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Opus Dei Priest’s Secessionist Roadmap to Theocracy

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Fr. C.J. (“John”) McCloskey is in many ways the American face of the secretive Catholic organization, Opus Dei. He is a former Wall Streeter, who is well-connected on the Catholic Right and among the political and media elite of Washington, DC. There, he fosters his message of traditional Catholicism and supply-side economics framed with a reactionary view of the American people as being either “Bible Christians and faithful Catholics” or a “…culture of death.”

McCloskey recently raised the stakes of his geo-political vision in an essay in which he considers secession in response to and the continuation of Roe vs. Wade as the law of the land, which he sees as epitomizing the “tyrannical regime” that is the government of the United States.

John McCloskey

Then there is another possibility course of action, which, while ranking low in probability with the bookmakers, should not be ruled out: secession. I wrote about this elsewhere some years ago and stirred up no small amount of controversy. The red state/blue state dichotomy could—perhaps sooner than we might think—result in states opting to pull out of the union. My guess is that if that were to happen, the armed forces of the United States (who tend to be more conservative and religious than the general population) would be reluctant to exercise military force to stop seceding states. In addition, perhaps paradoxically, the generalized modern sense that we should not dictate personal lifestyle choices for others (although it coexists in many liberal minds with intolerance of traditional morality) may make blue states reluctant to impose continued membership in the United States on red states that choose to secede. On the other hand, given the United States’ status as a major superpower for the past century, for strategic reasons there may be more official resistance to secession than we might think. We pray the secession option does not happen, but ultimately the protection of innocent life trumps any tyrannical regime that cannot protect even the smallest of its future citizens.

As startling as these assertions may be, they are not new for McCloskey. As I observed in a post in 2013, the Opus Dei prelate is linked to Catholic neo-Confederate activist Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Indeed, McCloskey is no stranger to the concept of secession:

It is therefore no surprise that among Woods’ admirers is the influential Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey. The former Ivy League-Wall Street laissez-faire apostle-turned-prelate has himself ruminated on the appeal of secession to achieve theocracy. In his infamous futuristic dystopian essay 2030: Looking Backwards he gleefully imagines a violent separation from the United States:

The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the “seed of the Church” as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith. With time and the reality of the ever-decreasing population of the states that worship at the altar of “the culture of death,” perhaps we will be able to reunite and fulfill the Founding Fathers of the old United States dream to be “a shining city on a hill.”

McCloskey’s key phrase is this: “…and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith.” such a statement cannot be mistaken for anything but the intention is to create a theocracy through secession.

The Ghost of John Calhoun

Secessionism has its roots in the philosophy of 19th century South Carolina Senator John Calhoun (1782-1850). Distrustful of democracy, Calhoun was a firebrand who, unlike other Southern politicians who not only described slavery as “a necessary evil,” openly proclaimed the peculiar institution to be a positive good, not only for African-Americans (of whom he paternalistically described as, “a people unfit for it [liberty]”) but as a means of driving away poor whites he viewed as “shiftless.”

Unlike his contemporaries Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln, Calhoun did not believe Americans were a people; instead, only individuals and groups of people who took their identities by their home state or by their particular section of United States. Disdaining numerical democracy, he believed that minorities had to be protected – albeit, certain elite minorities: the slaveholder but not the slave. To that end, Calhoun developed the concept of “concurrent majorities.”

Calhoun knew that the northern urban centers had the numbers to politically prevail over the agrarian south. So in place of numerical expressions of a national will Calhoun substituted the idea that votes would not merely be counted but weighed pursuant to sectional interests and prejudices.

(This view is consistent with what conservative icon Russell Kirk observed to be one of Calhoun’s fundamental beliefs: complete equality is incompatible with liberty)

In any case, Calhoun’s notion of weighted sectional interests would serve as justification for individual states to nullify Federal statues locally determined to be unconstitutional. And according to Thomas E. Woods, if nullification is not widely supported a state has another remedy:

In Calhoun’s conception, when a state officially nullified a federal law on the grounds of its dubious constitutionality, the law must be regarded as suspended. Thus could the “concurrent majority” of a state be protected by the unconstitutional actions of a numerical majority of the entire country. But there are limits to what the concurrent majority could do. Should the three-fourths of the states, by means of the amendment process, choose to grant the federal government the disputed power, then the nullifying state would have to decide whether it going with the decision of its fellow states or whether it would be better to secede from the Union.

Therein lies the excuse for secession. Upon closer inspection, it is a flimsy excuse to avoid a common minimum standard of basic rights. For all his concern about minority rights, Calhoun was downright hypocritical.

A close review of “concurrent majorities” reveals that the concept is not only ignores the prevailing will of a national consensus it also does not protect the rights of all minorities. Instead, the real life application of concurrent majorities would really mean local self-selected minorities rule. In other words, what would be a national minority in terms of sectionalism would then become that section’s prevailing majority.

We need look no further for a good example than the American South on the eve of the Civil War. In 1860 there were 9 million individuals living in Dixie; of those 4 million were African-American slaves with no rights whatsoever. Under this scheme not all individuals share the same minimum standard of rights. At the same time, the white land owning classes fully enjoyed the right to vote, to serve on juries and engage in other civil functions. The notion of concurrent majorities is nothing but a sham; an excuse to cast oppression as a liberty interest.

Neither Woods nor McCloskey advocates the restoration of the institution of slavery. However, they do seek a different system of oppression: theocracy. Ideas such as nullification, secession and concurrent majorities can be used interchangeably to bring about theocracy as they were once used attempting to make permanent human slavery. And just as African-Americans were once denied a minimum standard of natural rights so too would those not practicing a traditionalist Catholic or fundamentalist Christian religious belief. Personal decisions regarding birth control, reproductive rights the marriage equality would be limited by the dictates of ultra-orthodox Christian Applications to secular law, not by the collective will of the nation.

Over the course of more than two centuries as an American people the general movements has to make basic rights more inclusive. This includes the freedom to believe or not to believe as we see fit. Americans have given their lives in the struggle against those who would diminish those rights. It appears that McCloskey has no qualms about entertaining discredited and treasonous ideas and actions in order to accomplish what cannot be accomplished through the democratic process.

It is disconcerting enough that zombie concepts such as nullification and secession are currently being casually bandied about in the public discourse. It is even more disconcerting when a priest who has the ear of the rich and powerful does so as well.

A Catholic Right Double Standard — Koch Style

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC recently set off a firestorm by accepting a $1 million grant for its new School of Business and Economics from the Charles Koch Foundation.  Progressive minded organizations such as Faith in Public Life called on CUA to return the money, noting how Charles Koch’s extreme libertarianism is far out of step with Catholic social teaching on economics.

Many on the Catholic Right responded by slamming Faith in Public Life  for being funded in part by philanthropist George Soros, who they point out is an atheist. But if George Soros’ belief (or in his case, non-belief) is in play, why isn’t the same standard applied to Charles Koch?

Movement conservatives — especially those on the Religious Right, are often quick to point out that the famous philanthropist, George Soros, is an atheist. It is as if that automatically renders him evil or has anything much to do with his social and political views. Soros is not evangelical about his atheism. Indeed, he was active in supporting movements that brought down the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire – which was founded upon an overt hostility toward religion. The goal of ending Soviet hegemony was one Soros shared with conservatives including the late Pope John Paul II. I suspect that there are reasons other than atheism why conservatives hate Soros (more on that later).

So when Faith in Public Life organized a protest letter signed by Catholic educators that eloquently pointed out the hypocrisy of the Catholic University of America taking money from the Charles Koch Foundation, supporters of the new School of Business and Economics immediately changed the subject to the atheism of George Soros.

Consider this Bill Donohue excerpt from a December 18, 2013 Catholic League press release:

George Soros is an atheist billionaire who is no friend of the Catholic community. In fact, he funds causes that the Catholic Church works hard to oppose: abortion, euthanasia, drug legalization, and many other radical initiatives.

Those who signed the letter against Catholic University of America are the ones who need to explain why they would align themselves with the likes of George Soros. And if they like what he funds, they should have the guts to say so.

Another conservative web site, The Blaze, was more direct, asking in its title story, “Why Is Atheist George Soros Giving Money to a Faith Group?”. And as if to top himself, in a letter to the website LifeNews, Donohue described Faith in Public Life as an organization “…that lives off the bounty of the left-wing atheist billionaire, Mr. Soros.”

But if the Catholic Right is going to use George Soros’ atheism – as well as some of the causes he funds — as the barometer of his morality then the very same standard needs to be applied to another politically active billionaire, Charles Koch.

A thorough search of Charles Koch fails to turn up anything clear about his religious beliefs. Indeed, there is no record of a religious affiliation or of him publicly discussing faith at all. For all we know, he too may be an atheist. More importantly, like Soros, his religious views do not necessarily determine his overall morality. And yet a double standard is in play.

Let’s begin with Bill Donohue’s complaint that Soros funds causes “the Catholic Church works hard to oppose,” such as drug legalization. A simple Google search reveals that when it comes to drug legalization Charles Koch and George Soros appear be on the same page. When it comes to same-sex marriage – vehemently opposed by the Catholic Right — the Koch-funded Cato Institute has openly supported the idea. (Charles Koch was a founder of Cato).

And yet there is not a peep of protest from Donohue or LifeNews; there is no one on the Right calling into question Koch’s religious beliefs, let alone his inconsistencies with conservative Catholic dogma.

But when it comes to business and economics it is clear that Soros is the one more in line with Catholic social teaching. Indeed, his views overlap with those of Pope Francis more than those of Andrew Abela, the dean of the CUA business school.  Abela has ties to the very libertarian Acton Institute think tank. He is also a member of the Thomas Monaghan founded Legatus, an organization whose membership is limited to very conservative Catholic chief executives. It should be noted that Legatus lists five “non-negotiables” for voters; opposition to marriage equality was one of the five listed items.

So why is it that movement conservatives so dislike George Soros? I suspect it has less to do with religion and more with economics.

Soros is a proponent of regulating financial markets.  He is also a Keynesian who has made lots of money using the British economist’s theories. His concept of Reflexivity draws much from Keynes’s  belief that financial markets often act more irrationally than rationally.  This is heresy to libertarians like Charles Koch and his acolytes.

It is libertarian gospel that markets are rational and efficient and that regulation is counterproductive. They devoutly believe this in spite of the fact that science is proving them wrong and Keynes (and by extension, Soros) was correct. Soros is living proof against their claim that Keynesian capitalism does not work. That, in their view makes him a traitor to his class.

I have long contended that what truly concerns many in the Catholic Right is not religious morality, per se. Instead, inconsistencies such as I have described above points in a different direction: how their own faith can be bent to better serve the laissez-faire principles of economics that lead to inequality.

Indeed, all of the noise about George Soros is really just a distraction.

Soros does not require his grantees to be or to become atheists. Nor is there any evidence that the good people from a variety of religious traditions who work at Faith in Public Life (including Catholics) would have accepted the funds if they came with that string attached.  I’m sure the same is true of the recipients of grants from Charles Koch.  

What is important here is that Faith in Public Life is encouraging the broad tradition of Catholic social teaching on economics that Charles Koch and apparently the business school at CUA oppose.  If Donohue were a consistent defender of the Church he would join with Soros and Faith in Public Life, not denounce them.

Bishop Robert Finn and Friends Win the 2013 Coughlin Award

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s that time of the year again, folks. It’s time for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. As it is every year, the competition was stiff, so much so that this year for the first time it is a group award. This year award goes to Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri Bishop Robert Finn and his legion of supporters.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — is our way of recognizing the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was clearly antithetical the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + "o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winners — as usual — have risen to the challenge.

This year our judges had little problem deciding whom to choose. Bishop Finn did not earn his “Coughie” because of his movement conservative politics but instead by his sense of self-exemption from accountability. Finn’s defenders, who fully share in his award, scratched and clawed their way to this dubious achievement by defending the indefensible.

For those unfamiliar with the saga of Bishop Finn and his refusal to step down as the head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri, let me recap:

Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn not only knew of, or had good reason to suspect Ratigan’s crimes, but had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care.

As anyone familiar with this matter would know, Bishop Finn not only chose not to step down, but actually went on the offensive via several well-connected surrogates.

Led by 2011’s Coughlin Award winner, Bill Donohue (apparently with the blessing of Cardinal Timothy Dolan), his allies went after anyone who demanded accountability for the abused children. This group comprised a veritable Who’s Who of the neoconservative Catholic Right — Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan; Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS) (BishopAccountability.org describes OBS co-founders Joseph Maher and Paul Barron as “members of Legatus.” Based in Monaghan’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan, many of the key members of Legatus are also affiliated with other Monahan-founded or funded organizations); and of course, Donohue’s Catholic League whose board of advisors besides Monaghan, includes several leading theocons as Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George, Michael Novak and George Weigel.

This cabal (which rarely expresses concern for the victims) lashed out at the Kansas City Star newspaper for its leading investigative work in the matter, as well as victims rights organization as well as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). As part and parcel of this strategy of obfuscation, an OBS psychiatrist astonishingly concluded that Ratigan’s diagnosis was “loneliness and depression” not pedophilia. The court rejected this argument and convicted the pedophile priest.

Bishop Finn and his aforementioned friends meet all the three requirements of a Coughlin Award winner.

First, they have succeeded in making Catholicism less inclusive by their lack of concern for victims of sexual child predator clergy. They demonstrate that only those who will turn a blind eye to such criminals and their crimes are welcome in their stilted version of the Catholic Church. For them, faith is not as much an expression of spirituality but more like the blunt object used to bludgeon political opponents.

Second, they have engaged in incendiary behavior, not only by willing to be accountable for such an abysmal failure of leadership but by downplaying the seriousness of pedophilia – and even blaming the victims.

Third, the degree of embarrassment to the Catholic Church is self-evident. Bishop Finn’s unwillingness to resign his position of authority sends the wrong message. It sounds like the greater Catholic Church does not police its own house. Instead, the leadership corruptly rewards those like Bishop Finn with the retention of power.

Normally when we issue the annual Coughlin Award there is always a measure of snark and sarcastic humor. That is not the case this year. There is nothing remotely humorous about the failure to protect children from sexual abuse: there is only shame. And for that reason we sadly present the 2013 Coughie to Bishop Robert Finn and his band of Catholic Right apologists.

William Donohue: Will You Please Go Now?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, achieved the seemingly impossible in a recent interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo — a new low.

Like every other Catholic of any prominence, Donohue was asked about his views on the surprising comments by Pope Francis regarding LGTB Catholics. When the conversation turned to the ongoing priestly pedophilia scandal, he not only failed to embrace the new spirit emanating from the throne of St. Peter — he continued to attack gay people and as is his wont, he blamed the sex abuses committed by priests on the victims.

“I always tells the truth”, he declared, while badly mischaracterizing the findings of a recent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (the 2004 report commissioned by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; as for the press release put out by John Jay, it concluded, “that there was no single cause or predictor of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.”). Karen Terry, PhD., the principal investigator concluded that neither celibacy nor homosexuality were causes of abuse. But Donohue told Cuomo that because many of the victims involved were teenagers, “It’s not a pedophilia… most of the victims were post-pubescent… .” Apparently, Donohue thinks that the criminal sexual violation of teenagers is ok.

Cuomo, to his credit, did expose many of Donohue’s past hypocrisies. Unfortunately, they did not discuss Donohue’s role in the Ratigan-Finn debacle in the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph Missouri. Fr. Shawn Ratigan pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of the attempted production of child pornography. His Bishop, Robert Finn, was convicted by a Jackson County court of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. But while Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison Finn (a darling of Opus Dei) still sits as bishop in the era of “zero tolerance.”

Donohue’s defense of these convicted criminals is a vile spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of Donohue’s more egregious howlers in this interview.

Donohue complains at the 2:58 minute mark, that the bishops mishandled the scandal by sending the sexual predators to see psychologists instead of throwing them in jail. What actually happened is that Donohue and the Catholic League sought to thwart the prosecution of Ratigan while running interference for his immediate superior, Bishop Finn. What’s more, one of the groups working in consort with the Catholic League was Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), (an organization which has ties to Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan) which had shuffled Ratigan off to see psychologists who declared that he was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression. I pointed out at the time that Donohue is pictured on the OBS homepage next to a link to his piece, “Straight Talk about the Catholic Church and SNAP Exposed.”

But Donohue’s straight talk did not include seeking to get the truth about the Finn-Ratigan affair to the world. For example, Donohue issued a press release in September 2012 which stated, “The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.” However, as the New York Times reported at the time:

In May 2010, the principal of the Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan was working sent a memo to the diocese raising alarm about the priest. The letter said that he had put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house. Bishop Finn has said he did not read the letter until a year later.

The prosecutor said the photographs discovered on Father Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 were “alarming photos,” among them a series taken on a playground in which the photographer moves in closer until the final shots show girls’ genitalia through their clothing. Confronted with the photographs, Father Ratigan tried to commit suicide, but survived and was briefly hospitalized.

This is what William Donohue has claimed “did not involve child sexual abuse” and did not “involve child pornography.”

While we await some actual straight talk from William Donohue, let’s be aware that one of his standard tactics is attempting to shift the focus of the problem. In effect, changing the subject. For example, in the Cuomo interview he claimed that “78% of the victims are post-pubescent” and “the word in the English language [describing this behavior] is not pedophilia, it’s called homosexuality.” Such a statement, however, is nothing more than a ruse. It is a transparent attempt to shift the blame from the offending priest to the victim by esoterically suggesting possible seduction on the latter’s part.

Not only did Donohue incorrectly equate sexual orientation with the legal age of sexual consent while simultaneously discounting the coercive power of a predatory adult, the John Jay Report does not show what he claims it shows. In fact, at page 10 it shows the opposite:

“Most sexual abuse victims of priests (51 percent) were between the ages of eleven and fourteen, while 27 percent were fourteen to seventeen, 16 percent were eight to ten, and nearly 6 percent were under age seven.”

Again, by Donohue’s definitions, apparently puberty is the line at which coercive sex by priests becomes consensual.

It is incomprehensible to me and to many other Catholics that this man leads any organization that calls itself Catholic. It is even more incomprehensible that he works closely with the American Catholic hierarchy — especially Cardinal Dolan of New York. This episode makes it clear that the most vulnerable among us are expendable if they get in the way of William Donohue and his cronies.

Donohue is the embodiment of the culture-war politics the new pope has disavowed. I recently wrote that Pope Francis must fire — and not only because he is the only one who can. I think it is essential for the credibility of his effort to reform the Church. But I’d like to amend my comments to say that just as the bishop who sat on evidence of child-abuse needs to go, those who sought to impede justice need to go as well. And that includes William Donohue.

Priest Gets 50 Years for Child Porn – Bishop Who Knew Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Earlier this year I wrote that the credibly of the new Pope may depend on how he lives up to his claim of having a zero tolerance policy regarding child sex abuse.

What measure of tolerance shall we say that the Pope is giving to Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted over a year ago of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest under his authority and still leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri?  A federal judge deemed the child porn charges of which pedophile priest Fr. Shawn Ratigan was convicted to be so serious that he sentenced Ratigan to 50 years in prison.

I am one of those Catholics who has been cheered by the new pope’s refreshing tone and his embracing of tolerance and humility. Indeed, his recent comments about the Church’s recent obsession with culture war issues may have pulled the rug out from under the Republican Party Auxiliary we generally call the Catholic Right. His recent statements clearly indicate that he may lead the Church to an approach to economic and social justice that transcends Roman Catholicism and embraces the entire world.

But the longer he waits to act on the problem of sex abuse in the Church, the greater the risk that the good will he had earned, and the hope he has given to many millions of Catholics (and non-Catholics) will be lost.

Only the pope has the power to remove a Bishop. And the removal of Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri would be the perfect starting point to show the world that he will back up his words with deeds.

On its face, it ought to be a no-brainer.  Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn not only knew of or had good reason to suspect Ratigan’s crimes, but had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care.

I’ve previously written that Bishop Finn — a darling of the American Catholic Right must go.  But Finn has powerful friends.  The American Catholic Right is led by prominent neoconservatives and members of the secretive Catholic order, Opus Dei — and Finn is one of their own. Finn is also revered as a culture warrior, par excellence — having called on the Church to be “the Church militant.”  

No matter who Finn’s friends may be, Pope Francis — who has prominently claimed that he stands with the poor and the vulnerable — is faced with what may be the critical bellwether challenge and opportunity of his papacy.

Yes, Mr. Woods, You Advocate the Right to Oppress

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo thomaswoods_zps65b2661f.jpg This post constitutes my third and final reply to Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s critique of my series on his neo-Confederate activities. In my first reply I explained why, his protestations not withstanding, he is indeed a neo-Confederate. My second reply focused on how Woods twists his opponents’ statements into self-serving red herring.

Now I get to what is as the heart of Woods’s neo-Confederate/libertarian agenda: defending the right to oppress; a critical component of which is the combination of nullification and secession.

“I am a libertarian” and “not a `neo-Confederate’” wrote Thomas E. Woods, Jr. in a verbal shell game he plays to mask the shared flaw of his chosen philosophies:  the elevation of raw power over justice and equality before the law, cloaking oppression in the guise of freedom and liberty.

As I have previously noted, his advocacy of both secession and the unilateral nullification of Federal court decisions as well as Federal legislation appeals to many on the Catholic Right. What’s more, nullification is becoming a weapon in efforts to thwart the will of the American people as expressed by its elected representatives.

Some Neo-Confederates are also Libertarians

While not all libertarians are neo-Confederates, neo-Confederates of Woods’s ilk are certainly libertarians. This comes into focus when we consider the League of the South,a neo-Confederate organization with which Woods proudly identifies and whose core economic beliefs are of the aforementioned Austrian School of libertarian economics: opposition to fractional banking; a return to the gold standard; and a general distrust government regulation that often borders on anarchy. (Indeed, Woods himself is devotee of  anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard).  Woods’s strain of libertarianism argues that these are essential elements of freedom.

Austrian school libertarians even oppose the laissez-faire “Chicago school” economics of Milton Friedman — which at least considers using some government intervention in the economy through monetary policy.  Austrian schoolers want government to play no role at all in the economy. After all, they steadfastly assure us, that economically speaking, everyone acts with reasonable self-interest.

Austrian schoolers also believe that the freedom to contract is absolute, regardless of the imbalance of power between parties, particularly when it comes to matters of employment. “Labor is appraised like a commodity not because the entrepreneurs and capitalists are hardhearted and callous,”  Ludwig von Mises famously declared, “but because they are unconditionally subject to the supremacy of the pitiless consumers.” (Woods is a Senior Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama.) Every dollar is a ballot from their point of view; and the messy ethical considerations of government are replaced by the supposed efficiencies of the free market. Of course, if every dollar is a ballot, then those with more dollars have more ballots and the outcome of every election is predetermined.

Thus the question of freedom, is really a question of freedom for whom?

The above von Mises quote suggests that owners are free to abuse low wage workers while providing excessive executive compensation; unjustifiable stock dividend payouts; failing to invest in more efficient manufacturing equipment; and ineffective trades policies. And as the 2007 Wall Street meltdown has proven, many financial figures do not act solely out of “reasonable self-interest;” irrationality plays an outsized role along with, greed, ego and self-aggrandizement.

This gets us to the core of our dispute: That Woods’ neo-Confederate libertarianism distorts the meanings of freedom and liberty into a defense of the excesses of self-interest.  He argues, referring to me:

And finally, my critic says I defend a “right to oppress.” This is preposterous, needless to say. … The point is that the federal government is far more likely to be a threat to our liberties, indeed to civilization itself, than the states — from which, in any case, exit is rather easier. There is absolutely nothing the states could do that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war, but I am supposed to be super worried about what Montana might do next. Nice priorities.

He then added, “And of course, nothing centralized regimes do ever, ever, ever discredits centralization.”

This is typical Woods, vigorously assaulting a straw man of his own invention. (While I clearly believe that a sturdy federal government is far preferable to confederacy, nowhere have I claimed that it is a perfect; all forms of government are subject to abuse.) Quite tellingly though, Wood opposes the centralization of power in a democratically elected Federal government, but thinks the centralization of economic power in the hands of unaccountable private interests is just fine.  

There is no shortage of examples to demonstrate that Woods’s definition of freedom includes the right to oppress.  Woods goes so far as to oppose child labor laws. (He claims that passing laws against child labor is like passing laws against gravity.)  He also opposes the recent efforts of fast food workers to achieve a living wage. “Instead of being amazed that they can earn anything at all with no skills to speak of,” says Woods, “they are enraged that they aren’t making a comfortable living performing a task as simple as fast-food preparation.”

Ignoring Facts and History

History teaches us a different lesson about child labor than the world according to Woods.  Child labor in the past has been used to drive down wages by creating a surplus of workers. Beyond that, the law informs us that minors are generally considered to be legally incompetent to enter into most contracts. While Woods’s position may be honestly grounded in his libertarian philosophy it does not change the dynamics of highly unequal wage bargaining power — hence his embrace of a right to oppress children without interference from the government.

Progressive child labor laws have freed children from toiling long hours in mills full of dangerous machinery or having to dig for coal in poorly ventilated and unsafe mineshafts. At the same time, parents have received better wages because the size of the workforce was reduced. Children once unable to attend school, now have the opportunity, which in turn, creates a more sophisticated work force.

Likewise, increases in the minimum wage pegged to productivity have proven to be healthy for the overall economy – as well as being the right thing to do. Woods mischievously frames his argument against fast food workers seeking a raise, by suggesting that they want something exorbitant.  It is not unreasonable for workers to seek wages that are at the very least, adjusted for inflation.  Woods’ twisting of facts to fit his argument is characteristic of his method.

As if all this were not enough, there is one part of Woods’s critique of one of my pieces on nullification that I find astonishing. “There is absolutely nothing the states could do,” he claims, ” that would amount to a grain of sand on the beach compared to a new Middle Eastern war…” As someone who holds a Ph.D. in history from an Ivy League university he should know better. He must certainly be aware that his beloved (so-called) Confederate States of America’s dreams of a slave empire extending into the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.  History teaches us that neither size nor form of government is a guarantee against Empire – let alone the desire to extinguish individual rights.

If the modern federal state is inherently such a tyrannical menace, why have Sweden’s armies not marched in conquest?

No Oppressor is an Island

Woods is also involved with organizations that are devoted to the right to oppress.

As I have previously documented, Woods is a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group.

The League’s “Core Belief Statement” also suggests a religious supremacism of the sort that would clearly be a building block of theocracy. The League declares:

“The South still reveres the tenets of our historic Christian faith and acknowledges its supremacy over man-made laws and opinions…

If the southern Leaguers got their way in this regard, the prospects might be bleak for anyone other than officially approved Christians, and worse for minority religions and the non-religious. Freedom for religious supremacism means the right to oppress, whether at the state, local or federal level.

Woods, a convert to traditionalist Catholicism, is a regular contributor to the The Remnant . This traditionalist biweekly newspaper has been highly critical of anything Catholic since Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate, — the official Catholic statement repudiating the notion that the Jewish people are guilty of deicide.  The Remnant has also been a vocal supporter of the schismatic – and anti-Semitic – priestly order of the Society of St. Pius X.  For this and other examples of hostility to Judaism The Remnant has also earned a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.

The Remnant’s support for SSPX is a particular point of interest. SSPX has maintained ties to the Northern Italian secessionist political organization, Northern League – as does the League of the South.

Coming Full Circle

Of course, to this crowd, the main problem with a sturdy federal government is that it stands in the way of the neo-Confederate vision itself. Modern notions of civil rights as well as the legacy of New Deal economics exist to protect the rights of those who would suffer if the neo-Confederate libertarian dream were to come true.

What the agendas of secession and nullification are truly about is the frustration of various like-minded minority factions’ ambitions to oppress the majority.  To that end, they want the federal government disassembled at least to the point where the religious and economic prejudices of the few are less likely to be checked by the democratically derived consensus of the many.

This happened in 1861 when proslavery forces lost their grip on the White House; and it is happening now with a small but effective gang of Christian Right activists that cannot find a constitutional avenue to impose their moral and economic views on the entire nation.  It is why we see, paradoxically, the likes of the theocratic protestant Gary North (an Associated Scholar of the von Mises Institute) and Opus Dei priest C. John McCloskey embrace Woods’s brand of theocratic libertarianism. North and McCloskey are not opposed to theocracy, per se, they just want to localize it. Indeed, that is why Woods’s advocacy of secession and nullification is so appealing to them. If they cannot persuade the whole country to see things their way while playing by the rules, they will simply tear up the rulebook – as well as the nation.

This is libertarianism’s inherent fatal flaw: Its sole emphasis upon the liberty of the more powerful individual and its striking indifference to the rights of others.  It fails to account for externalities — when a third person is affected by an occurrence or transaction to which he is not a party.  It is a philosophy of governance that refuses to consider that the individual’s well-being is linked to the well-being of all within a given society.

I will assume that Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is sincere when he says he doesn’t personally believe in oppressing others who are different than him.  But he defends a philosophy predicated upon a highly subjective definition of liberty attained at the expense of others.  I would go so far as to say he also believes in maximizing the opportunities presented in such situations. Therefore, he resolutely believes in the right to oppress, and is conflating freedom with oppression.

But there is a different way of viewing freedom.  

 “One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn,” Aristotle once said, “and indeed democratic justice is the application of numerical not proportionate equality; whence it follows that the majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just.”

For related articles, click here.

The Methods in the Mendacity of Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic Right activist Thomas E. Woods, Jr., was upset when I described him as a neo-Confederate. But his ongoing involvement with neo-Confederate organizations as well as the ideas expressed in his writing earned him that descriptor. It is one which will undoubtedly be fairly applied until such time as he publicly disassociates himself from neo-Confederate groups and publicly changes his mind about the value of neo-Confederate ideas.

This post is the second of three brief replies to Woods’s critique of my series. In this piece I will focus on how he avoids responsibility for his own views.

First, let me acknowledge that I provided an opening for Woods to misrepresent something I had written via my own imprecision in  “Thomas E. Woods, Jr. And the Right to Oppress”.  Here is the paragraph in my post with the key sentence highlighted in italics:

 

Woods’ omissions are all-too-convenient. First, in response to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional) nine other states expressed either disapproval or outright rejection of the Resolutions. Secondly, Jefferson was always an anti-Federalist. Beyond that, Madison would conclude that determining unconstitutionality was to be decided by the federal courts. For Madison, nullification was a means of registering protest, not acting upon it.

Woods wasted no time in twisting this into a self-serving deflection. “For some reason,” Woods declared, “central to his argument is his claim that Thomas Jefferson was an Antifederalist. He was not.”

Sometimes the use of the capital letter of a written word changes its meaning. For example, when I used the term “anti-Federalist” I used a capital letter “F” as in the Federalist political party of which George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were members (it was President John Adams who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law; more on that issue in a second). I should have fully explained this, and not relied on a capital “F”.

Yet my error does not justify Woods’ claim that that I was describing Jefferson as an “antifederalist” — slyly employing a lower case letter “f” in the word, federalist. This writing of “federalist” describes a political philosophy, not a political party, as Woods almost certainly well knows.

Did I argue that the Alien and Sedition Acts were justified, as Woods suggests? Of course not; nor did I argue that nullification is ever the proper remedy for an individual state in reacting to a federal piece of legislation – no matter who is president of United States.  Instead, I was arguing for the proper Constitutional process of registering complaint on such ill-conceived legislation. To suggest otherwise is intellectually dishonest.  

So while I am sorry that I provided Woods with an opportunity to divert his readers away from my main point — the invalidity of nullification — we can thank Woods for revealing to us some of the methods of his mendacity.  (We can include in the latter his failure to provide a link to my piece so that reader could see for themselves what I had to say.)

So, back to our story. Was Jefferson a federalist?  To the extent that he supported the U.S. Constitution, yes. But Jefferson was also a man of contradictions. While being wary of larger government as President, for example, he also transacted the Louisiana Purchase — clearly a strong exercise of federal power. But beyond that, he was not a federalist in the same sense as Federalist Party members George Washington and Alexander Hamilton; two men who understood that confederation was not a sturdy enough form of government to withstand the arbitrary passions that have destroyed many societies throughout history.

What Woods is actually advocating is giving factions the power to hold popular government hostage.  Factionalism does not arise out of the Enlightenment ideal of reason and the pursuit of rational self-interest (as opposed to the unfettered laissez-faire self-interest favored by conservatives and those further Right).  Instead, it rears its ugly, destructive head when unchecked emotion controls group actions. Indeed, the contemporary Religious Right is increasingly resorting to factionalism to get its way; much like a child throwing a tantrum when it is told they cannot do something destructive to others.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s Long and Winding “Yawn”

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo thomaswoods_zps65b2661f.jpg “Apparently there’s been a series against me over at the Daily Kos by a left-liberal lawyer,” neo-Confederate author Thomas E. Woods Jr. recently wrote in a blog post titled, “Left-Wingers Attack; I Yawn.”

Before launching into his response to my series he claimed, “I no longer pay attention to left-wing attacks”  (Except, apparently, when he does).

This post is the first of three brief replies to Mr. Woods. In this initial offering I will explain why the term neo-Confederate to which he objects, suits him so well.

“It’s the same arguments every time,” he fumes. “They pretend I haven’t answered them. I have.”

But has he really answered me, or anyone else? Or are his answers really more like deflections? There are good reasons why he is described as a neo-Confederate. Let’s look at a few.

Woods knows that many of his clearly neo-Confederate ideas and purposeful involvements will make other of his allies uncomfortable at best, especially among the Catholic Right. So his ideas and involvements must be hidden or downplayed and when they cannot be, they are strenuously denied.

Woods claims that he is really just a libertarian. But that is a canard. Most of us know libertarians. And while we may disagree with them on many issues, especially economics, we know that they are not advocating the breakup of United States of America.

Woods insinuated in his response that I have equated his calls for secession and nullification with racism and a call to reestablish slavery, hence, why I call him a neo-Confederate. I did no such thing, of course, and all he has for an argument is to lump me in with other unnamed critics, complaining, “They idiotically call me a “neo-Confederate” (have they really not seen the zombie video, or are they trying to caricature themselves?).”

Woods would have us believe that this video answers all of his critics about everything. (It would be better titled “The Zombie Straw Man.”)  Using the setting of a mock interview to discuss his book, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, he starts out by saying that the federal government does whatever wants without constitutional restraint. Of course he does not specify exactly what the government is doing that requires restraining.  He goes on to claim that if anyone questions the constitutionality of a given issue, “they laugh you.”  Paraphrasing Jerry Seinfeld, who are all these people who are laughing?  Of course, he does not say.  This is, after all, a straw man he is pummeling.

As the video churns on we see the zombie “host” throw accusations of “slavery” and “neo-Confederate” at Woods, as if those of us who use this moniker to define him do so baselessly.  But perhaps unsurprisingly, he engages in the very behavior of which he accuses his critics — falsely (and absurdly) equating those who oppose nullification and secession with Hitler.

He never addresses the real reason why he’s fairly described as a neo-Confederate: it is the content of his own works and his involvement in neo-Confederate organizations.  Let’s look at a standard definition of the term:

The Southern Poverty Law Center defines it this way:  

The term neo-Confederacy is used to describe twentieth and twenty-first century revivals of pro-Confederate sentiment in the United States. Strongly nativist and advocating measures to end immigration, neo-Confederacy claims to pursue Christianity and heritage and other supposedly fundamental values that modern Americans are seen to have abandoned.

So even the SPLC does not say one has to advocate slavery or even be an overt racist to be a neo-Confederate. But one does not have to look very hard to see what the League is all about. A current visitor to the League’s web site will find a close-out special on League of the South tee-shirt with a quote from Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) on the back. And if you need a bumper sticker to express your feelings about secession, you might pick “Feds Out of Dixie!”. And after making your purchases you can keep up with the cause on the League of the South blog, Rebellion.

In fairness, Woods once stated, “I have played no day-to-day role in the [League of the South] organization and I am responsible neither for the comments of any other member nor for the politically incorrect statements I am told can be found on the League’s site.”

But with that said, nowhere in that statement, or any other statement he has made to my knowledge, does he actually separate his views from those of the League. And although Woods acknowledges that he was present at the League’s formative meetings, he also claims not to completely identify with the League’s core beliefs. But he does not say which ones or why.

There is much more eye opening material in the League’s core beliefs, which are laced with exclusionary statements, such as:

“The League of the South asserts that Southern society is radically different from the society impressed upon it by an alien occupier.”

 

Woods is more than a contemporary fashionista of secession and nullification.  He is a leader who puts an Ivy League gloss on some crude and discredited ideas, and even cruder and more discredited proponents of these ideas. Indeed, for a man who says he is not a neo-Confederate because he is not a racist and does not believe in slavery, he is having a hard time explaining his relationship with the League of the South, a leading apologist for the Southern Cause.

But one does not have to rely entirely on Woods’s involvement with the League as evidence of his neo-Confederate commitments. He is also involved with the Abbeville Institute (taking its name from the birthplace of secessionist John C. Calhoun). As my Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has already noted:

Woods is from Massachusetts with degrees from Harvard and Columbia, but he has described himself as one of “the founders of the League of the South.” He is also affiliated with the Abbeville Institute, described by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a group of 64 scholars nostalgic for the Old South and Secession. Time Magazine described the institute, founded by Emory University professor Donald Livingston, as a group of “Lincoln loathers.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the Abbeville Institute founder as one of the leaders in the modern neo-Confederate movement and, as described in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, pointed out the following quote in its mission statement.

“Rarely these days, even on Southern campuses, is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of white people in the South.”

 photo thomaswoodshistory_zps7015e6a2.jpg There is also Woods’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.  Woods uses Confederate revisionist rhetoric to describe the Civil War, as the “War of Northern Aggression” or the “War Between the States.”

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain once adroitly observed:

“There was no war between the States. It was a war in the name of certain States to destroy the political existence of the United States, in membership of which alone, on any just theory of the government, their own sovereignty as States inhered, and could make itself effectual. To this absurd pass did that false theory come — a war of States against the people; and if successful, the suicide of States.”

Indeed, this book cements his credentials as a neo-Confederate, starting with the cover art. There we see a smug looking Confederate officer standing with his arms almost folded with an “I-told-you-so” look on his face.

But finally there is Woods’s 1997 article in The Southern Partisan magazine entitled, “Christendom’s Last Stand” where Woods, who described himself as “a founding member of the League of the South,” enthusiastically waved the flag of his neo-Confederatism:

So the War Between the States, far from a conflict over mere material interests, was for the South a struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself. The intelligent Left knows this, and even the incurably stupid, like [former Democratic Senator from Illinois -- the first African-American woman to be elected as a U.S. Senator] Carol Moseley-Braun, must at least sense it. For all their ignorant blather about slavery and civil rights, what truly enrages most liberals about the Confederate Battle Flag is its message of defiance. They see in it the remnants of a traditional society determined to resist cultural and political homogenization, and refusing to be steamrolled by the forces of progress.

I have been a Northerner for my entire 24 years. But when we reflect on what was really at stake in the “late unpleasantness,” we can join with [Confederate Vice-President] Alexander Stephens in observing that “the cause of the South is the cause of us all.”

And that is why Thomas E. Woods, Jr. has earned the description of neo-Confederate.

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