Monday, February 1, 2016

A Raft of New Books on Special Operations Executive!

My modest little monograph, Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain's Special Operations Executive, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press later this month. The work covers the first chapter, so to speak, of SOE's history, examining how Gubbins and a few of his protégés looked to Britain's history of small wars for lessons in establishing their own irregular capability.

I began this project eight years ago (though it morphed a bit along the way). I had no idea, at the time, that mine would be but one of a raft of new works to come out on SOE. As Eliot says, "there is no competition." So, please, feel free to buy them all (or ask your local library to do so)!

Stephen Hart and Chris Mann, World War II Secret Operations: Undercover Military Skills from the SOE, OSS and Maquis (Amber Books, October 2015)

Peter Jacobs, Setting France Ablaze: The SOE in France During WWII (Pen & Sword, November 2015)

Bernd Horn, A Most Ungentlemanly Way of War: The SOE and the Canadian Connection (Dundurn, January 2016)

Sue Elliott, I Heard My Country Calling: Elaine Madden, the Unsung Heroine of SOE (The History Press, January 2016)

Stewart Kent and Nick Nicholas, Agent Michael Trotobas and SOE in Northern France (Pen & Sword, February 2016)

Jean Claude Guiet, Dead on Time: The Memoir of an SOE and OSS Agent in Occupied France (The History Press, June 2016)

Brian Lett, SOE's Mastermind: The Authorised Biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC (Pen & Sword, July 2016)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pope Francis and Larry Arnn on Religious Liberty and Property Rights

I have a subscription to Hillsdale's Imprimis. I often find it interesting and enjoyable reading. But there are other times I wonder why I even bother, seeing as how it can read like a bad Western, where the writing is so stereotypical that you know all the characters and their roles before you've even begun. The December edition, an essay on property rights and religious liberty by Larry Arnn, president of the college, fits this mold. Among the baddies are the atheists, the Labour Party, Karl Marx, the Nazis, Barack Obama, the president of France, Progressives, the secretary of Education, socialists, and the Soviets. Arrayed against them are a typical cast of goodies: Aristotle, Christianity, Hillsdale College, James Madison, and Winston Churchill.

Oddly, among the baddies, or at least allied to them, is Pope Francis. To be fair, this is what Arnn writes: "Pope Francis is one who sometimes seems to be an example of the Christian who reads the New Testament as pointing in the direction of socialism. Commerce appears, in some of his writings and speeches, to be a grubby business purely based on self-interest - maybe even on exploitation, the opposite of charity. This reading of the New Testament - which I think flawed, by the way - is why Karl Marx, although he was famously an atheist and militantly opposed to Christianity, praised Christianity in one respect: that it declaimed against private property in the name of an otherworldly denial of self." So Arnn has introduced two layers of qualification here. He acknowledges that the view he ascribes to Francis is one that is "sometimes" found "in some of his writings and speeches." Francis may put forward other views elsewhere, though they are not described. Moreover, Arnn notes that Francis "seems to" or "appears" to condemn business, thus withholding judgement of how Francis actually views it.

I don't mean to call into question Arnn's entire argument regarding property rights, religious liberty, and their essential connection, based on human nature, which is a unity of body and soul. Indeed, I affirm his general conclusions. But I take issue with Arnn's aside about Francis, and not simply as a matter of papist pride.

Firstly, it is curious to me that someone professing to defend the Christian faith would cite Madison (a man who appears to have had little interest in religion and no adult practice of Christianity) and Churchill (an Anglican of nominal practice) while dismissing Francis, leader of the world's largest Christian denomination.

Secondly, Arnn's brief comments, though qualified, substantially misrepresent Francis's views, scattered though they can sometimes seem. Francis has indeed critiqued the contemporary economy. He warned about the "unfettered pursuit of money" and cautioned that "once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity." But Francis himself noted that " we are not yet tearing one another apart." The worst excesses of the market, to which we may be tending, have not yet come upon us. Francis's most oft-quoted phrase from this address - "the dung of the devil" - is actually a quotation from St. Basil of Caesarea and a reference not to the market, but to idolatry (of which the market can become but one example).

Meanwhile, Arnn overlooks Francis's comments in defense of property rights and the market. In Laudato Si', by no means an obscure work, Francis approvingly quotes St. John Paul II's comments that "the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property." The remainder of the quotation, which Francis gives, modifies our understanding of these rights, but does not overturn them: "She [the Church] also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them." (For more on this, see Catechism, 2402.)

Likewise, Francis writes in the same document that "business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good." He further explains that, "in order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity." Such a vision may permit, or even require, limited intervention in the market, but I am hard pressed to imagine "productive diversity and business creativity" apart from free enterprise. Elsewhere in Laudato Si', Francis writes: "Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work." Although he does not specify whether such work would be found in a market or non-market economy, I do not think it absurd to read this, in light of Francis's other comments, as perfectly compatible with the market.

Indeed, this pro-market reading of Francis's comments is reinforced when Laudato Si' is read alongside the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which notes that the free market has the "capacity to guarantee effective results in the production of goods and services. Historically, it has shown itself able to initiate and sustain economic development over long periods." Again drawing on St. John Paul, the Compendium continues, "The Church's social doctrine appreciates the secure advantages that the mechanisms of the free market offer.... 'These mechanisms 'above all ... give central place to the person's desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person.'"

If we are perplexed by Francis's praise of business and strong critiques of capitalism, he clarifies that he favors actual economic freedom, not monopolistic or exploitative behavior cloaked in the language of the free market:
To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.
Arnn need not agree with the version of the free market that Francis - and the larger Catholic tradition - espouses, but it is misleading to suggest that Francis advocates state socialism.

Thirdly, Arnn's treatment of Francis is odd because many of the points that Arnn raises in the context of his discussion of Madison and Churchill are points that he could just as easily make from the thought of Francis or other pontiffs. Arnn's central claim is that "human beings are an odd integrity of soul and body." He contends that Madison championed both property rights and religious liberty on the basis of his "understanding of the integrated human being." Arnn even notes that "Marx is clear-sighted about this. He understands that if you like the way the human being is organized - if you like this integrity - then you are going to have to protect it all. And if you do not like it, you are going to have to uproot it all."

Francis, following on St. John Paul II's extensive work on the meaning of human body and its relation to the soul, makes a similar case in Laudato Si', where he writes:
We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.... Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature.... Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.
Francis is adamant that moral and religious thinking - which would include the claim to religious liberty and rights of conscious - cannot be separated from political or economic thinking - of which the right to private property, long championed by the Church, is one element.

I hope I have not come off as unduly critical of Arnn or his argument. I overwhelmingly support his goodies and oppose his baddies. And, indeed, when faced with the choice between the right and left of American politics, I overwhelmingly lean right. But that assumes a dichotomy with which I am deeply dissatisfied, a choice a prefer not to make. In a similar vein, if you can guess the conclusions of an essay while playing the intellectual equivalent of darts while blindfolded, perhaps it is time to reconsider the very terms of the discussion. We can be more insightful than this.

Excerpts from Arnn, "Property Rights and Religious Liberty," reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

From Fr. Delp's Diary, 2 January 1945

During the daytime I read a little Eckhart, the only one of my books I have managed to retain. The whole Eckhart question would be simpler if people remembered that he was a mystic and his mind and soul and spirit were always soaring into higher spheres. He did his best to follow their flight in word and expression - but how can any ordinary mortal succeed in an undertaking that defied even St. Paul? Eckhart failed as, in his own way, everyone must fail when it is a matter of analyzing and passing on an intimate personal experience: individuum est ineffabile. Once we have got back to the point where the ordinary person can have inexpressible secrets then a favored few will emerge and God will find them sufficiently advanced to draw them into the creative dialogue as he drew Eckhart. With this in mind reading him becomes more rewarding and more comforting. It gives the reader a glimpse of the divine secret in every human heart.

Tomorrow morning I shall pass on this sheet and there may not be any more before our fate is decided.... The whole business really has no central theme - it just doesn't make sense. If N. sticks to his deposition - which is false - there is no hope at all. But what is the use of thinking about it - far better to kneel and prayer placing everything in God's hands. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fr. Delp's Diary, 1 January 1945

Jesus. The name of our Lord and of my Order shall be the first word I write in the New Year. The name stands for all the things I desire when I pray, believe and hope; for inner and outer redemption; for relaxation of all the selfish tensions and limitations I place in the way of the free dialogue with God, all the barriers to voluntary partnership and surrender without reserve: and for a speedy release from these horrible fetters. The whole situation is so palpably unjust; things I have neither done nor even known about are keeping me here in prison.

The name Jesus stands also for all that I intended to do in the world, and still hope to do among humankind. To save, to stand by ready to give immediate help, to have goodwill toward all people, and to serve them, I still owe much to so many.

And in conclusion the Order, too, is embraced in my invocation of this name - the Order which has admitted me to its membership. May it be personified in me. I have pledged myself to Jesus as his loving comrade and blood-brother.

The Name stands for passionate faith, submission, selfless effort and service.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

From Fr. Delp's Diary, 31 December 1944

Spiritually we seem to be in an enormous vacuum. Humanly speaking there is the same burning question - what is the point of it all? And in the end even the question sticks in one's throat. Scarcely anyone can see, or even guess at, the connection between the corpse-strewn battlefields, the heaps of rubble we live in and the collapse of the spiritual cosmos of our views and principles, the tattered residue of our moral and religious convictions as revealed by our behavior. And even if the connection were fully understood it would be only a matter for academic interest, data to be noted and listed. No one would be shocked or deduce from the facts a need for reformation. We have already travelled so far in our progress toward anarchy and nihilism....

That England is on the down grade even I am beginning to believe. The English have lost their keenness and their spiritual gifts; the philosophy of materialism has eaten into England's bones and paralyzed the muscles of her heart. The English still have great traditions and imposing forms and gestures; but what kind of people are they? The social problem has been overlooked in England - and also the problem of youth and the problem of America and of spiritual questions which can all too easily masquerade as cultural or political questions.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From Fr. Delp's Diary, 29 December 1944

Far more than a civilization or a rich heritage was lost when the universal order went the way of medieval and ancient civilizations.  Western humanity today is spiritually homeless, naked and exposed.  The moment we start to be anything beyond "one of the masses" we become terribly aware of that isolation which has always encompassed the great.  We realize our homelessness and our exposure.  So we set to work to build ourselves some sort of house and shelter.  Our ancestors, those among them who were really great, could have left us a legacy much more helpful for our progress.  We can only account for the contorted thought of men like Paracelsus or Böhme on the grounds that life's insufferable loneliness and lack of design forced them to build a shelter for themselves.  And although it is such a self-willed and distorted and angular structure it still has the marks of painstaking care and trouble and in that must command our respect.  Goethe had rather more success; his instinct was surer and it led him to guess at some of nature's more important designs.  Moreover, he had a good - thought not in all respects dependable - master whose ideas he copied to a very large extent.

Every now and then someone comes along and tries to impose his own plan on the rest of the world, either because he knows he has stumbled on a universal need or because he thinks he has and overestimates his own infallibility.  Such people will never lack followers since so many people long for a well-founded communal home to which they can feel they "belong."  Time after time in the end they come to realize that the shelter offered is not all it purports to be - it cannot keep out the wind and the weather.  And time and time again the deluded seekers conclude they have been taken in by a mountebank; the man probably had no intention of deliberately deceiving but he was nevertheless a charlatan misleading himself and others.


It is quite remarkable.  Since Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve I have become almost light-heartedly confident although nothing outwardly has changed.  Somewhere within me ice has been melted by the prayer for love and life - I cannot tell on what plane.  There is nothing tangible to show for it and yet I am in good heart and my thoughts soar.  Of course the pendulum will swing back and there will be other moods - the sort that made St. Peter tremble at the wind and the waves.


I have a great yearning to talk with a few well-loved friends... when?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fr. Delp on the Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Final Hour of Darkness

Fr. Alfred Delp's meditation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, written in jail while he awaited trial at the hands of the Nazis, is considerably longer than that for the First Sunday, making it impractical to reproduce in full. Nevertheless, the first paragraph alone is worth quoting, quivering as it does with the anticipation of Christmas, made all the more striking by the personal circumstances of Fr. Delp's life.
What is true of the Advent prayers applies also to Advent in life. Before the curtain rises and the scene is disclosed, stretching into infinity, expectation mounts in a crescendo of excitement. Our confidence is well founded and so is the suspense of waiting because the promise is already fulfilled and its truth demonstrated. Day triumphs and the darkness shrinks back into nothingness - like the shadows in the wings when the stage is set as a temple of light. On the forth Sunday in Advent the acute awareness of shrouded mystery is deepening for the final hour of darkness that heralds the dawn. There is an intense awareness of captivity, of crippling disability and despair, but it is already shot through with a premonition of divine grace - the premonition that will soon become certainty.