Common good capitalism

I’m heading to Notre Dame this morning, where I’ll spend the rest of this week. I’m on a layer in Chicago at the moment, sharing some scenes below and catching up on reading—specifically Marco Rubio’s speech on “common good capitalism” at the Catholic University of America this week.

Michael Pakaluk reflects on Rubio’s speech:

“Free enterprise made America the most prosperous nation in human history,” [Sen. Rubio] said, “But that prosperity wasn’t just about businesses making a profit; it was also about the creation and availability of dignified work.”

Yes, one can see a certain secularization of Leo’s thought in such interpretations, perhaps inevitable in a politician’s thought. For Leo, rather, the goal of society is to make persons virtuous, to enable them to seek holiness easily and attain heaven.

Also, there seemed a persistent neglect of the role of virtue throughout Rubio’s speech. A student brought this up in the question-and-answer. “You say that people need dignified work so that they can support a family, but,” he asked, “don’t people need to be committed to each other in marriage first for there to be a family?” Rubio seemed unprepared to discuss the role of virtue, or better types of education for social unity. …

The main target of his attack, although not named, was the widely adopted “shareholder theory” of corporate management made famous by Milton Friedman. This is the normative claim that, as the shareholders of a business are its owners, and management serves owners, the sole goal of management should be to maximize shareholder value – then leave it up to the shareholders to use their profits, if they wish, for laudable social goals. The managers themselves should care for nothing other than increasing the share price. According to Rubio, this theory has kept companies from reinvesting profits in the workers, who helped create those profits, and in communities.

Rubio was famous (or infamous) for saying during his run for President that the nation needed fewer philosophers and more plumbers and welders. He now jokes that he would soften that assertion, as he has become more philosophical himself. But perhaps not philosophical enough. A serious shortcoming of his address was that it did not name or systematically refute the theories he was grappling with. He never mentioned Friedman or the theory of shareholder value. He did not say how his theory of “Common Good Capitalism” differed from so-called “stakeholder theory.” He did not even say what he meant by a “common good.”

The best refutation of Friedman’s principle is found in Catholic social thought under the heading, “the universal destination of goods.” The principle actually comes from Book II of Aristotle’s politics, and so one may cite it freely without the risk of being considered a theocrat. It states that in a good society property is owned privately, but that, as no property ultimately is solely one’s own, the use of that property should always be direct to the good of others and the common good. Friedman says rightly that a company’s managers have purely a fiduciary responsibility, and yet not solely to the owners. Similarly, the owners have a fiduciary responsibility as well, often to others, but ultimately to God. Thus, all the way up and down the line, form the lowliest worker to the owner with the highest net worth, the capital invested in the company must be regarded as for common benefit and used with that purpose in view. But, again, Rubio never identified this principle so essential to his policies.

And yet in a broader context these are small quibbles. Something is wrong in our society. We all know that. The worldwide movements of populism and nationalism show it. It’s more than prudent to turn to Catholic social thought for a diagnosis and for finding ways out. Each will do this in the manner appropriate to his state and expertise.

William Barr on religious liberty

I had been hearing about William Barr’s recent Notre Dame address on religious liberty, and recently watched it and including an excerpt below.

Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as other-worldly superstition imposed by a kill-joy clergy. In fact, Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.

They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the here and now. They are like God’s instruction manual for the best running of man and human society.

By the same token, violations of these moral laws have bad, real-world consequences for man and society. We may not pay the price immediately, but over time the harm is real.

Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us.

But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good. It does not do this primarily by formal laws – that is, through coercion. It does this through moral education and by informing society’s informal rules – its customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages.

In other words, religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

In 1965, the illegitimacy rate was eight percent. In 1992, when I was last Attorney General, it was 25 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. In many of our large urban areas, it is around 70 percent.

Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.

As you all know, over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. That is more casualities in a year than we experienced during the entire Vietnam War.

I will not dwell on all the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.

Among these militant secularists are many so-called “progressives.” But where is the progress?

We are told we are living in a post-Christian era. But what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the hearts of the individual person? And what is a system of values that can sustain human social life?

The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.

Scholarship suggests that religion has been integral to the development and thriving of Homo sapiens since we emerged roughly 50,000 years ago. It is just for the past few hundred years we have experimented in living without religion.

We hear much today about our humane values. But, in the final analysis, what undergirds these values? What commands our adherence to them?

What we call “values” today are really nothing more than mere sentimentality, still drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity.

All Souls and their deliverance

I joined the Borromeo Brothers this morning at St. Charles in Clarendon, where we considered John 4:4-30, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in her alienation and Christ’s communio, and the acting of grace upon her after their encounter. And on the walk home I reflected on All Souls Day while listening to Romano Guardini’s “The Lord,” particularly thinking on the concreteness of death to our experience, but the impermanence of death in God’s experience. Today we remember the dead, but more importantly we pray for their deliverance into beatitude.

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s All Soul’s Day, and an excerpt from the Dies irae:

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Your saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.

Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.

Lord, all-pitying, Jesus blest,
Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

We want more than we have

Sen. Marco Rubio writes that the most important measure of American strength is her people and her families. The economy is a way to measure the health of American’s people, but it is not useful in and of itself as a measure of prosperity. If this sounds counter-intuitive, it’s because accountants and bureaucrats have captured the positions of political and economic power:

There are many factors that contribute to children’s well-being, but none is more important than strong families. We know this because it’s in our DNA, of course; stable, two-parent families have been the bedrock of all successful civilizations throughout all of history. …

But a true cultural revival requires us to also recognize the inextricable connection between culture and the economy. Shifts in American trade and fiscal policy have profoundly affected American family formation and child-rearing. The growth of capital-light sectors means that companies earn more profits off of less physical investment — which in turn means that short-term profits are quickly directed to shareholders, with fewer middle- and working-class jobs.

America’s shift to a post-industrial, services-based economy also means that jobs that do exist increasingly require expensive training and education. For many working-class, would-be parents, pursuing them means spending years and financial resources to acquire a credential — resources that in a more productive economy could be devoted to spending time with family. On top of this, the more recent rise of the gig economy means even less consistent wages, benefits, and schedules.

Americans routinely report wanting more kids than they have. It’s no surprise that, lacking stable employment opportunities, our marriage and childbirth rates have fallen.

Instead of an economy based on financial and intangible assets, we can shift economic incentives to the number-one driver of dignified work: more domestic business investment. By developing productive, long-life capital assets like new machinery, equipment, and assembly lines, we create enduring work opportunities for Americans.

More stable, productive work means more stable, productive families — and better outcomes for children.

And even if one is skeptical about this line of reasoning, there is a more practical cause for concern about how we structure the American economy and what it means for children’s welfare: the United States cannot compete against China’s 1.3 billion people if we condemn 73 million American children to the sidelines of the future economy.

We want more than we have—not economically, and not even really materially, but socially and culturally. We sense our poverty in critical aspects of our lives, and too many alleged thought leaders believe that economic solutions are the answer to a spiritual malaise of the sort that Jimmy Carter diagnosed and to which Ronald Reagan turned out to be a cure.

I increasingly think we need a new Great Awakening to renew America’s sense of itself as a people with a future.

Advertising and restlessness

Patrick Deneen shared the passage from Christopher Lasch below, commenting: “Tocqueville noticed this already in the 1830s—he diagnosed it as ‘restlessness.'”

In a simpler time, advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages. Now it manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life. It “educates” the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction; at the same time it creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age. It plays seductively on the malaise of industrial civilization. Is your job boring and meaningless? Does it leave you with feelings of futility and fatigue? Is your life empty? Consumption promises to fill the aching void…

A friend of mine was probably riffing off this Lasch passage a few years ago when he said something that’s stayed with me ever since: “In a world built to encourage consumer demand by stoking your anxieties and your desires for more, the most powerful and radical response is to become a no wants person.” If you can learn to live in a properly anchored way, you can become fairly immune from the advertising machine that prioritizes the ephemeral and the material over the transcendent goods, from virtue to friendship to family to personal peace.

It’s not capitalism as an economic order that does this, but rather our disordered sense that has forgotten that the economy exists for man, and not the other way around. Notice that what the democratic socialists are proposing to achieve is, in essence, a more extreme version of the disorder we’re already experiencing—that is, a wider distribution of the material goods that already fail to satisfy our restlessness.

“Our hearts are restless,” writes Augustine in his Confessions, “until they rest in you.”

The branch of a larger tree

An acquaintance of mine once told me that he believed that Americans today were smarter and maybe even wiser than the American founders. I didn’t find that credible at the time and I don’t now, if for no other reason than that I don’t think we could recreate the sort of American self-governance that the founders created if we had to start over.

Few generations are revolutionary, some are evolutionary, and most are conservative—in the sense of conserving the best of whatever they’ve inherited. Jason Segedy writes on these themes in a recent Twitter thread, which I’m recreating here in case those tweets are deleted at some point:

When I was probably about 10 years old, I remember saying something to my Dad along the lines of “We sure are lucky to live at a time when people are so much smarter than people were in the past.”

He looked at me, not unkindly, and said “I don’t think that is true at all. There is a good possibility that people in the past were smarter and wiser than we are today, and they most certainly knew more than we do about many every day things that we never even think about.”

Although I was surprised by his response, and somewhat skeptical, I tended to believe him, because I knew that he was smarter and wiser than I was. It was many years later before I realized how right he actually was.

We forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants. We (often unintentionally) take at least a measure of personal credit for all of the scientific and technological advances that we enjoy, when in nearly all cases, we’re simply living in the right place at the right time.

I have no idea how my smartphone really works. And even if I vaguely understood the applied physics and chemistry that it took to create it (and the complex systems that it relies upon), I would never be able to build one, or explain to someone else in detail how it works.

The average person (myself included) has no real practical understanding of far more basic, but even more fundamental technologies and systems – electrical generation and transmission, water distribution and sewage disposal, natural gas distribution, etc.

The basic machines and appliances that we rely upon daily – automobiles, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, microwave ovens, etc. are all things that even the more knowledgeable among us still have mostly vague notions as to how they actually work.

And, in many ways, this is as it should be. We are all part of a highly-specialized and highly-organized system of industrial capitalism, and most of us benefit greatly from it. We don’t need to know about these things, because there are specialists who know about them for us.

But we should never mistake the complexity and specialization of our globalized industrial system of production and consumption, as something that we deserve credit for creating or building. At best, we get credit for maintaining it (for now).

Ours is a society of many individuals possessing specialized and fragmented knowledge, and few individuals possessing general and integrated knowledge. Previous societies tended to be the exact opposite – few specialists and many generalists.

The scientific and technological advances that we enjoy (and sometimes take undue personal credit for) are the end result of decades, centuries, and even millennia of painstaking, trial-and-error development.

Even the most halting and rudimentary of these advances (and even some of the abject failures) were the work of brilliant geniuses, particularly when one considers the means (both in terms of existing technologies and the store of human knowledge) available at the time.

We modern people often tend to exhibit a lack of appreciation, or even ingratitude, for the hard-won knowledge and innovations of previous generations. Some of this is simply a lack of historical perspective.

And some of it is our modern American notion of progress, where it is near-axiomatic that the present is superior to the past.

But as C.S. Lewis observed: “our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

We’re far too quick to point out the shortcomings of (and demonstrate arrogant superiority toward) those who came before us – increasingly, even toward those who imperfectly but extraordinarily built the entire framework for the civilization from which we all greatly benefit.

The civilization is imperfect, and those who built it were even more imperfect. But so are we – and it will remain to be seen whether we are even up to the task of preserving what they built – let alone improving upon it.

Our civilization is the branch of a larger tree that was planted by people who came long before us, and we ourselves are sitting on that branch. If the branch is starting to get rotten, the solution is to heal the tree, not to saw off the branch that we are sitting on.

Cemeteries and charnel houses

Allan Barton writes on an older Christian attitude toward burying and living with our ancestors:

As a historian I have long been perplexed by the modern notion that churchyards can be become ‘full’ and that we are running out of burial space for the dead. The idea that our historic churchyards with the marked graves of long-forgotten Victorians and Georgians, cannot be reused for the burial of modern people, is a bizarre notion and is at variance with the traditions and ideas of past generations, including the Victorians and Georgians who now dispossess our generation of the right to be buried in God’s acre. In the past the grave was not considered to be private, alienable property that could be occupied for perpetuity, the churchyard was considered a communal space that individuals borrowed to enable the clean and efficient decomposition of their shrouded corpses. Human remains would be kept within the confines of the church and churchyard for perpetuity, but the concept that an individual grave space was yours and yours alone, was unknown.

When I was Rector of a benefice in Norfolk, one pleasant September afternoon I went to conduct my first funeral in one if my four medieval churches. My first act as incumbent was to deal with a rather fine specific of a human jaw bone, complete with an excellent set of gnashers, which was presented to me by the churchwardens.  After I had conducted the funeral in the churchyard, the jaw bone was popped back into the ground as part of new grave’s infill. That was the way we operated in this church, one of my predecessors had the good sense to start to re-use part of the churchyard that had last been used in the eighteenth century. When new graves were cut the bones of the dead were quite often disturbed and were usually added to the infill of the new grave by the gravedigger to one side of the new coffin. In doing that we were to all intents and purposes following the pattern that persisted in past centuries. The defleshed bones of the long dead, made way for the freshly dead corpses of the current generation. This whole process was both pragmatic and sensible and a churchyard never came to be filled.

In many medieval images of the burial of the dead from illuminated manuscripts you can see such a process being undertaken, though with a bit less dignity and decorum than in my former parish churchyard. In the French images I share on here of that subject matter, the gravediggers manhandle shrouded corpses into their last resting place in a shallow grave, while around the graves, lying on the ground are the skulls and bones of those accidentally exhumed in the process.

Notice in the image above the little painted grave markers that mark the burial place. For both economical and for practical purposes, these were made of wood.  Intended to last a generation or two at the most, they lasted just long enough for the deceased pass out of mind. Unlike the stone headstones favoured in the recent past, they were designed to decay and to be temporary.

Rather than returning the bones to the ground as part of the grave infill, it was quite common in the later medieval period, for the bones disinterred during the digging of graves, to be added to a communal bone hole or a structure called a charnel house. …

The bones were originally arranged in heaps against three walls of the chamber. Long bones in stacks, skulls on the tops of each heap. In the Middle Ages the walls of the end wall of the chamber was painted and in the nineteenth century there were still faint traces of an image of the Resurrection of Christ, wonderful fitting for a chamber devoted to those awaiting the general resurrection.

There’s one of these old-style churches in Lewes, Delaware—with its little cemetery in what would be the well-manicured front lawn of a modern suburban church. The Lewes church I’m thinking of looks precisely like what it is—something from another time. I found the description of the burial and charnel house practices of the past shocking, frankly. But maybe some movement toward those practices might help shock us into remembering that it’s not a tidy gravesite that we should look forward to, but rather the resurrection itself. If we’re overly concerned with the former, we’re probably not concerned enough with the latter.

Newman the failure

At age 79, when John Henry Newman heard the news that Pope Leo XIII had made him a cardinal, he said: “The cloud is lifted from me forever.” John Henry Newman is now a saint, but for much of his life he felt like a failure. Fr. Ian Ker reflects on “the saint whose life was ‘a history of failures'”:

John Henry Newman’s life can well be described as one of continual failures, if only because that was how he saw it. “All through life things happen to me which do not happen to others – I am the scapegoat,” he wrote.

He was sad to think, as he looked back on his life, how his time had been “frittered away” and how much he might have done, had he “pursued one subject”. His life seemed to be just “a history of failures”. He had been “so often balked, – brought into undertakings – then left in the lurch”. Plan after plan had “crumbled [in his] hands and come to nought”. When he was 60 he wrote that, although not “true to the letter”, he felt that he could say he had “received no piece of (personal) good news for 30 years and more”, nothing but “sorrows” and “anxieties”; all his works had failed.

As an undergraduate at Oxford, Newman performed disastrously in his finals, failing mathematics and only attaining the lower division of the second class in Classics. Exactly seven years later, he suffered a nervous collapse while examining finals papers and had to withdraw. As a tutor at Oriel College, he wanted to stop the practice of undergraduates having to hire private tutors from among recent graduates and considered it preferable for college tutors to provide tuition as well as the usual lectures. However, the Provost disapproved of the change that Newman and his colleagues introduced in 1828, and Newman was effectively dismissed as a tutor.

Also in 1828 he was invited by the Bishop of London to become one of the Whitehall preachers, an acceptance he subsequently withdrew in 1832 when he discovered the bishop’s theological liberalism. In 1830 he was dismissed as secretary of the Church Missionary Society because of a pamphlet he had written. In 1834 he failed to be appointed to the chair of moral philosophy.

As leader of the Oxford or Tractarian Movement and the principal architect of its theology of the via media, or “middle way”, he began, six years after starting the movement, to have doubts. These culminated in 1841 with the publication of Tract 90, which sought to interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England in a Catholic sense. This was condemned first by the vice-chancellor and heads of colleges and proctors, and then by successive bishops. Finally, in 1845, Newman renounced the via media and the Oxford Movement, convinced that the Catholic Church was the true Church.

The disappointments and failures of Newman’s Catholic years were at least as grim as those of the Anglican years.

I think it can be easy to think that striving for virtue should lead to worldly success, in material and professional and other senses. But it’s probably more often the case that striving for virtue and friendship with Christ fortifies us in facing the failures that will inevitably confront us, in major or minor ways. In so many ways, Newman is a saint of our time as much as he is a saint for every era.

Bishop Barron and others hope Newman will be named a Doctor of the Church. I hope he is.

Saint John Henry Newman

Pope Francis canonized John Henry Newman a saint today. Here is the banner hanging at the Vatican in Rome today:

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Saint John Henry Newman writes in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine on something I’ve thought about at different points—the seeming challenge to faith that is the presence of many Christian elements in other faiths, places, and periods:

Now, the phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—that great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth is in its rudiments or in its separate parts to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connexion of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honors to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it,—”These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:” we, on the contrary, prefer to say, “these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.” That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. …

What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;” claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world…

John Garvey writes on Newman’s friendships:

Cardinal Newman never married, but warm, sincere, and lasting friendships—the kind that we so seldom form through digital interactions—gave his life richness. He cultivated them with his neighbors in Oxford and, after his conversion to Catholicism, at the Birmingham Oratory. He sustained them in his correspondence, some 20,000 letters filling 32 volumes.

In one of his sermons, delivered on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, Newman reflects on the Gospel’s observation that St. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is a remarkable thing, Newman says, that the Son of God Most High should have loved one man more than another. It shows how entirely human Jesus was in his wants and his feelings, because friendship is a deep human desire. And it suggests a pattern we would do well to follow in our own lives if we would be happy: “to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”

On the other hand, Newman observes that “nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits” than independence. People “who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety” are unlikely to obtain that heavenly gift the liturgy describes as “the very bond of peace and of all virtues.”

And Dan Hitchens writes on Newman’s faith:

…if someone really has faith, they must believe that God is entirely good, and that he loves us. The submission to divine truth is the foundation of a love affair. Being a nineteenth-century Englishman, Newman didn’t like to go on about it, but there are moments when we glimpse what his life was all about:

[Saint John Henry Newman writes:] “I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty or he may be thirty. Sometimes He looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about His face which I cannot solve. Perhaps, as He bears all burdens, He bears that of old age too. But so it is; His face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant, and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever, and will not cease.”

“There is something inexpressible” about the way in which the communion of saints draws us closer to the Author of life.

Trivialization of the erotic

Fr. Matt Fish shared this from Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos earlier this month, describing Percy as addressing “the demoniac spirit of the erotic, and what happens when the sexual mode of transcendence becomes all used up and can no longer hide the self from itself:”

What is the relationship between the two? Are they merely, as one so often hears, the paired symptoms of a decaying society like the fifth-century Roman Empire? Or is there a reciprocal relationship? That is to say, is a thoroughly eroticized society less violent and a thoroughly violent society less erotic?

Or, the more ominous question: Suppose the erotic is the last and best recourse of the stranded self and suppose then that, through the sexual revolution, recreational sex becomes available to all ages and all classes. What if then even the erotic becomes devalued? What if it happens, as Paul Ricoeur put it, that, “at the same time that sexuality becomes insignificant, it becomes more imperative as a response to the disappointments experienced in other sectors of human life”?

What then? Does the self simply diminish, subside into apathy like laboratory animals deprived of sensory stimulation? Or does the demoniac spirit of the self, frustrated by the failure of Eros, turn in the end to the cold fury of Saturn? …

Will the ultimate liberation of the erotic from its dialectical relationship with Christianity result in

(a) The freeing of the erotic spirit so that man- and womankind will make love and not war?

or (b) The trivialization of the erotic by its demotion to yet another technique and need-satisfaction of the organism, toward the end that the demoniac spirit of the autonomous self, disappointed in all other sectors of life and in ordinary intercourse with others, is now disappointed even in the erotic, its last and best hope, and so erupts in violence—and in that very violence which is commensurate with the orgastic violence in the best days of the old erotic age—i.e., war?