Tag Archives: Catholicism

On the Influence of the Scribes

At the Liberty Law site, my friend John McGinnis has a very interesting post on what he calls America’s “scribal class.” These are people – professors, journalists, opinion writers, lawyers, even entertainment industry types – who set America’s cultural and political agendas. John writes that they have enormous power, and all skew one way: Left.

John extrapolates from a recent study on the liberalism of American lawyers:

Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left.  Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.

Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.

John goes on to contrast the scribal class with “producers,” those people who “produce material goods and non-information services for a living.” Producers, he suggests, do not skew Left, or at least not as much as the scribal class. They serve as a kind of cultural counterweight, to the great annoyance of the scribes.

John is right in his assessment of the cultural and political leanings of the scribal class, and the outsize influence members of that class have over the direction of the country. He’s not as persuasive when it comes to the producers. Corporate America and the cultural Left often find themselves on the same side of public debates, as last spring’s controversy over the Indiana RFRA law, and last summer’s reaction to Obergefell decision, demonstrate. Corporate America really doesn’t stand in opposition to the Left, unless one defines the Left purely in economic terms.

John minimizes one factor, though, and that is the scribal class’s almost total disregard of religion, at least traditional religion. True, the media sometimes presents religious minorities in a flattering light, usually as examples of a benign multiculturalism. But there is little respect for the legitimacy of religious convictions as such, especially the convictions of traditional believers. There is little knowledge even of basic facts.

Witness, for example, yesterday’s reaction to Pope Francis’s statement on forgiving women who show contrition for having had abortions. The media has trumpeted the pope’s statement as a major, surprising departure from Catholic teaching, rather than a temporary relaxing of formal rules on who may grant absolution – as though the concept of forgiving sins was somehow alien to Christian doctrine. Pope John Paul II had relaxed the rules in the last Holy Year, in 2000, a fact most media failed to report.

To me, all this suggests two things, neither of which, I guess, is particularly new. First, religious conservatives must do a better job making inroads in the scribal class, or develop an alternative vehicle for expression, if they are not to be steamrolled entirely out of the public conversation. Second, conservatives should focus less on politics itself and more on the culture that drives politics – on hearts and minds, not election returns.

You can read John’s whole piece here.

“The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context” (eds. Burson and Wright)

In November, the Cambridge University Press will release “The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context: Causes, Events, and Consequences,” edited by Jeffrey D. Burson (Georgia Southern University) and Jonathan Wright (University of Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

In 1773, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus, a dramatic, puzzling act that had a profound impact. This volume traces the causes of the attack on the Jesuits, the national expulsions that preceded universal suppression, and the consequences of these extraordinary developments. The Suppression occurred at a unique historical juncture, at the high-water mark of the Enlightenment and on the cusp of global imperial crises and the Age of Revolution. After more than two centuries, answers to how and why it took place remain unclear. A diverse selection of essays – covering France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Eastern Europe, and the Americas – reflects the complex international elements of the Jesuit Suppression. The contributors shed new light on its significance by drawing on the latest research. Essential reading on a crucial yet previously neglected topic, this collection will interest scholars of eighteenth-century religious, intellectual, cultural, and political history.

Ever Hear of This Guy?

A book out this summer, on Renaissance banker Jacob Fugger, is getting lots of the-richest-man-who-ever-lived-9781451688559_lgattention. The Richest Man Who Ever Lived claims that Fugger, of whom pretty much no one has ever heard, was one of the most influential people in his age — and all of history, in fact. According to the author, journalist and securities analyst Greg Steinmetz, Fugger is indirectly responsible both for the end of the Catholic Church’s ban on the taking of interest and, in a roundabout way, the Protestant Reformation. From the Washington Post‘s review:

Fugger’s “greatest talent was an ability to borrow the money he needed to invest,” Steinmetz writes. “He convinced cardinals, bishops, dukes, and counts to loan him oceans of money. . . . Financial leverage catapulted him to the top.” But in order to charge and offer interest payments, he had to battle the church’s long-standing ban on usury. Here Fugger’s links to Rome, buttressed through bribes for high church officials, became useful. Through artful lobbying and the staging of a high-profile public debate, he helped persuade Pope Leo X to sign a papal bull acknowledging the legitimacy of interest, which became permissible as long as the loan involved labor, cost or risk on behalf of the lender. “And what loan didn’t involve one of the three?” Steinmetz asks. After this victory, “debt financing accelerated,” he writes. “The modern economy was underway.”

It was a system that soon prompted controversies and suffered attacks, whether peasant revolts or even the Protestant Reformation. Clerical offices were for sale then, and Fugger financed the purchase of an influential job — the archbishop of Mainz, one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. In order to repay the loan, the new bishop and the pontiff concocted a scheme: the sale of sin-forgiving indulgences to the faithful, ostensibly to refurbish St. Peter’s Basilica but in large part to repay Fugger. A 33-year-old priest and theologian by the name of Martin Luther was outraged at the church cashing in on popular fears of damnation and posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. You know what happened next.

I’m always suspicious of claims that an author has discovered a previously unknown person who changed the course of history. But who knows? Anyway, the book looks interesting, and it’s nice to see the history of law and religion getting some attention in the  media.

Horn, “The Spirit of Vatican II”

In September, the Oxford University Press will release “The Spirit of Vatican II: Western European Progressive Catholicism in the Long Sixties,” by Gerd-Rainer Horn (Sciences Po, Institut d’Etudes Politiques). The publisher’s description follows:

Vatican II profoundly changed the outlook and the message of the Catholic Church. After decades, if not centuries, in which Catholic public opinion appeared to be primarily oriented towards the distant past and bygone societal models, suddenly the Catholic Church embraced the world as it was, and it joined in the struggle to create a radiant future.

The Sixties were a time of great socio-cultural and political ferment in Europe as a whole. Especially the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s witnessed an astounding range of “new” and “old” social movements reaching for the sky. Catholic activists provided fuel to the fire in more ways than one. Catholics had embarked on the quest for new horizons for some years prior to the sudden growth of secular activism in and around the magic year of 1968. When secular radicals joined up with Catholic activists, a seemingly unstoppable dynamic was unleashed.

This book covers five crucial contributions by Catholic communities to the burgeoning atmosphere of those turbulent years: a) the theological innovations of Vatican II, which made such an unprecedented engagement of Catholics possible in the first place, but also post-conciliar theological developments; b) the resurgence of the worker priest experiment, and the first-ever creation of autonomous organisations of radical parish priests; c) the simultaneous creation of grassroots organisations – base communities – by (mostly) lay activists across the continent; d) the crucial roles of Catholic students in the multiform student movements shaping Europe in these years; e) the indispensable contributions of Catholic workers who helped shape – and often initiated – the wave of militant contestations shaking up labour relations after 1968.

Kimmel, “Parables of Coercion”

In October, the University of Chicago Press will release “Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain,” by Seth Kimmel (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, competing scholarly communities sought to define a Spain that was, at least officially, entirely Christian, even if many suspected that newer converts from Islam and Judaism were Christian in name only. Unlike previous books on conversion in early modern Spain, however, Parables of Coercion focuses not on the experience of the converts themselves, but rather on how questions surrounding conversion drove religious reform and scholarly innovation.

In its careful examination of how Spanish authors transformed the history of scholarship through debate about forced religious conversion, Parables of Coercion makes us rethink what we mean by tolerance and intolerance, and shows that debates about forced conversion and assimilation were also disputes over the methods and practices that demarcated one scholarly discipline from another.

Kornberg, “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War”

In May, the University of Toronto Press released “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War” by Jacques Kornberg (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Pius XII presided over the Catholic Church during one of the most challenging moments in its history. Elected in early 1939, Pius XII spoke out against war and destruction, but his refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies for mass atrocities and genocide remains controversial almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War.

Scholars have blamed Pius’s inaction on anti-communism, antisemitism, a special emotional bond with Germany, or a preference for fascist authoritarianism. Delving deep into Catholic theology and ecclesiology, Jacques Kornberg argues instead that what drove Pius XII was the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the Church and the access to salvation that it provided.

In The Pope’s Dilemma, Kornberg uses the examples of Pius XII’s immediate predecessors Benedict XV and the Armenian genocide and Pius XI and Fascist Italy, as well as case studies of Pius XII’s wartime policies towards five Catholic countries (Croatia, France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), to demonstrate the consistency with which Pius XII and the Vatican avoided confronting the perpetrators of atrocities and strove to keep Catholics within the Church. By this measure, Pius XII did not betray, but fulfilled his papal role.

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the Catholic Church’s wartime legacy.

Movsesian at ICON-S Conference This Week

ICON-S-logoOn Thursday, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual ICON-S conference on Public Law, to be held this year at New York University. The conference is sponsored by the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and draws scholars from around the world. My panel, “The Foundation of an Uncertain Law,” will discuss Cambridge’s new collection of commentary on the jurisprudence of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cartabia & Simoncini eds. 2014). Other panelists include Michel Rosenfeld (Yeshiva), Ran Hirschl (Toronto), and John Garvey (Catholic University of America). The panel will be moderated by Sabino Cassese, formerly of the Italian Constitutional Court. CLR Forum readers at the conference, please stop by and say hello!

González, “The Lawyer of the Church”

This month, the University of Nebraska Press released “The Lawyer of the Church: Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía and the Clerical Response to the Mexican Liberal Reforma,” by Pablo Mijangos y González. The publisher’s description follows: 

Mexico’s Reforma, the mid-nineteenth-century liberal revolution, decisively shaped the country by disestablishing the Catholic Church, secularizing public affairs, and laying the foundations of a truly national economy and culture.

The Lawyer of the Church is an examination of the Mexican clergy’s response to the Reforma through a study of the life and works of Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía (1810–68), one of the most influential yet least-known figures of the period. By analyzing how Munguía responded to changing political and intellectual scenarios in defense of the clergy’s legal prerogatives and social role, Pablo Mijangos y González argues that the Catholic Church opposed the liberal revolution not because of its supposed attachment to a bygone past but rather because of its efforts to supersede colonial tradition and refashion itself within a liberal yet confessional state. With an eye on the international influences and dimensions of the Mexican church-state conflict, The Lawyer of the Church also explores how Mexican bishops gradually tightened their relationship with the Holy See and simultaneously managed to incorporate the papacy into their local affairs, thus paving the way for the eventual “Romanization” of Mexican Catholicism during the later decades of the century.

Dignitatis Humanae Colloquium (Oct. 30- Nov. 1)

The Dignitatis Humanae Colloquium will be held from October 30 through November 1 in Norcia, Italy.

December 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the most controversial document of the Second Vatican Council, the ‘Declaration on Religious Freedom’, Dignitatis Humanae. Ever since its promulgation, it has been the subject of prolonged and often impassioned debate. What precisely does it teach? What is its authority? How can it be reconciled with the Church’s teaching about the kingship of Christ and the duties of Catholic statesmen? Scholars from all over the world will be meeting in Norcia this autumn, in the presence of Cardinal Raymund Burke, to discuss these vital questions.

Register here.