The following blog (originally a series of posts) is a revised edition of Political Rhetoric and Freedom of Speech: Lessons from the Historic Tension between Communism and the Church and was originally posted in early 2011 and then again in February of 2012. As the political campaigns heat up for the 2012 election, it offers historical lessons to inform the mind and principles to form the conscience.
The principles raised in this post applies to recent Federal Healthcare Mandate as well as the controversy over Army chaplains not being allowed to read a letter from Archbishop Broglio about the encroachments of such a mandate. Archbishop Broglio wrote that "The federal government, which claims to be 'of, by, and for the people,' has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people — the Catholic population — and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faith." The Federal government, under the inspiration of secular-liberalism, is transforming its political power as end in itself instead of as a means to end. Rather than fulfilling the role of a servant-leader, the State is seeking to become a master. As Vladimir Soloviev said in 1900 just a few years before the Russian Revolution,"Sleep is no longer the same: Something is happening, Someone is coming..." Indeed, there is a foul wind blowing through America. But there is still time to push back this totalitarian impulse.
Secular-liberalism's hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. As Christoper Dawson once said, "Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own grounds by offering mankind a rival way of salvation." In the words of the Communist poster, 'Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.'”
Section I: Past is Prologue
Soviet politician, Vyacheslav Molotov, once said, “In Russia the Communist party is in power and all the other parties are in jail.” Totalitarian regimes do not tolerate opposition. And why should they if they are not inspired by moral truth? To understand this is to understand why double standards and inconsistencies are pronounced among many progressive politicians in the United States. As with twentieth-century communists, their political agendas and programs are advanced by an act of the will, not by reason. Vladimir Lenin, a contemporary of Molotov and leader of the Russian Revolution, did not mince words when he said, “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience.” If there are no morals, then there are no principles to adhere to. As such, debates are a waste of time. Demagoguery- the art of appealing to the prejudices, emotions and fears -becomes the chosen instrument of acquiring and expanding political power.
Crisis in 2011: In order to expand political power, a crisis is needed. To nationalize banks or to expand the public sector, the 2008 housing market crash was needed. The campaign against freedom of speech also needed a crisis. On January 8, 2011, the opportunity presented itself: The Tucson shootings. Progressive politicians wasted no time in using the tragedy to condemn the political rhetoric from talk radio, Fox News and other conservative venues. U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D) from Illinois, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (D) of Pima county Arizona, and later Congressman Steve Cohen (D) from Tennessee somehow assigned blame to the conservative media even though the shooter, Jared Loughner, was a pupil of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engel and Adolf Hitler. No doubt there are progressive politicians in the Republican Party. Nevertheless, the aggressive push to silence opposition is evidently part of the Democrat Party platform. A coordinated effort is emerging. Quite often you'll find them all using not only the same talking points but the same words.
Signals of concern in 2010: This effort to silence opposition following the Tucson shootings is certainly not the first attempt by the political Left. The FCC signaled that it intends to enforce the Fairness Doctrine with cable news, talk radio and the internet. President Obama himself expressed his reservations about people getting too much information. At a speech he delivered at Hampton’s University graduation ceremony in May of 2010, he said that a bombardment of information through the internet and ipods can serve as a diversion and distraction. The words he used were subtle, but what he alluded to is unmistakable: easy access to information is a political problem; a problem, that is, that frustrates the expansion of political power and State control. In fact, Founding Father, Noah Webster, said that information is fatal to despotism.
More warnings of “too much” information and vitriolic political rhetoric are sure to come [they came in 2012 with the Army chaplains]; again, probably on the heels of another crisis. When they do come, know that it will be on the pretext of ensuring the public welfare. To be sure, U.S. politicians who are interested in expanding their power base cannot afford to be as straightforward as the Soviet politicians were; this, for the simple reason that they do not enjoy the same power as they did…not yet, anyways.
If past is prologue then the emerging campaign against political freedom of speech will have great implications for religious liberty. Historically, political opponents to authoritarian governments are the first to go down; then, of course, their last, greatest obstacle is the Catholic Church. As for progressive or liberal politicians, conservatism is not half as offensive to them as the counter-cultural doctrines of the Catholic Faith. For this reason, Catholic bishops will not be unaffected by the attempts made by progressive politicians to impose federal regulations on Fox News, talk radio and the internet. Their right to preach the fullness of the Gospel is sure to be challenged soon thereafter.
Section II: Secular-liberalism a Precursor
If you want to know where American liberalism is headed and how human rights, such as freedom of speech and religious liberty, will fare, then it is absolutely essential to make an honest assessment of communism as it existed in the twentieth century. I say, “make an honest assessment” because liberalism or progressivism bears much similarity to socialism and communism. Many in Washington and in the Church are reluctant to concede this point. Neverthess, the difference between them is not one of substance but of degree. Liberalism or progressivism is a prelude to the harder, more rigid forms of socialism and communism precisely because it is less intense. As T.S. Eliot, author of Christianity and Culture, rightly noted: “That Liberalism may be a tendency toward something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.” That is, it doesn’t move towards a definite moral or spiritual end. In the 1960’s spirit of protest, it is rather the case that it reacts to the things that it hates.
From the outset, in its social form, liberalism began in the 1960’s by protesting parental, religious and civil authority. By exaggerating freedom (usually sexual and “reproductive” freedom) it was forced to call upon others to tolerate behaviors and lifestyles that are morally evil. But as the representatives of this movement came of age and assumed leadership positions in the political arena, it evolved into a different species altogether. It became authoritarian. As T.S. Eliot said, liberalism is “a tendency toward something very different from itself.” What began as a social movement of indiscriminate tolerance and freedom has evolved into a political movement against freedom and tolerance. This should not surprise us because those who were not good followers and who did not know the humility of obedience will know not the methods of good leadership. Christ washed the feet of the Apostles at the Last Supper precisely to show what a God-inspired leader should be; namely, the servant of all.
The comparison between today’s American liberalism and the kind of socialism/communism which wreaked havoc in the twentieth century is easy enough. Simply juxtapose these two sets of principles and then you will see the similarities. What they have in common is an aversion towards doctrinal Christianity; a disregard for the dignity of life and the autonomy of the family; it exercises a suspicion towards the free market; it emphasizes the collective over the individual; it puts its trust in the public sector over the private sector; and it thrives off of class and ethnic divisions. Regardless of the label, all of these similarities lead to but one thing: An all-powerful State.
To grasp its true nature and what it portends for the individual and the nation at large, then reading On the Nature of Human Liberty and On Socialism by Pope Leo XIII is a must; reading On Atheistic Communism by Pope Pius XI is a must; and reading Bishop Fulton Sheen’s book, Communism and the Western Conscience, is a must! However, a word of caution should be mentioned: When the connection is made between American liberalism and socialism or between liberalism and communism, people on both sides of the political aisle- as well as many Catholics -get uncomfortable. After all, labels such as “Nazi’s” and “Fascist’s” have been carelessly bantered about in the media and in the political arena. In response, some have an understandable aversion to the use of such labels. Nevertheless, there are certain labels or characterizations that serve a useful purpose. As for the “liberal” or “progressive” label, it signifies a real set of principles; principles that need to be publicly identified and guarded against if freedom of speech and religious liberty are to be preserved.
Section III: The Church and Secular-liberalism
You may be surprised to know that popes like Blessed Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI used the term "liberalism" in much the same way we use it today. Between early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, liberalism was used to mean the following in many papal encyclicals:
1. Denying the existence of divine authority.
2. Each person defining their own morality and redefining liberty to mean license.
3. Advocating big government.
4. Causing social and political ruin.
5. Excluding the Church hierarchy from the State and other public institutions.
In many respects, the Catholic Church treated liberalism in much the same way as it did socialism and communism. For instance, in his letter On the Nature of Human Liberty, Pope Leo XIII was critical of liberalism in that it too often promoted an all-powerful State : "By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God..." What is to be equally reproved is the economic policy found among Socialistic governments. On Capital and Labor he writes the following: “Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.” What is more telling is that Leo XIII believes that only “Church of Christ has such power to ward off the plague of socialism.”
What is said of socialism can be applied even more so to communism. Just as recent as 1996, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, proposed that when the State seeks to be all things to all people, it becomes evil. In an address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said, “The fact is that when politics want to bring redemption, they promise too much. When they presume to do God's work, they do not become divine but diabolical.” This is precisely what is at issue with the three ideological siblings: liberalism, socialism and communism. President Gerald Ford, who was no conservative, gave a practical insight into this issue when said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” The more power it possess in order to give, the more power it will have in order to take away. And take it away it will! Once the government acquires that kind of power, citizens are, more often than not, powerless to remedy their situation. The twentieth century is replete with examples to this effect. The people of Europe, Russia, Asia, South America and Africa have not only been deprived of goods and property under communistic regimes, but their very lives as well. It is no exaggeration to say that millions upon millions were killed at the hands of communistic dictators.
No one else knows better than the Catholic clergy just how ominous communism really is. Just twenty years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical entitled, On Atheistic Communism. In it he gives voice to how God sees the dignity of every human being. He said, “[Man] is a true ‘microcosm,’ as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next.” But to politicians who are not accountable to the people or to God, individual citizens are cattle to be herded; used for political ends. Pius XI continues:
“Communism, moreover, strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”
Only Christianity can give the true account for why the State exists. The Church has always taught that the purpose of the State is to serve the people. Its authority and power comes from God and as such it is to be tempered by its God-given purpose. Furthermore, it was only after the arrival of Christianity that the Church served as a check and balance against the overreaching arm of governments. In ancient pagan civilization the State had no rivals; no other institution existed to keep it in check. Starting with the fourth century, however, the Church served as a kind of mediator between civil authority and the body politic; reminding emperors, kings and princes that their power was constrained by Divine Law but also exhorting citizens to obey just laws. And whatever tension existed between the Church and State throughout the centuries had benefited society. In recent times, this constraining force the Catholic Church historically imposed on the State has weakened considerably; but not to our advantage.
Section IV: Where does it end?
The kindred ideologies of liberalism, socialism, and communism not only share similar principles but they employ similar methods. During one episode of The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968, not to be confused with Life is Worth Living), Bishop Sheen said that Communists will speak of peace and even promote co-existence but only with the intention of destroying their opposition. Communist regimes such as the former Soviet Union paid lip service to respecting the sovereignty of its neighboring nations and the religious liberty of churches. However, what followed was a policy of encroachment and desecration. Keep in mind, they always introduce their benign intentions with a smile. But when opposing parties are no longer in a position to resist, then their true colors come out.
Many U.S. politicians, political operatives and partisan media types are beginning to publicly endorse Socialism. In November of 2010, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said the following to his liberal colleagues on his show: “Unlike you, I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who’s so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to progressive. Liberals amuse me. I am a Socialist.” What Lawrence O’Donnell should have said is, “I am no longer a liberal or a progressive.” Usually there is a preliminary phase of embracing liberal principles. In any case, just ten to twenty years ago Lawrence would not have been able to admit such a thing with impunity. It probably would have cost him his job. Even actor Ed Asner, who played Santa Clause on Elf, voiced his admiration for Communism. Today political terms like “Socialism” and “Communism” are no longer taboo. The point is that liberalism is but the embryonic form of socialism. And depending on the political and social circumstances of a given country, socialism is but the embryonic form of communism.
Recall T.S. Eliot’s definition of liberalism. He said that liberalism “is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards something definite.” Indeed, this movement is not aimed at principles. Its course of action is principally motivated by aversion or hatred to someone or something. As previously stated, it is animated with a spirit of protest. This is why many of its supporters can be quite discriminatory towards Christianity and without skipping a beat, turn around and exercise deference to Islam; almost to the point of servility. Bishop Fulton Sheen said the following in his book, Communism and the Western Conscience:
“Many follow Communism not because they are convinced that it is right, but because they have a hidden hate against something or somebody. Those who feel individually impotent to vent their hate upon a person or a class or an institution feel that if they joined Communism they could find a corporate expression for their pent-up animosities and their dammed-up hate.”
He went on to say that communists- and here we can include the proponents of liberalism and socialism too –became disillusioned with their freedom which only produced chaos in their souls. As such, they opted for a communistic or authoritarian dictatorship outside of themselves to organize their chaos. Sheen added that because they lost the power of self regulation from within, they seek a Communist-imposed regulation from without. The patrons of liberalism, socialism or communism can have a seeming sense of righteousness and justice by hating the wrongs of others without any obligation to better their own lives.
What is therefore a threat against freedom of speech and religious liberty in America is this hatred that Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote about. A movement driven by the emotion is neither consistent nor principled. It will say one thing and do another.
As for Christians, in the last fifty years they have not been formed by the fullness of the Gospel. Passages that have to do with sin, hell, the devil, fighting the good fight, battling evil, God’s punishment or the severity that Jesus Christ repeatedly demonstrates throughout the four Gospels have all been de-emphasized. What is more, to publicly acknowledge that the Christ or the Church has enemies is considered to be impolite. But yet these truths are in the New Testament nevertheless. What the historian Christopher Dawson said in 1935 is no conspiracy; neither is it apocalyptic. What he said is the Gospel truth:
“For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest.”
In the United States, if the conservative media is ever silence or restricted in its freedom of speech, the Catholic Church will be the next target. The sooner Catholics realize who threatens this right and who will be threatened, the sooner they can get to work and guard against future encroachments.