Archive for November, 2018


November 1, 2018 Comments off

Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic


 By Stephen M. Krason

Various commentators, mostly from the conservative side but also a few sober-minded liberals, are expressing concern that a mob mentality—coming especially from the political left—is taking hold in America. They point to the disturbing evidence: the clashes between groups in Charlottesville and Portland, Antifa commandeering busy streets in Portland and attacking motorists while the police look the other way, the hounding of Republican members of Congress and Trump administration figures in public establishments, the in-your-face confrontations in Congressional office buildings during the Kavanaugh hearings, outright physical attacks in a few cases—including a shooting—on members of Congress, the flood of threats of violence against prominent conservative politicians and their families, the shutting down of anyone but leftist speakers on many campuses, the excusing and seeming urging on of such confrontational behavior by leading Democratic party figures like Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker, the physical assaults on pro-life picketers and sidewalk counselors, mobs taking it upon themselves to tear down Confederate statues, the social media mobs that try to pressure and intimidate those who don’t tow the leftist line (something even I have experienced), and the list could go on and on.

Along with a rising mobocracy goes a rejection of the legally constituted means of making public decisions and of constitutional procedures to bestow and transfer political power. So, instead of going through the proper decision-making procedures to have Confederate statutes taken down and replaced in some cases a lawless element decided to do it by itself, irrespective of the sentiments of the majority of the community. The means of electing a President prescribed by the Constitution are held by some to be illegitimate because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but still lost the election. Donald Trump can be impeached because anything the Democratic party opposition wants to claim is grounds for it is acceptable, irrespective of what the Framers thought and American constitutional history indicates. Instead of wanting to wait for the next national election, one witnesses a figure such as Rosie O’Donnell—one of your typical self-appointed Hollywood moral teachers and political guiding lights—calling for a military coup d’etat to oust Trump from power.

One writer recently recalled Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Speech of 1838. Stimulated by a vigilante episode and the murder of an abolitionist newspaper editor by a pro-slavery mob, he lamented growing lawlessness and warned that it could result in the rise of a strongman leader who, in the name of restoring order, would become a despot and destroy the country’s cherished liberties. Lincoln understood that order—to quote Russell Kirk—is “the first need of all and to secure it once it has widely broken down people will surrender their freedom.” The Lyceum Speech certainly is a sober thing to reflect on in the face of these current developments.

A number of disturbing thoughts come to mind with these recent happenings. First, when confrontations and even physical assaults become increasingly resorted to as a way to further political objectives—and prominent political figures give their approval—the rule of law is at stake. The activists and politicians should think about the implications of this; it means that the door is opened to arbitrary and even absolute rule. The rule of law—applicable to everyone—is the way that repressive, arbitrary government is staved off. The leftists in the streets decry fascism, but this is the same behavior that characterized the European fascists of the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century.

It follows that if laws one doesn’t like can be selectively ignored or discarded—without any serious, learned analysis and recourse to sound moral principles to show that they are truly unjust, which not many laws in a country like the U.S. are ever going to be—then law means nothing. Those who have the most power become the ones who rule. Those who are tempted to join the mobs in the streets should take some time to reflect about how great an achievement it has been for mankind to embrace the principle that the rule of law should govern. One can understand why Lincoln called for citizens to not just obey the laws but to have reverence for them—almost as if they were religious precepts.

Second, the desire to, in effect, bludgeon one’s way to achieve political objectives not only shows an abject rejection of the value of debate, give-and-take, and compromise in politics—which thinkers as far back as Aristotle stressed the essentiality of in political life—but it also demonstrates an utter arrogance about politics. What it says is that we know better, and will not tolerate even the raising of any questions about the way we think. It is an exercise in modern-day gnosticism—we simply know better, no matter what. The curious thing is that one often observes that the people who act this way—despite the all-knowing aura that they try to project—display a striking mindlessness when it comes to their socio-political agenda. They often embrace the positions they do not because of deep and extensive reflection, but because this is the standard leftist position or at least because it’s the “enlightened” position. Many of the activists are young and have had educations that have been ideologically charged and hardly have encouraged serious, independent thinking. Then there are those like the Rosie O’Donnells who have never even looked into the realities of something like the military rule which she so confidently touts.

Third, if the rule of law is seen as dispensable or can be subordinated to the achievement at all costs of ideological objectives the innocent will be readily victimized by the unscrupulous. We witnessed this vividly in the Kavanaugh hearings where truth and hard evidence seemed to be irrelevant and accusers, regardless of their intentions, were supposed to be listened to. We, of course, see the same thing with the sexual harassment/sexual assault question generally, where not only the presumption of innocence and due process are discarded, but the very nature of the offense is never clearly defined. Ditto with child abuse and neglect, with the result that innocent parents are routinely investigated and have their families disrupted by the so-called child-protective system. In other words, the very elements of what constitutes the rule of law are ignored.

Perhaps what is different from Lincoln’s time, and so even more disturbing, is that at least some of the current mob-like behavior appears to be orchestrated. We hear that George Soros-funded organizations pay protestors to be disruptive and, recently, an organization whose business is to arrange protests and confrontations for its clients was in the news.

A troubling pattern has emerged that is similar to what happened as the slavery issue tore at the nation in Lincoln’s time. The pro-slavery extremists—the firebrands—gained the upper-hand in the South and all possibility of any kind of accommodation and even looking objectively at the realities and evils of slavery went by the boards. As time went on, the mainstream Southern politicians followed behind them; effectively, they let the firebrands forge the path and set the agenda. In our time, we witness mainstream Democratic party politicians embracing the policy agenda of the hard left—consider the near extinction of pro-life Democratic members of Congress—and now observe them not only maintaining silence about the mob-like behavior but some actually urging it on.

Aristotle was the first great Western political thinker to speak at length about the rule of law. He also stressed the importance of a community of friendship to insure a stable political order. As we see the lineaments of a bubbling mobocracy, we—and especially our political leaders and governmental officials, in particular those of the increasingly outright leftist Democratic party—should give attention to what he had to say. There is no question that it has perennial relevance. None of us will be winners if the rule of law is eviscerated and the prevailing political, social, and cultural polarization and the attacks on basic rights such as religious liberty—born especially of the repudiation of the natural law and the growing influence of cultural radicalism–tears ever further at the nation’s social fabric. Civic friendship seems in many ways to have long since disappeared. Mobs begin to generate counter-mobs, which we have begun to see in places like Charlottesville and Portland, and that is one step away from civil war in the classic sense of the term.

Stephen M. Krason’s “Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic” column appears monthly (sometimes bi-monthly). He is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and Associate Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists and a lawyer. Among his books are: The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic; Catholicism and American Political Ideologies, and a Catholic political novel, American Cincinnatus. This column originally appeared in His views, of course, are his own.