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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.

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Why Nullification Matters

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In the first post in this series, I discussed the push for secession and nullification now being made by Catholic Right Neo-Confederates, notably Thomas J. Woods, Jr. Now, almost a century and a half after that approach was soundly defeated, some Catholic social conservatives are resorting to these pernicious ideas, apparently in order to prevail on such issues such as reproductive rights and gun control.

While the battles of the culture wars rage, it is far from clear to the Catholic Right that they can prevail across the board. While abortion rights are under attack in many of the “red” states, Roe vs. Wade still stands, marriage equality is becoming increasingly accepted, and the neo-conservatism that epitomized the Bush era, is on the ropes. What’s more, Pope Francis, clearly has no use for their brand of laissez-faire brand of economics of the likes of George Weigel and Robert P. George. Thus the Catholic Right appears to be in a state of orderly, tactical retreat; regrouping and waiting to strike on the ground of their own choosing. And when they do their weapons of choice may be secession and nullification.

At the forefront of this reorganization is Thomas Woods. His writings and speeches are constantly cited by a budding alliance of Catholic social conservatives and secessionist apologists. While pundits periodically write off the Religious Right, this trend has been evident for some time. I noted here and here in 2010 that Catholic GOP operative Deal Hudson has trying to get such a movement going for some time. Even Robert P. George has been endearing himself to Tea Party folks by embracing the gleaming libertarian notion of goldbuggery.

The Tenth Amendment Center

Many of the shorter works of Thomas Woods can be found at or linked to from the web site for the Tenth Amendment Center, (TAC) an organization that describes itself as “… a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism… [and] … as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported on the group and its leaders:

For the past several years, [executive director Michael] Boldin has crisscrossed the country, taking the TAC’s nullification message to supporters known as “Tenthers.” Its “Nullify Now!” conferences have been held in cities including Austin, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., and Manchester, N.H.

As well as:

Thomas E. Woods, a former member of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South and the author of Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century, is another constant on the “Nullify Now!” tour.

Importantly, SPLC further noted:

The TAC’s partner in this endeavor is the Foundation for a Free Society, which espouses the libertarian free-market theories of Murray Rothbard and the Austrian School of Economics. Foundation leader Jason Rink has described the federal government as the primary threat to liberty.

The Foundation for a Free Society’s web site features exhortations for nullification — including a film “Nullification: The Rightful Remedy.” The stars of the film include Boldin, Woods and Rink, as well as Art Thompson, the Executive Director of the John Birch Society.

TAC serves as vehicle for dissemination of the nullification and secession message to the Religious – specifically, Catholic – Right. TAC’s founder and executive director, Michael Boldin, writes a regular column for Renew America‘s the web site; an organization was originally created to support for Conservative Catholic Alan Keyes’ short-lived cable news show now dedicated to advocating for limited government but with strong theocratic overtones. Other Catholic Right contributors at Renew America, in addition to Keyes himself, are Matt C. Abbott (discussed in an earlier post) and Marielena Montesino de Stuart — who is no fan of Vatican II nor of Catholic notions of Social Justice.

Nullification

Part of TAC’s strategy is to provide model legislation. Recently Governor and
(Opus Dei convert) Sam Brownback (R-KS) signed into law legislation designed to nullify any federal gun control regulations concerning any weapons manufactured in Kansas for use in Kansas. The bill was taken from the TAC model bill template. A GOP-controlled Missouri legislature recently sent an almost identical piece of legislation to its Democratic governor.

TAC provides other model nullification laws that cover an array of libertarian causes from voiding Obamacare, to withholding National Guard units, to allowing banks in individual states to begin offering and accepting gold and silver as legal tender.

But as a nation, we have been down this road before, and know from bitter experience that nullification – and by extension, its not-so-distant-kinfolk, secession, can destroy any semblance of the United States as a governable nation. When individual states believe they can ignore a gun law or a health care law they can ignore any law, including those that guarantee religious freedom via the prohibition of the establishment of a state religion. This was indeed the case recently in North Carolina where a group of Republican legislators introduced a bill that would allow an official state religion, essentially declaring the Tar-Heel state exempt from the Constitution and court rulings on Church-State separation.

And therein lies the hypocrisy of nullification. The theory relies upon the false premise that only the federal government is capable of tyranny; it blindly ignores that individual states can be tyrannical. As the history of Jim Crow demonstrates, that is more than a mere valid concern; it is a reality. Doctors involved with reproductive rights and embryonic stem cell research would be the potentially oppressed, as would be their patients. Nullification could well serve as the mid-wife to local theocracy.

And this point of departure will lead into the next post: The historical argument against nullification and secession.