Richard John Neuhaus on “Political Utopianism” and Voters

[From “While We’re At It” in the Nov. 2008 issue]

Once again the rhetoric of political utopianism is in the air.  And once again it will collapse into disappointment; without, one hopes, having done too much damage or leaving too much bitterness in its wake.  As the saying has it, God looks out for drunks, little children, and the United States of America.  And he has blessed us with a constitutional order that cannot be easily overturned or undermined.  Which is certainly not to say that elections make no difference.  This one could make a very big difference with respect to the preeminient concern for the protection of the unborn and resistance to the biotechnological redefinition of the human.  More particularly, that difference will be made in the courts, the busiest little engines given to overturning and undermining.  For starters, it is quite likely that the next president will appoint one or more new members to the Supreme Court.  It strikes some as passing strange that a politician declares that this is the greatest country in the world and is therefore in need of dramatic change.  But that, too, is very American: the confused coexistence of idealism and realism, of the utopian and pragmatic, as they are expressed in the endless permutations of what is called liberalism and conservatism.

A great many people make their political decisions on the basis of party alignments.  Relatively few do so on the basis of “the issues” — meaning that they study the policy wonkery and conclude that one or the other course will better serve the common good.  In any event, most wonkery is in the service of party alignments.  And, of course, voters beyond numbering go with celebrity appeal or whether they “feel comfortable” with the candidate projected on the television screen. … Except for the critical issues mentioned above, the substantive differences between the major candidates are not so great as fervent ideologists on the left and the right want them to be, leaving them to complain once again that they are disenfranchised.  Which is pretty much what the Founders had in mind. …

If anyone (else) tells me that he/she voted for someone based on how that candidate made him/her feel, I’m going to want to feel a face with my fist.  Who cares if you could drink a beer with the candidate?  You’re not going to.  Vote on the single issue that will actually last between the next six months: who will appoint the right judges to the Supreme Court.  Health care will be figured out, no matter who’s in charge, because so many people are mad.  Same with the financial situation.  Focus on the Supreme Court, the FOCA, and similar items, where the president will actually do good or do damage.


RJN on Abortion and the Election

[The entire essay is here.]

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.


Finitum capax infiniti

Some brilliance from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (obviously, a Roman Catholic now, but I find nothing here with which to disagree):

Throughout the ages, people had looked up into the heavens in search of God. Bearing Jesus in her womb, holding Jesus in her arms, Mary looked down into the face of God. Immanence and transcendence require one another. The Totally Other is the predicate of Emmanuel, God with us. Finitum capax infiniti.

Call it a paradox, call it a tension, call it a dialectic. Better still, call it Incarnation. Incarnatus est is the end of playing off the infinite against the finite, the human against the divine, as though Reality were a zero-sum game. How can modern man believe in miracles, Rudolf Bultmann asked, when he knows how to switch on a light bulb? Or, as a parishioner opined the other day, why pray for the healing of a headache when Tylenol works so well? Incarnatus est is the forging of an unbreakable union between the miraculous and the quotidian, the transcendent and the immanent. All our thinking, our creativity, our science, our labors, along with our sorrows and disappointments, is participation in the life of God become man, in faith’s anticipation of our destiny fulfilled in the life of God.

You can read the rest here.