I mentioned Dorothy Day in passing in yesterday’s post. Specifically I named her as part of the Catholic pacifist-anarchist tradition. A couple of readers asked about whether or not Day was actually an anarchist, as they had always heard she was a socialist. I referred one reader to a short article on Day that noted her status as an anarchist, but I didn’t feel that was adequate.
By chance, my wife who is working on an unrelated research project about feminism, happened to pick up some books about Day at the library today. One of the books is The Moral Vision of Dorothy Day: A Feminist Perspective by June E. O’Connor. I thumbed through it and found the following passage, which I think provides a far more satisfying explanation of Day’s views:
Although she preferred the words libertarian, decentralist and personalist to anarchist, Day’s attraction to anarchism was an enduring one. With Peter Maurin and others, most notably Ammon Hennacy and Robert Ludlow, Dorothy Day sought fundamental changes in the structure of society by minimizing the presence and power of the state and by arguing on behalf of personal initiative and responsibility expressed in direct action.
Whether acting alongside of or in spite of Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day believed in the power of the person as the starting point for the good society. Day described anarchism as being “personalist before it’s communitarian: it begins with living a disciplined life, trying to be what you want the other fellow to be.” Day admitted that although one must assume responsibility oneself, the fact is that many others will not. When they do not, one must simply try to understand them, given their sufferings and their backgrounds, and accept them.
…Anarchists are not so much politicians or sociologists as they are moralists; their stand is not so much political and economic as it is spiritual and ethical.
[Well, anarchists aren't politicians at all, but this is still a nice observation about anarchism.]
One thing about Catholics is that, when it comes to partisan politics, they’re split pretty evenly. Only deeply ignorant people lump Catholics in with the “Religious Right” since about half of them are on the religious left. Many are admirably antiwar, and of course, there is even a nice anarchist pacifist tradition, in which one finds Dorothy Day or Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.
Some Catholics, however, are absolutely terrible on issues of nationalism and war. This article below, written by a priest with whom I broadly agree on almost all theological and liturgical issues, was particularly tasteless. Fr. Zuhlsdorf, who is generally sound when writing about things that he actually knows something about, always ends up toeing the neoconservative line every time he ventures into foreign policy. Most clergy can be safely ignored when opining on political matters, and this case is no different. The text of his irreligious column is below with my comments in brackets.
Usama Bin Laden … Rest in… well… whatever… [How classy. Zuhlsdorf must have forgotten about Matt 5:44.]
by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Pres. Obama announced tonight, fairly late on a Sunday night, that Usama Bin Laden was killed a week ago, as it seems.
I am guessing that he made this announcement tonight, USA, time, so that people rising in other parts of the world would get the fresh news during the morning at the beginning of a week, as markets open, etc. Had it come at the end of the week, it would have been fodder for Friday evening Muslim sermons. [Because all Muslims liked Osama bin Laden, you see. This assumption that all Muslims support violence is at the heart of the neocon ideology. Always ignored is the fact that a majority of "Christian" Americans support the dropping of American bombs on Muslim women and children.] It still will be, but after several days.
Nevertheless I find the timing of both the event of his killing by a small team of US operatives in a fire fight and the release of the news interesting. One friend called me to opine that they actually found him at a Taco Bell in North Carolina and flew him back to Pakistan before… you know. [ho ho] Moreover, the President seems now to be ready to quote a standard of American patriotism, the Pledge of Allegiance, with its strong invocation of God, when for sometime he couldn’t bring himself to quote the Declaration of Independence [written by an anti-Christian Deist] correctly with its reference to a Creator who gives us our rights. [Yeah! Why can't Obama be more like Bush who once said that the Constitution "is just a goddamn piece of paper."] Color me cynical.
Researching an article on the Montessori educational method and its focus on peace (“Montessori, Peace, and Libertarianism“), I came across this fascinating piece, “Education as Peace” (posted here with permission of N.A.M.T.A.), by John Bremer in a 1985 issue of the N.A.M.T.A. Quarterly. Bremer discusses Montessori’s lament that we have no science of peace. As she wrote, “it is quite strange, in fact, that as yet there is no such thing as a science of peace, since the science of war appears to be highly advanced, at least regarding such concrete armaments and strategy ….” In Bremer’s moving and insightful article, he writes: “From my little knowledge of eastern thought, it appears quite possible for a discipline of peace to exist already, and I mean a discipline for a way of life and not an academic discipline.”
The entire article is well worth reading. It’s my growing view that libertarians can profit from Montessori’s educational insights, and that Montessorians searching for a science of peace can stop looking: this is what libertarianism is. Libertarianism recognizes the world of scarcity that we inhabit gives rise to conflict and war, and the solution is the adoption of civilized rules of cooperation and allocation of property rights—a libertarian private law society. If Montessori had been apprised of the insights of Austrian, free market economics and of anti-state, pro-peace liberalism, who knows—maybe she would have become a key advocate of libertarian views.
Skepticism of statism, individualism, and love of freedom permeates the Montessori perspective. It is worth quoting at length from Bremer’s piece:
Maria Montessori … knew that education, properly understood, is a disturbance of the universe as it is conventionally conceived and experienced. It places the power structure at risk since there is the strong possibility that it will be exposed for what it is—an imposition upon the sacred order of things, a distortion of what is natural, for the supposed benefit of those not willing or not able to learn. She also understood more clearly than any of her contemporaries that if the perversion of the natural order of things is to be maintained by the power establishment, then the soul must also be perverted because it is the one power, the one course of energy in the universe that is able to see and to show the corruption and perversion of the whole and to correct it. This perversion of the soul arrogated to itself, for obvious rhetorical advantage, the name of education. In reality, it is what was characterized earlier as a form of indoctrination, and it rests upon an imbalance, an inequality of power. [Keep reading…]
Consider Bastiat’s comments on Rome and how–if you substitute for slavery the drug war and tax slavery–they apply to the modern US:
What is to be said of Roman morality? And I am not speaking here of the relations of father and son, of husband and wife, of patron and client, of master and servant, of man and God—relations that slavery, by itself alone, could not fail to transform into a whole network of depravity; I wish to dwell only on what is called the admirable side of the Republic, i.e., patriotism. What was this patriotism? Hatred of foreigners, the destruction of all civilization, the stifling of all progress, the scourging of the world with fire and sword, the chaining of women, children, and old men to triumphal chariots—this was glory, this was virtue. It was to these atrocities that the marble of the sculptors and the songs of the poets were dedicated. How many times have our young hearts not palpitated with admiration, alas, and with emulation at this spectacle!
From Bastiat, Selected Essays in Political Economy, quoted in Geoffrey Allan Plauché, “Roman Virtue, Liberty, and Imperialism: The Murder-Suicide of Classical Civilization.” America is riddled with patriotism, with American flags senselessly displayed all over, and people mindlessly responding to criticism of the Fatherland with the retort, “You show me another country that’s better!” Its wars, the welfare state, its taxes and manipulation of money, its jails full of non-criminals have indeed debased morals. We have scourged the world with fire and sword, and statues of our modern warlord gods, such as Lincoln, adorn our capital city. As for the last line, about the youth swooning over our military might and conquest, one is reminded of the not completely tongue-in-check skit Wayne’s World during Gulf War I, when Wayne and Garth had fun watching the videos of US missiles destroying Iraqi targets.
The two are definitely in the same league, in absolute terms. Maybe Obama is Nixon to Bush’s LBJ, in that he is continuing and expanding upon his predecessor’s foreign and domestic enormities, deserving special ire for ramping them up, but with the president before still deserving special hatred for having started so many horrible policies.
Of course, it is unfair to compare Obama to Bush just yet, since Bush had eight years of destruction and Obama has only had a little over two. Nevertheless, let’s remember what Bush had done by this point in his presidency, mid-March 2003. Just over two years into his presidency, Bush had:
- Invaded and occupied Afghanistan
- Invaded Iraq
- Rounded up and detained hundreds of aliens right after 9/11
- Established a policy of indefinite detention and torture
- Created a prison camp at Guantanamo
- Signed the Patriot Act, including major assaults on free speech (National Security Letters) and a near total annihilation of the Fourth Amendment
- Created the Transportation Security Administration
- Created the Department of Homeland Security
- Instituted “Project Safe Neighborhoods” and overseen a vast increase in firearms prosecutions by the Justice Department
- Signed No Child Left Behind
- Rammed through Medicare Part D, adding $20 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the largest expansion of the welfare state in about 35 years
- Rammed through Sarbanes-Oxley, the largest expansion of the corporate regulatory state perhaps since the New Deal, which has devastated the economy
- Signed protectionist steel tariffs
- Expanded farm subsidies
- Made “free-speech zones” a commonplace
- Directed the NSA (a branch of the military) to warrantlessly wiretap the American people
- Accelerated the subsidization (directly and indirectly) of home ownership by minorities and others who couldn’t really afford houses, sowing the seeds for a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble, culminating in the crash of ’08
Obama has done a staggering amount of damage in just over two years, but I submit that Bush might still have him beat in terms of destruction unleashed in so short a time. Also, the war in Iraq has long-term consequences in foreign relations that are yet to be seen. Bush could very well be the Woodrow Wilson of the 21st century, having set in motion a series of devastating events humanity will suffer from for a century.
Obama is definitely no sort of relief from the Bush years. But never let it be forgotten how completely terrible his predecessor was, right off the bat.