Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who Put Hitler in Power?

I am currently in the midst of the Dark Night of the Comps. My exams will be at the end of May, so my life between now and then feels like the finals week that does not end. But it's not as bad as all that...

In reading up on the Sonderweg debate and German history more generally, I was reminded of a couple maps which were posted to the comments section of a post last July. In light of my current studies, I think they are worth posting front and center.

On this first map you can see which regions of Germany voted for the National Socialist German Worker's Party (NSDAP or Nazi).

Put broadly, the northeastern portions of the country voted Hitler into office, with some support from the central areas. The regions of the country which most opposed the Nazis were in the south and west.

Now notice the distribution of Protestants and Catholics in German:

(Yes, the maps are from slightly different periods, the election returns from 1933, the religious map before 1918. But they're close enough.) The juxtaposition is startling. Which regions of Germany were most solidly Protestant? The northeast. And where were the highest concentrations of Catholics? In the south and west. Put baldly: Protestants voted Hitler into office.

This is not to say, of course, that all Protestants supported Hitler. Far from it. Some, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer were heroic in their resistance. Nor did all Catholics oppose the Nazis. But the electoral data is quite striking (and begins to push back some of the Hitler's Pope nonsense about the Church being in bed with the National Socialists).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life in the Spirit: Addendum

Since writing three earlier posts, a whole host of unaddressed issues have come to mind or been brought to my attention. One of them is this:

Many Catholics (or other Christians), while acknowledging the authenticity of charismatic prayer, will argue that it is simply not for them. Some such people may be out of touch with their emotions, afraid to be the person God has made them to be, afraid of what others may think. But others are simply quiet, interior, introverted people, whose faith does not manifest itself it loud cries of praise. Is charismatic prayer not for them?

Here we must be intellectually rigorous. If the Holy Spirit acts through our whole person - intellect, emotions, passions, imagination - then we must accept the manifestations of those actions (within the bounds of orthodoxy, of course). So if one person is moved in an emotive way to shout the Lord's praises, so long as it be in the right context [cf. Paul], this is not to be discouraged. But, likewise, if another person has a very active, though interior imagination, we ought not discourage their spiritual odyssey within the quiet of their heart. Indeed, it was in the quiet that Elijah encountered God.

I think some charismatics, particularly those who are zealous and well-meaning but immature in their faith, sometimes miss this second possibility. Three quarters of the human population is extroverted, so for them the Spirit may indeed manifest Himself in song and laughter and tears and thunderous words of exhortation. But for those of another disposition, such worship might be inauthentic. We must not forget that the life of quiet contemplation can be intensely charismatic as well.

Let me suggest an analogy which may help clarify the point. (Or may not; you tell me.) The Franciscans have a charism of poverty, about which we can make an important distinction. On the one hand, this is a universal charism, something for all members of the Church. On the other hand, this is a particular charism for the Franciscans and those like them who are called to lives of austere poverty. For most of us, such radicalism is not compatible with our vocation - I am thinking here especially of parents - but we are nevertheless called to lead lives of simplicity and detachment, something the Franciscan adherence to more radical poverty helps reveal to us. But for those who are called to such a life, radical poverty is not simply a sign to others but also the means of their own sanctification. Perhaps a similar distinction can be made between the concept of charismatic prayer - an authentic and vibrant openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to which all Christians are called - and a particular kind of worship which generally goes under the name "charismatic" and is characterized by a highly-charged, extroverted and public expression of the Spirit at work in the lives of the faithful.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Jobs and the Law

Conducting legal research isn't always the most exciting activity. Appellate judges aren't usually renowned for their lively writing style. Often they are constrained by the required use of technical legal terms. For instance, if an appeal revolves around the doctrine of equitable estoppel (sometimes known as estoppel in pais, if that makes it any clearer) or interpreting a novation agreement, there's simply no way to avoid using some rather arcane language.

But, the speech of trial judges tends to be more colorful--especially in criminal courts, where the defendant are not always the best-mannered, and the judges are more prone to lose their temper.

What happens, then, when an appellate judge is confronted with some decidedly non-legal language coming from a trial judge? It is often quite amusing to read the appellate judge explain terms whose meaning is evident to all, but which still need to be explained in the legal context.

Here's a good example I found recently, from a case involving a man who was arrested for battery. He told the trial judge that he couldn't make the $150 bail, but he still wanted to be released on personal recognizance so that he could hire his own attorney. Apparently, the trial judge didn't believe the man's story that he couldn't afford $150 bail, but could afford a private defense attorney. Here's how the appellate judge explained the trial judge's language:

In denial of defendant's motion for reduction of bail, the trial judge categorized defendant's request as a "snow job". . . Although the term "snow job" is not generally recognized in legal circles, it accurately expressed the trial court's belief that the defendant's argument was without merit. (People v. Hayes, 37 Ill.App.3d 772, 776 (1st Dist. 1976))

Monday, February 8, 2010

Music from the Empire

The other evening, after a lecture by the Chief of the Defense Staff of the Canadian Forces, I was working on a book review about Ireland for the Canadian Journal of History, reading up on British history for my comprehensive exams and outlining a course covering British counterinsurgency in South Africa, Ireland, Malaya and elsewhere. In keeping with the mood, I put on a variety of music from around the Empire, some of which I thought I would share here. (Be warned: some typically cheesy slideshows - the price of finding music on YouTube - follow. However, the Bok van Blerk video is pretty cool.)

Bok van Blerk - De La Rey

This song is a tribute to Koos de la Rey, a Boer general during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The song has been a source of some controversy, not so much because of what it says about the past, but because of what it may (or may not) say about the present. If you'd like a translation of the Afrikaner lyrics, there are some subtitles here.

Scotland the Brave

This pipe tune was written around 1900. It is the regimental quick march of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and has spread sufficiently far that it is the pipe march of the British Columbia Dragoons and is played at the Citadel in South Carolina. (Notice that this rendition is performed by the Royal Tank Regiment's band.) In the course of its history, lyrics were written for the tune, first by Cliff Hanley and most famously by John McDermott (whose version sometimes goes by the title of Scotland Forever). The McDermott version has a particular place in my heart because of a little episode which took place in Germany in the summer of 2004. I was out hiking with a few Germans, some other Americans and a fellow from Singapore. At one point in the hike I began whistling Scotland the Brave and the Singaporean chimed in; soon we were singing our way through several verses together. The Germans inquired as to what we were singing, and when we told them it was a Scottish song they were rather baffled: neither of us were from Scotland, nor were we even from the same country (or the same side of the globe!). How was it that we both knew this song? The broad spread of Anglophonic culture was a marvel they could not quite understand...

Stan Rogers - Barrett's Privateers

Though the characters and ship involved in this song are fictional, the circumstances were quite real: during the American Revolution, a large number of privateers sailed on each side, with Halifax serving as a major center for British vessels. Roger's effort to breath new life into Canadian folk culture by means of traditional musical styles and themes from Canadian history is quite interesting, probably worthy of a blog post itself, though I'm afraid I'm not the one to write it.

Show of Hands - Roots

This song saw some controversy when the dubious British National Party picked up the music of Show of Hands and other British folk groups (including Fairport Convention), unbeknown to the artists. When the musicians found out, they were not happy, the Telegraph reports. However, a careful listen reveals that the lyrics, though proud of England and her traditional culture, are hardly the stuff of white supremacy. Indeed, they look admiringly to other cultures which have more effectively preserved their folkways.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Luxury & Technology (Part II)

We saw yesterday that it is not uncommon in history for the beneficiaries of new technology and luxury to be uneasy with this new technology and luxury. Just when life could never get any better, somebody poses that annoying question: Is it really good to live with all this technology and luxury?

It is certainly tempting to dismiss all these would-be reformers as a bunch of hypocrites with strange qualms about enjoying a good life. After all, they usually do not give up the benefits of technology and luxury. They are just a bunch of jet-set celebrities telling us to stop flying, bloggers telling us to give up blogging, and city-slickers telling us to leave the cities.

And yet, it seems unfair to label all these people hypocrites. Some of them no doubt are, but many seem to be acting in good faith, posing legitimate questions about the effects of technology and the luxury. They seem honestly perplexed about how best to come to terms with technology and luxury in their own lives.

What, then, is at the root of this perplexity, this uneasiness with luxury and technology?

There is a German word, Zerstreuung, which I find illuminating. A standard dictionary tells us that the word literally means “dispersion or scattering” (the English cognate is “strew”). However, Zerstreuung also has a figurative meaning: diversion or distraction. The idea behind this figurative meaning is that we must not allow ourselves to be “scattered”; instead, we must concentrate, that is we must "maintain our center," and not be "torn apart" by distractions. When we seek out distractions, we are choosing not to focus our energy on something more important. The ability to distract is the hidden danger of both luxury and technology.

Modern technology’s ability to distract is well known. YouTube, Hulu, and all the other video-sharing websites out there are easy ways to waste time. And, of course, before there was YouTube there was the boob tube. But even when we try to read a serious article on the Internet, something about the web makes it difficult to concentrate on the article for very long.

And, luxury—the ability to spend money and to indulge our desires—is famously distracting and enervating. To mention one more ancient example, public opinion in Rome turned against Mark Antony after he took up with Cleopatra, since she was renowned for her Oriental dissipation. The Romans felt that Antony was forgetting his destiny and losing his manhood. Luxury destroyed the very ground of Antony’s existence.

But, Zerstreuung, as I said, means we are not concentrating on something more important. What is it that is more important? The first things and the last things; right and wrong; the true, the good, the beautiful.

But for those of us who flatter ourselves that we are intellectuals and are above such vulgar Zerstreuung (and I’ll admit I’m one of them sometimes), there is another, much more subtle danger: we often become proud of our own intellectual ability. In other words, because of our self-regard, we can turn our interest in the things that are supposed to lead us to ask and answer the most important questions in life—about theology and philosophy, art and literature, mathematics and science—into a reason to feel superior to everybody else.

And that is truly perverse. The old maxim holds true: Corruptio optimi pessima. These intellectual pursuits are not important because they allow us to puff up our pride, or even necessarily for their own sake. They are important because they teach us about reality and give us the courage to face reality honestly:

A truthful, austere intellectual life grabs out of our hands art, literature, and the sciences, in order to prepare us to confront fate all alone. (Nicolás Gómez Dávila)
This confrontation with fate, which is supposed to be the goal of our intellectual life, is also the goal of all asceticism. The life of the intellect must be lived within the larger context of the life of asceticism.

Why, then, are so many people uneasy with luxury and technology? Luxury and technology make it easier to distract ourselves from the asceticism essential to a good life. Whether consciously or not, we know that we use luxury and technology to avoid our destiny.

In the end, though, living a good life does not come down, strictly speaking, to getting rid of all luxury and technology. Getting rid of luxury and technology will not get rid of all distractions. What matters most is the pursuit of the ascetic life, no matter what conditions we live under.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Luxury & Technology (Part I)

What is it about luxury and technology that makes us so uneasy?

Nowadays, whenever a certain technology becomes widespread, it always seems to come under attack from self-appointed guardians of public morality preaching a new gospel of the good old days when everything was somehow "simpler." Just as modern life seems better than ever, these would-be traditionalists inevitably arise to denounce everything that makes modern life so much better. At the same time, though, even these critics of the new technology have become dependent on it themselves. As a result, they come off as a bunch of hypocrites who demand a return to the good old days, yet are incapable of living out their message themselves.

Examples abound today. We have “green” celebrities who jet around the world warning us that we have to reduce the air pollution which contributes to global warming. We have bloggers warning us that blogging leads to a lack of reverence for words. (One blogger with a sense of humor, "Fr. Gassalasca Jape," even warns us that blogging kills.) Back in the 1930s we had city-dwelling university professors (the Southern Agrarians) warning us that we needed to return to the land.

This yearning for the simpler ways of the past probably seems like a quintessentially modern problem. Ever since the Industrial Revolution made technology and luxury available to the masses, the world has been filled with Romantics yearning for a simpler life but never completely able to lead a simple life themselves.

However, this Romantic yearning is actually nothing new. There was an analogous phenomenon in ancient Rome of “traditionalist” denunciations of contemporary life. These ancient traditionalists, though, focused not so much on technology as on luxury. Interestingly enough, these denunciations of luxury were probably at their strongest when the Roman Empire had attained the height of its power in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.

A good illustration of the Romans’ uneasiness with luxury can be found in Tacitus’ Annals. In Book III, Tacitus tells us that many Romans urged Tiberius to enact stricter sumptuary laws. The wealthy were building villas that were obscenely large; they were keeping virtual armies of slaves; they were holding extravagant dinner parties, and importing expensive delicacies from every corner of the Mediterranean. Luxury was simply out of control. But, where did people talk about the need for sumptuary laws to control these wild dinner parties? At those very same dinner parties, of course!

Tiberius, in a speech before the Roman Senate, declined to enact stricter sumptuary laws, for a number of reasons. One reason he gave was that he did not desire the thankless task of enforcing unpopular laws:

If there is a magistrate who can promise the requisite energy and severity, I give him my praises and confess my responsibilities lightened. But if it is the way of reformers to be zealous in denouncing corruption, and later, after reaping the credit of their denunciation, to create enmities and bequeath them to myself, then believe me, Conscript Fathers, I too am not eager to incur animosities. (Tr. by John Jackson)
On the face of it, this seems like a very pragmatic reason, perfect for a politician like Tiberius. However, it points to a more serious problem: most members of the patrician class who demanded stricter laws could not live up to them. For this reason, Tiberius responded that “the remedy must be within our own breasts; let improvement come to you and me from self-respect, to the poor from necessity, to the rich from satiety.” In other words, the reformers needed to reform themselves first.

Were these reformers really just a bunch of hypocrites?