Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Audacity of Naïveté

Chris Blosser has an excellent post up at Catholics In The Public Square in which he takes Gerald L. Campbell of Vox Nova to task for his excessive praise of Barack Obama.

In response to Catholics who had pressed concerns about Obama's positions on issues such as abortion, Campbell had responded that the pro-life movement had achieved nothing over the last forty years, while:
At bottom, the behavioral crisis facing this country — as reflected in homelessness, violence, substance abuse, gangs, abortion, family dynamics, and so forth — is a spiritual crisis. It is a function of the failure of the individual to realize intrinsic relationships, e.g., love, compassion, understanding, mercy, etc....

The logic inherent in the atomistic individual leads directly to wide-spread spiritual alienation. This alienation is the root cause of dysfunctional behavior. The formal cause of human behavior is always spiritual....

Watching Obama closely, one can already see such dynamics at work.... there are signs of a new political imperative appearing in the body politic. A new kind of politics is beginning to emerge, one that transcends the narrow and fragmenting dynamics of interest group politics. To be sure, we have been conditioned to believe that interest group politics is all there is. But it is not. There is also a politics that inclines individuals to noble purposes and thereby reduces the fragmentation and atomization of society.
Perhaps some will label me as cynical, but I don't think that an eddy of flowery words is all that is needed to cure the host of ills that besets our society. Obama has run a classy and high-minded campaign. I'll certainly give him that. The contrast between his level of discourse and Clinton's is pretty stark. But he is, so far as I can tell, a fairly standard liberal Democrat who simply speaks very well and tends towards the higher-minded variety of rhetoric.

Well and good, but the body politic does not live by rhetoric alone. While it's true that societal ills such as homelessness, violence and family breakdown have a spiritual root, our spirits are not healed simply because we watch on TV as some man in a suit give a speech about hope.

For some in the middle and upper classes who like to follow such things, perhaps it's easy to imagine that simply electing a man who gives speeches that make them glow with excitement will make the world better overnight. However, the concerns of those who really are in desperate straights tend to be much more concrete. Rhetoric may sound good on the TV, but it's less than filling at the dinner table.


Anonymous said...

Slightly OT, but Robert Samuelson had a column a few weeks ago that took a dig at Obama for his lofty rhetoric about "change."

Not that any politician is willing to seriously address the entitlement problem, but I thought it was interesting in light of Obama's appeal to youth.

Anonymous said...

Darwin, your recent comment there about people speaking out of both sides of the mouth could well apply to anti-aborts who have a stark track record of failure in making converts.

For precisely the reasons you articulated, the failure to embrace a seamless garment approach was a tactical failure on the part of some pro-lifers.

And let's face it: the political arm of the pro-life movement has not only been a failure relative to what's going on in other Western nations, but they've contributed to the splintering of the political landscape. It's all too easy to get the idea they prefer being right rather than save any of the unborn at all. And that doesn't even touch the social issues that underlie the abortion industry.

We need an Obama-like personality in the pro-life movement, and some of the old hands just need to step down.

Darwin said...


There are definately people in the pro-life movement who cause far more trouble than good through being abbrasive, rude, distasteful, etc. However, in my experience, those people are very much in the minority. I'm sure it varies from place to place and group to group. Nor is it a problem that people within the movement (and those who support it but are more peripheral to it) are unaware of.

I agree it would be a great help to have a national political leader with the will and rhetorical ability to make the pro-life case more appealingly and more broadly. I think that it could be done, and that if done well it could win the respect, if nor support, of a slightly larger portion of the American public. The state of American political rhetoric is very, very sad these days -- indeed, that Obama is seen as a highlight shows how bad things are. Long gone is the level of speech we had 150 years ago. No president since JFK has written his own speeches, and yet even this professionalization of speech writing seldom results in good speeches.

That said, I think you are wrong to label the pro-life movement as a failing to win converts and as unnecessarily splintering the political landscape. The fact is, we are stuck having a fragmented political landscape so long as we have such massive dissagreements on what constitutes that which is just and right. So long as the country contains both people who believe that unborn life deserves respect, and others who believe retort "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries" and believe that freedom to have abortion on demand is essentail to female equality, we are destined to have a splintered political landscape on this issue as on many others. One cannot disagree on such essential matters without splintering.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so dismissive of the value of rhetoric. Lincoln accomplished a lot through his debates with Douglas, his Gettysburg Address, and his Second Inaugural Address. JFK inspired people across America to ask not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. Millions shared MLK's dream. Mr. Gorbachev did (eventually) tear down that wall.

Excellent rhetoric, applied in the right time and place, can be incredibly powerful. If people have forgotten that nowadays, it is probably no thanks to Messrs. Bush and Clinton.

If a President Obama could inspire Americans to think higher thoughts than has been the norm lately, that is more than sufficient reason to vote for him.

Anonymous said...

Previous comment was by me, not the first anonymous.


Darwin said...


I didn't mean to dismiss the value of good rhetoric per se. Lincoln was a genuinely brilliant orator, and FDR wasn't bad. JFK was the last echo of that tradition. I'm not sure I think Obama measures up to the tradition well, though. Part of it may be the lack of a truly compelling object to use his skills toward. Lincoln spoke against slavery and for the union. FDR and Churchill spoke for the Allied war effort. JFK spoke of freedom, service and ending communism. Reagan (if one classes him at that rhetorical level) wanted to defeat the USSR.

Obama... Well, he stands for change and hope and "we can do better". It seems to me all rather open-ended and directionless. I think he's got a degree of class no Democratic candidate has in many a year, but I can't for the life of me know what he'd actually do in office.

Anonymous said...

Obama... Well, he stands for change

For a nice perspective on how this fetishization of "change" stands in stark contrast to the Catholic ethos, one should go and read here:

Go down to his Jan. 4th post on this very topic. I can think of few blogs that do a better job of exposing the philosophical blind spots of our age than this one.