Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Trump, Fascism, Evangelisation

Here is a post I did on Trump back in May.
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Proclaiming the Gospel: at the LMS Training Conference, Prior Park
I've been reading the collection of Dietrich von Hildebrand's writings published as My Struggle Against Hitler, which I highly recommend. Hildebrand, who much later emerged as one of the intellectual founders of the movement for the preservation of the Traditional Mass, was an important ideological opponent of the Nazis. He had to flee Germany when they came to power, and set up an anti-Nazi newspaper in Austria, until he had to flee from there as well.

Hildebrand was a philosopher by profession, and his analysis of the Nazi phenomenon, as a contemporary, is fascinating. He regards Nazism and Communism as feeding off a rejection of liberal individualism, but offering a false alternative to it. Instead of restoring to people a sense of identity rooted in genuine communities, they gave people an ersatz sense of belonging through the whipping up of mass hysteria, and based their ideologies on an idolisation of particular communities at the expense of all others, and of the value of the individual: for the Communists it was class, for the Nazis, race.


The tragedy of his era was that the people offering something better than the Nazis and Communists, something which addressed the real needs of the day, were not able to make their ideas, movements, and political parties more attractive than the violent and simplistic offerings of the extremists. Part of the problem was that the political establishment, which had the resources to mount effective opposition to Hitler and his ilk, at least at the earlier stages of his rise, was wedded to the liberal individualism which had already proved a failure, as far as the wavering population was concerned.

I am reminded of this situation by the Trump phenomenon in the United States. I don't think Trump a fascist; the point of comparison is that he is riding a wave of dissatisfaction which the political establishment is ideologically incapable of addressing. It remains to be seen whether he will come up with any policy ideas which actually alleviate the social problems motivating his voters. I don't personally think that American workers will end up better off without free trade, and I'm not convinced that many problems will be solved by a 'big wall' along America's southern border. But the important question is: is anyone going to offer something better in relation to the real problems of the politically excluded, which will also be more attractive to voters? It certainly does not seem so in the current electoral cycle.

Catholicism is a real solution to real problems which people have. It fills holes in people's lives, like the longing for the spiritual and the transcendant, with something coherent and true. But people who reject the spirituality of mindless consumerism don't necessarily become Catholics. Many are more attracted by other options, such as New Age ideas, Pentecostalism, or Islam. These can be packaged in simplistic ways to give the starved people a quick suger-hit of superstition, a sense of community, and moral certainties. It is not enough for Catholic evangelists that the world is longing for the things which the Church alone can provide. We have to find ways of getting it across that she does indeed provide them.

The first task is to distance ourselves from the people who refuse to see that there is a problem at all: the establishment view that yet more consumption is the answer to all problems. The aesthetics and rhetorical tone of the standard Catholic offering will have to change a lot for this to happen. Just think about the squashy seats and carpets in our more prosperous churches: what sort of message do they convey? That is a superficial manifestation of a deep problem. The Catholic Church can too easily be seen as a comfortable place for comfortable people.

More on this, see the Position Paper on the New Evangelisation.

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4 comments:

  1. It is a real problem here that the Church is not even attempting to appeal to Trump voters anymore. Indeed among my Catholic friends I mostly only hear vitriol about him which, paired with the hierarchy's insistence on open borders (a far more prudential matter than, say, transgenderism, about which she's been mostly quietistic), only reinforces the perception among the disenchanted working classes here that the Catholic Church is neck-deep in complicity with the injustices they suffer.

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  2. Trump is threatening to liquidate the American Empire. The Catholic Church, via American theologians and European proxies typically from occupied West Germany, was co-opted into this American century project after the war. Pope Benedict labelled this process, which was also manifest at Vatican II, as the "virtual council".

    Curiously, the most effective resistance came from France and the UK. In the former under Archbishop Lefebvre and in the latter via the Agatha Christie indult.

    If Trump is elected and the empire liquidated where will that leave the Church in Europe? Will it be Nietzsche (there are lapsed Catholics everywhere) or Saint Benedict?

    One for a philosopher.

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  3. I think you're right to bring this topic up, though certain Americans (myself included) are so relieved not to have had the nod go to Hillary Clinton that it's hard to ponder your point just at the moment.

    With Sean W. I mourn the state of Catholicism (both hierarchy and lay). Catholicism is the answer, but with Catholics doing their utmost to obscure the truth, as though ashamed of their Mother, there has been very little exposure of it, and next to no light escaping to shine in the darkness.

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  4. Hildebrandt correctly identified liberal individualism as the source of denial to people of a sense of identity. Trump offers that to the growing number of politically excluded.

    Catholicism is the solution, as always, which make the silence and ambiguity of the Church at present rather puzzling.

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