Interview With Polonia Christiana, Part I

Thomas Fleming was interviewed in August by Mike Krupa of Polonia Christiana.  For readers of Polish, the inteveiw is available here.  For those less fortunate, we have posted the original exchange in English.,

PC  After almost 8 years of Barack Obama's presidency, what kind of country is the United States?

TJF  When Barack Obama was elected President, reaction was divided along party lines.  Democrats, especially those who belonged to ethnic minorities, expected rapid improvement in their condition and in their opportunities for advancement. They also expected a quick end to the military adventurism that had characterized his predecessor’s administrations.  Republicans, by contrast, feared higher taxes, which when combined with Obama’s socialist proposals, a stagnating economy and loss of opportunity.  As it turned out, the Democrats were entirely wrong and the Republicans optimistic.  Black and Hispanic voters have gained nothing except increased resentment, US troops are still fighting in Afghanistan, and the US-created Arab Spring has caused untold destruction in North African and the Middle East. The partial economic recovery has been slow and unsatisfying, and the middle classes are now pinning their hopes on the election of a Republican President, who will very likely do nothing to roll back the revolution that has swept over the country for the past eight years.  America is now a country where the citizens—especially Southerners and Christians--are required to hate their history and identity.

PC  Many conservatives, especially in light of the recent SOTUS decision legalizing so-called same-sex marriage, are claiming that the culture war in America is over and the Left has won. Some are proposing a so-called "Benedict Option", according to which Christians should turn away from the liberalism surrounding them and begin to form closed communities of moral orthodoxy. This coincides with the famous libertarian argument that "government should stay of the marriage business," implying that government has no role to play in the protection and promotion of the institution of marriage. However, if we look at the classical philosophy of the State, which is at the heart of Christendom-or whats left of it- not only should Christians not turn away from the world, but also the principalities have a moral obligation to punish vice and promote virtue, thus contributing to the "common good" of society. Aren't these two options- the Benedict Option and libertarian philosophy- just another form of surrender in the face of liberalism's cultural hegemony?

TJF    I entirely disagree with the Libertarian argument: The commonwealth (the term “state has many historically specific connotations, which limit its utility) exists, as St. Thomas so brilliantly deduced from Aristotle, in order to create conditions propitious for a life of virtue.  It cannot successfully impose virtue, but by securing property rights, providing the rule of law, and showing its approval of virtue and opposition to vice, it encourages a virtuous citizenry.  The so-called “Benedict option” has considerably more merit, but it is based on the delusion that the West was basically a thriving and morally intact culture until recent times (e.g., down to the early 1960’s or in the extreme case down to the 1920’s).  In fact the campaign to undermine and destroy Christendom was the project of Renaissance and Enlightenment intellectuals who continue to be celebrated by Catholic theologians, who even today invoke the anti-Catholic language of human rights, democracy, and equality.  So long as Montaigne and Locke, Kant and Hegel, Husserl and Sartre are found acceptable in Catholic circles, their members will not contribute anything useful to the counter-revolutionary efforts which alone can begin to redeem Europe and North America.

The difficulty with the question, as you have proposed it, is that it is based o the false premise that marriage is historically the province of government.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  In pre-Christian societies, the rulers (whether of the Athenian democracy or the Roman Empire or the Jewish Kingdom) were interested only in the civic aspects of marriage, namely, who could marry whom and produce heirs to their property and subjects or citizens of the commonwealth.  There were, it goes without saying, no agencies to enforce laws agains incest or marriage with slaves or foreigners.   Parties who felt themselves aggrieved, when a supposedly illegitimate heir inherited an estate, could avail themselves of their country’s legal system. Virtually everything else was left up to the families of the bride and groom.
The triumph of Christianity changed very little except to eliminate any elements of paganism in the wedding celebration.  Indeed, down till the Council of Trent, marriage customs in Tuscany remained outside the orbit of both government and Church.  Weddings took place at home, and if a priest was present, it was as a friend of the family.  Tuscany is, perhaps, the extreme case, since the Church had an interest in enforcing its rules on consent, incest, and divorce.  In Medieval Europe, however, the ruling classes were the preeminent obstacle to the moral order encouraged by the Church, which had to try, generation after generation, to compel the libidinous kings of France, from Charlemagne to Louis XV, to abstain from adultery and incest.
Since the French Revolution, the governments of the West have been making war on marriage by liberalizing divorce laws, reducing parental control, and now, finally, legalizing erotic unions—they are certainly anything but marriages—between members of the same sex.  American conservatives, inevitably, blame the 1960’s, but our own war on marriage began shortly after the American Revolution and culminated, in the late 19th century, with something very close to no-faut divorce laws becoming the norm in the states of the Northeast and Midwest.
The first necessary step in the restoration of marriage is to recognize what marriage is and how it has been practiced.  Seceding into communities of faith is contrary to Christian tradition.  We are not, after all, Essenes, but men and women who must sojourn in this world and set an example to our pagan neighbors.  On the other hand, we must not make the mistake of wasting time in vain attempts to persuade our anti-Christian governments to adhere to Christian principle.
PC     The recent events surrounding the media and political attacks on the Confederate Flag, as well as other traces and symbols of Southern heritage, have created an outcry from many Americans. Why do liberals hate the South with such vehemence? Is the South really a "backwater of institutionalized racism" as one neoconservative recently stated?
TJF     The Left’s hatred of the South is long-standing.  Marx was an enthusiastic supporter of “the glorious Union,” and it is the mark of mainstream leftist movements, starting with the French Jacobins, to oppose the preservation of tradition, community, and the Christian faith.  The South, along with rural Quebec, is one the last remnants of a traditional Christian culture in North America, and it is no accident that the flag they are tearing down includes the Cross of St. Andrew.
PC    What is your opinion on the recent deal to curb Iran's nuclear program? Could this be counted as a modest success in Obama's overall foreign policy?
TJF   Any move towards normalization of relations with Iran and the rest of the Islamic Middle East is welcome, but I would reserve the word “success” for a clearly articulated policy that achieved the results that are stated and desired.  Since, in modern times at least, Iranian politicians and diplomats have never entered honestly into any negotiations—they are a byword for dishonest and treachery in the entire Islamic world—we can only assume that any deal they sign is a mere maneuver without any sincerity.  If we could believe that President Obama and Secretary were as wily and duplicitous as the Iranians—or that they actually cared about the welfare of the United States—we might conclude that this “deal” is a partial success.  Since both neither Obama nor Kerry have the slightest aptitude for diplomacy, we have to assume that they have been taken in.
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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. SidCundiff says:

    Outstanding! This is one for the files!