points I could make in this piece that I would stake my life on. Three came to mind as a double espresso trickled down my throat.
(Prosper of Aquitaine)
One is that we are on the verge of a revolutionary upheaval. A second is that, living as we do in a global environment, the revolutionary changes soon to engulf us must inevitably affect the entire world. The final point is that many traditional Catholics---who ought to possess the broadest vision and be most capable of drawing good fruits from the impending collapse of the entire modern fraud---are not displaying significantly better appreciation of the contemporary situation than anyone else is. Allow me to take a moment to address each of these points briefly in turn, before coming back to the Summer Symposium and its value.
Overwhelming evidence, from economic indicators to the anger of religious, political, and social activists, demonstrates the revolutionary character of the current era. What counts most for me, however, is, for once, what most mainstream pundits keep emphasizing as well: the seemingly total inability of individuals, groups, corporations, and government on all levels to do much of anything to address the obvious problems overwhelming us. It was precisely this inability to move one inch that blocked all efforts to resolve the financial problems of the French monarchy after 1748 and was the immediate catalyst for the revolution of 1789. And it was precisely this paralysis that Thomas Mann describes as afflicting the western world at the beginning of the Twentieth Century in The Magic Mountain, and sees only the First World War and the advent of willful, revolutionary strong men as having "cured".
Such a revolutionary situation must affect the whole world because globalism, whether one likes it or not, is a fact of life. It has been a fact of life at the very latest since the Nineteenth Century, with many of the disasters from 1914 onwards having been caused by violent and ultimately vain disruptions of this already existing reality. As I sit here in the cafe and think of the lives of all of its employees and customers, I cannot conceive of a single one of them who would not in some way or another suffer from an attempt to deny this global reality. Recreation of a Fortress America on the model of the 1920's and 1930's would simply add to their present woes, which are already great enough indeed.
That brings me to my last point: what I perceive to be a failure in our own circles to cultivate a true, broad Catholic vision with respect to current global, revolutionary issues. I have to admit that this has caught me by surprise. I am not conscious of having changed my own positions on any of these matters, and yet I now feel myself very much to be part of a faction within our ranks, and one forced to defend its views in a way that would have been incomprehensible to me when I entered the movement in 1969.
Although I am certain that there are many reasons for this unfortunate development, two especially keep coming to mind: 1) the powerful resurgence of nativist, Americanist sentiments, no longer effectively matched and contradicted by that prestigious generation of post-war expatriate European intellectuals that knew what the whole of the counterrevolutionary Catholic tradition really meant; and, 2) the lessening of tensions regarding the one issue that firmly united us---namely, the defense of the Mass of the Ages. This permitted other concerns to rise to the fore and be addressed self-confidently from the now seemingly dominant nativist Americanist standpoint.
Whatever the explanation, the number of misconceptions about the historical Catholic vision now taken as givens even by many traditionalists has become absolutely mindboggling. And if this is true among those whom I consider to be the salt of the earth, how will everyone else ever be enlightened? What bothers me in particular is that all of the errors of nineteenth century Liberalism are not only thriving in our ranks. They are also successfully being represented as "right-wing" and counterrevolutionary in character. Hence, many Catholics, rather than simply expressing a proper love for their nation and its heritage, have become imperialist nationalists, forgetting that their religion has always been international in its spirit and highly eager to achieve a global solidarity. Moreover, too many of us make it sound as though any and all concern for the morality of warfare, for the health of a nation's citizens, and for social justice in general is absurdly utopian in nature, and that a "real Catholic" is someone more in the mould of a blustering Colonel Blimp or a self-interested and anti-social Robber Baron.
I certainly can understand skepticism about various scientific theories, but it demoralizes me to see how many in our ranks seem to think that the rape of nature is a joke, and that permitting greedy capitalists to choke us in industrial and automobile fumes is a veritable hallmark of Christian civilization. Again, it was not very long ago that almost no one would have been angered by my conviction that our chief enemy is not an almost always hopelessly divided Islam but, rather, that pluralist ideology and pro-Israel lobby that uses resurgent Moslem political action as a means of assaulting all firm religious belief whatsoever, thereby strengthening their domination over all of us.
Perhaps I am being nostalgic about the past, but I cannot picture Dietrich von Hildebrand ever thinking that Sarah Palin could be the Catholic leader President Obama is not, rather than being merely a different version of the same unacceptable modern spirit. Nor, to end with reference to one final pinprick that arrived in my office in the form of an announcement of a conference in honor of von Hildebrand to be held this May in Rome, that that great defender of Catholic social thinking would have been anything but horrified to see that Michael Novak and the Acton Institute were to take part in it.
The Roman Forum has been dedicated to awakening people from such dogmatic slumbers and to an embrace of the broad vision represented by the whole of the Catholic heritage since its foundation by Dietrich von Hildebrand in 1968. Lecture programs on a variety of subjects have been supplemented, since 1992, with systematic academic year courses on Church History and Culture in New York City, tapes of which are more and more available for inexpensive download through Keep the Faith, Inc.
Readers of The Remnant know that for nearly two weeks every year since 1993, fifty participants in the Roman Forum's annual Summer Symposium transform Gardone Riviera, a small town on Lake Garda, the largest and most beautiful lake in Italy, into an international Catholic village. There are daily traditional masses in St. Nicolo, the seventeenth century parish church, Vespers in the Oratory, superb organ and choral music, lectures, exquisite food and wine, concerts, dances, and day trips to surrounding sites, such as Venice. For attendees, many of whom come back year after year and feel like a large extended family, it is a rare and wonderful opportunity to experience Catholic camaraderie on the continent where Catholic culture first came to flower; a rare and wonderful opportunity also to extract oneself from the resurgent parochialism threatening to block clear perception of the truth and beauty of the cosmopolitan Catholic vision.
This year's Symposium, July 1st through July 12th, honoring the 100th anniversary of Notre Charge Apostolique (August 15, 1910), the letter of Pope St. Pius X to the bishops of France condemning the movement called the Sillon, is entitled The Politics of Faith and Reason? Or the Triumph of the Will. Its chief purpose is to address the confusion in our ranks, by demonstrating just how revolutionary the Anglo-American liberal outlook disguised as Catholic really is. I quote from the prospectus for the program:
A basic "either-or" choice seems more and more to be forced upon contemporary Catholics. Either they accept as somehow written into the nature of things the dominant pluralist political, social and economic system, or they reaffirm their loyalty to a classical and Christian vision of man and society that clashes profoundly with it. What are the origins of that system? In what ways do classical and Christian political, social, and economic concepts contradict it? How is it that many believers have been falsely convinced that the pluralist system fulfills the Catholic vision? What can be done to drive home the truth that pluralism is an attack on both Faith and Reason and a recipe for the triumph of the will in public and private life? These are the themes to be developed by the Roman Forum faculty at the 2010 Summer Symposium.This year's faculty, along with its musical and clerical contingent, is the largest ever. Speakers include Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society on The Glorious Side to Social Decline: G.K. Chesterton on The New Dark Ages; Dr. Miguel Ayuso-Torres of the University of Madrid on Carlism: One Catholic Answer to the Anglo-American Political Vision; Rev. Mgr. Dr. Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula of Human Life International, on The Problem of Christian Democracy; James Bogle, Esq., author of A Heart for Europe, on "And thou shalt renew the face of the earth": Sacrum Romanum Imperium and the Ideal of Christendom from Constantine to Blessed Emperor Charles; Dr. Jeffery Bond, Lecturer in Philosophy, Politics, and Literature, on Swift on Modernity: A Confederacy of Dunces; Christopher A. Ferrara, J.D., President of the ACLA, on From Montesquieu, to Holmes, to Scalia: The Triumph of Legal Positivism over Goodness, Truth and Beauty; our esteemed editor, Michael J. Matt, on The Serious Catholic Press: Serving the Truth & Surviving in a Pluralist, Blogging, Information-Crazed Universe; Dr. Brian M. McCall of the University of Oklahoma, on The Drive to Codify: Law's Departure from Faith and Reason in Post-Enlightenment Church and State; Professor John Medaille of the University of Dallas on Benedict on Business: Economic Order & the Principle of Gratuitousness; Dr. Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican, on The Vatican under Benedict XVI: Working for Catholic Truth and Order Against Enormous Odds); Rev. Dr. Richard Munkelt of the University of Fairfield, on From Nominalism to the Corruption of the Polis: A Philosophical Examination of the Intimate Connection Between Ideas and Daily Life; Rev. Gregory Pendergraft of the Fraternity of St. Peter, on Religious Life and Pastoral Work: Problems of Forming a Catholic Clergy and Laity in a World Opposed to Faith and Reason; and, finally, myself, with a variety of topics illustrating the main theme: Lamennais, Americanism, and the Revolutionary Confessional State; St. Pius X, Le Sillon, l'Action Francaise, and Catholic Action; Marxism, Fascism, and the Catholic Personalist Temptation (1918-1950); The Post-War Church: Trapped in a Marxist and Americanist-Pluralist Maze; and Bringing the Light of Faith & Reason into the Dark & Willful Pluralist Cave.
Tapes of all of these lectures will be available by next fall. Listening to them will, of course, be immensely valuable. Nevertheless, it is the whole experience of the Symposium's "time out of time" that most counts. Like the Chartres Pilgrimage, it marks people in a lasting, positive, spiritual and intellectual fashion. If anyone reading this article can himself attend, we can still make room for you. If anyone can give a tax-deductible donation to one or the other of the twenty fine young students and seminarians from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Estonia who have applied for scholarships they (and we) would be extremely grateful for the assistance. Given the revolutionary upheaval threatening us on a global level, men and women with a full sense of the Catholic vision will be needed more than ever. They are not being prepared for this in terribly many places. How long we will be able to continue to do our part to train them in this unique environment remains unclear as well. Carpe diem!
Further information at www.romanforum.org
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