I suppose one could find something to quibble about in Bill Kauffman's new book Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front Porch Anarchists. First, there is his self description: "...I am an anarchist", on the first page of the Introduction. But when he adds "Not a sallow garrett-rat translating Proudhan by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrods of an Upstate New York autumn", well, you know this is, an anarchist with his (big) heart in the right place. Especially when his next line is "...I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge's test-tube baby."
I am not an anarchist, but anyone who can sum up his beliefs like that is all right in my book. Besides, anarchist or not, Mr. Kauffman is no ideologue. His book contains paeans to anarchists, certainly (Mother Jones, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Paul Goodman), but also to Catholic liberals (Eugene McCarthy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan), socialists (Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas), regionalist artists (Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry), antiwar farmer-poets (Wendell Berry), disaffected Republican operatives (Karl Hess) and many even more unclassifiable thinkers, dreamers, and hell-raisers. Kauffman finds his affinities in humanity, not ideology, in those who love land, home, locality and real souls with real faces more than abstractions.
Bill Kauffman's Look Homeward, America will no doubt be categorized with Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, as both books tweak conventional conservatism.
Or rather, Dreher tweaks.
Actually, the two books are as dissimilar as can be. Though, as I have said, there is more good than bad in Crunchy Cons, and the book is quite possibly a landmark on the road to an emerging new populism, my annoyance and frustration with the thing began with the title and subtitle and continued throughout. It is the work of someone who has taken the first steps on a journey to he knows not where, and whose recent past was spent working for The National Review (a journal for which Mr. Kauffman shows only witty contempt).
This voyage-of-adventure narrative could perhaps have been a delightful tale of discovery were Mr. Dreher a gifted writer, but his prose is pedestrian at best. Or to switch metaphors, Dreher's book is a thin gruel, while Kauffman's is a thick, spicy Upstate gumbo. (I know, wrong cuisine, but I cannot resist the image).
Bill Kauffman, in contrast to Mr. Dreher, knows his place and his destination: Batavia, New York, where his roots are deep. The eclectic outlook he expresses so well is one well honed over the decades. This is the New Populism fully evolved.
And did I mention he is one fine writer?
There is scarcely a page without a startling phrase, an "aha!" moment, or a good laugh (or, I am embarrassed to report, an unfamiliar word. While I could not bring myself to put the book down to look them up, I am going to reread it with the Oxford Universal Dictionary at my side).
But a warning: as Mr. Dreher noted (with disapproval) in his review in The American Conservative, Mr. Kauffman does not exactly write in syllogisms: he pursues every tangent and meanders lingeringly around his subject. Like a mountain road, his writing is not the most direct line between point A and point B, but like the mountain road the scenery along the way is magnificent.
And he is a world-class smart ass.
Just one example, as precise a skewering of the Catholic neocons as I have seen: "The soft young men in three piece suits who write their little pamphlets proving that whatever slaughter our government is currently engaged in is a 'just war' should be laughed back to the seminaries they quit. 'Thou shalt not kill' means us, too".
As Chesterton said, an ounce of sarcasm is worth a pound of argument.
But far beyond the stinging zingers, this is a book of uncommon wisdom, delighting in what is best in the sometimes eccentric American tradition. I can honestly say that this book has inspired me more than any in recent memory, breathing new life and fire from these ashen Caelum et Terra-type coals, long dormant within me, grown still from disuse and distraction.
I don't know what will come of Bill Kauffman's book; probalby not much. If noticed by the bigshots it will be with a sneer. But for all us littleshots, the meandering creeks and dancing rivulets far from the Main Stream, all the hick philosophers, holy fools, hippie monks and American outsiders, this book is to be received with gratitude, a gift if not from On High, at least from Batavia, New York, which if I am not mistaken is not far from Bedford Falls.
This guest post is from "Robin" who posted a comment on my last Sunday Night Journal entry in which she said she disagreed with Franklin Salazar about the origins of the feminist movement but didn't have a reply formulated (Franklin attributes it mainly to the weakness of men). We corresponded a bit and she sent me the following remarks, which I thought were very much on target and particularly striking in the way they connect the question with that long-term concern of Caelum et Terra, the exaggerated separation from nature--or should I say reality--in the way we live now. So I asked for her permission to post them.
My disagreement with Mr. Salazar was primarily that I don't think "unprotective" men caused the feminist movement. I think women instigated it and men became "wussy" afterward. I really think the causes that led to The Vagina Monologues are very complex, including movement away from agrarian society, outside employment that did not require physical strength, outside employment that made children a competitive disadvantage, and, of course, "reproductive technology," which made preventing or destroying children possible. Other causes, I think, were Freudian and pseudo-scientific disparagement of mothers and their wisdom and their unique womanly talents. ("Don't breastfeed your baby - that's dirty! Only immigrants do that! Feed your baby our homogenized formula, with vitamins added!")
As women became more alienated from their nature, they naturally began to want male economic and political rights - what else was there for them to do? But at some point - I'd say around the 1950's - male reaction set in (including the wimpiness that Mr. Salazar describes, but also irresponsibility, sexual and otherwise), and women as a group really began to fall into the sin of Eve (envy) and Lucifer (non serviam). We crossed a line when our society accepted artificial birth control, but we crossed a much more significant line when we accepted abortion. Once "we" had accepted the latter, our decline into sin has accelerated dramatically.
You can see two strains of feminism from around 1960 to 2000: one emphasizes women's mental and professional equality with men and decries the use of women as "sex objects"; the other emphasizes women's sexual equality with men - in other words, we can be just as lusty, promiscuous, and "free" as a man. Whereas the first strain would have been appalled at women dressing like prostitutes and displaying their bodies in public, the second strain embraced such. In the 1960's and 1970's, the first strain was predominant. But beginning in the 1980's (after Roe v. Wade) and continuing, the second strain has predominated, and by now has just about obliterated the first.
Hence The Vagina Monologues. We are no longer "women" through and through - with every cell of our being - and with our own unique "charisms," as Pope John Paul II would say. The only thing that distinguishes us from men are our sex organs.
In the past 200 years, most women have lost their "femaleness," their children, their entire "purpose in life." What's more, reproductive technology has caused them to descend into grave sin. Given this background, a play that celebrates the only "female" thing we have left was inevitable, and it also should be no surprise that it's hugely successful.
--Robin Shea lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is a lawyer and mother of two grown sons.
Part 1 of 3
On the afternoon of October 7, 1979, I stood in a huge crowd of joyous people, an island of misery in a sea of celebration. The crowd had gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC, to greet Pope John Paul II on his first trip to the United States, and my headstrong girlfriend Debbie, raised Presbyterian and like me at that point a sort of eclectic Protestant "Jesus Freak," had insisted on taking the Metro downtown from her parents home in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
I had been raised Catholic but was now, in my mid-twenties, living in a sort of anarchic Christian commune an hour south of DC, in rural St Mary's County, and on weekends I would head to Chevy Chase, or Debbie would drive down to our ramshackle farmhouse. I had met her, and the guys I was living with, at a Christian rock festival during the summer of 1978, which I had spent hitch-hiking around the country, traveling the back roads from Virginia to Minnesota to California to Colorado, returning to my hometown in Michigan when I was broke. There I painted signs to earn money and helped organize the Shepherd's House, a kind of interdenominational youth ministry. We had been given an old house and spent the fall and early winter repairing it- painting, roofing, and so on, in preparation for its opening as a drop-in center and coffee house.
I had been a Christian for a few years by conviction, after souring on the counterculture and reading C.S. Lewis, but my big conversion, of the will and emotions, came some time after my intellectual onversion, in the spring of 1977. I naturally gravitated toward young charismatic Christians. Though suspicious of the Catholic Church, my regular worship each week was Sunday night at a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting. In the Protestant Pentecostal churches I had visited anything seemed possible: anyone could stand up and throw an emotional fit and they had to be taken seriously. In the Catholic prayer group, even though at that time the charismatic renewal was not well integrated into the life of the Church and harbored all sorts of ideas and attitudes inimical to the Catholic Faith, there was at least a sense that things were not so out of control.
The meetings were sort of like an emotional version of the Quaker Meeting: we would gather, sing a few hymns, and then wait in silence for the Lord to speak. People would then speak spontaneously, offering Scripture and prophecy and "words of knowledge". When things began to wind down, after about an hour and a half, an old man who hadn't spoken much during the meeting would usually speak a few words which would distill and clarify all that had gone before.
I admired him tremendously; he was perhaps the first Christian I had met since my conversion who manifested not merely conviction or enthusiasm, but real holiness.
He was an Irishman, but curiously, a convert, an example of what must be a rare breed indeed, the Ulster Protestant who becomes a Catholic.
I was drawn to him, but perceived holiness has always induced shyness in me and it took a long time to work up the nerve to approach him. Finally one night I did. I said something about appreciating his contributions to the meetings, about how attuned he seemed to be to the Voice of God.
He fixed me with his blue-eyed gaze.
"And are ye a Catholic, lad?", he asked.
I offered the standard '70s spiel. Well I had been raised Catholic but now I just loved the Lord and considered myself just a Christian. I mean, denominations were of the flesh, weren't they?
His thick eyebrows raised slightly, then lowered, focusing his gaze yet more intensely.
" I will pray to Our Lady that you will return to the Holy Catholic Church," he said.
I was badly shaken; in those days charismatic Catholics never spoke of the "Holy Catholic Church," let alone of "Our Lady." I muttered something foolish and got as far away from him as I could.
Some of the friends involved in the birth of the Shepherd's House attended the Catholic prayer group, some attended the Assembly of God, or the evangelical Presbyterian church south of town.
After much hard work the house was finally ready. We gathered excitedly the evening it opened for prayer and fellowship. The house was full, the mood expectant.
One of the other leaders, John, an ex-Catholic, and a quiet, intense fellow, stood up.
"Before we get started", he said, "the Lord has laid something on my heart that needs to be done."
There was palpable expectation in the air as he turned to me, pointed his finger and narrowed his eyes.
"In the name of Jesus COME OUT!"
Palpable expectation turned to palpable shock. People sitting by me scooted a little away.
I was stunned; to have someone look you in the eye and address a presumed demon was unnerving, to say the least. There was an uncomfortable silence. John, after a moment, started looking confused. Her tried again, louder: "IN THE NAME OF JESUS COME OUT!!!"
After another silence I asked quietly: "John, what are you trying to cast out of me?"
"A critical spirit," he answered.
A third silence followed, then I got up and left the room. John and another of the leaders followed me out onto the porch.
"Man, I'm sorry; I really blew it," John said.
I asked him what in the world had led him to think I had a demon inside me. He explained that my continued criticism of the televangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker, and of Jimmy Swaggart, had finally led him to his conclusion (this was years before the scandals).
I accepted his apology, but that was about it for me and the Shepherd's House. When pretty Debbie, whose long blond hair had caught my eye the previous summer at the festival, called on New Year's Eve to invite me to visit in Maryland, I took it as a sign. I set out hitch-hiking south a few days later in the subzero Michigan winter. When I got to Maryland romance quickly bloomed and I moved into the hilltop farmhouse our friends had found in southern Maryland.
[Click here to read Part 2]
By all accounts, Taliban-style Islam did not set well with the Afghani people. Afghani Islam is rooted in the Sufi tradition, with an accepting attitude toward folk devotion, dancing and the human attributes of faith. Suicidal "martyrdom" is foreign to the Afghan mind, and there was widespread, if quiet, resistance to the puritanical tendencies of the Taliban.
I mention this because there is a tendency among Western commentators to identify the modern Islamist movement with Islam itself. In fact it is, historically, perhaps the harshest and most inhuman expression of that Faith. It is as if the Taborites, or other violent puritanical Christian sects, had become a dominant force in Christianity.
Islam has at times, been the bearer of advanced culture, with a fairly tolerant attitude toward the other "People of the Book", Jews and Christians. Indeed, Orthodox Christians at times preferred the "Turban" to the "Tiara"; ie, Islamic to western Catholic rule, as the Muslims tended to interfere less with their internal affairs. Of course, one can find plenty of examples of even these more humane forms of Islam behaving in oppressive ways, just as one can find plenty of examples of otherwise humane kinds of Christian rulers behaving sinfully, but the fact is most historic expressions of Islam make the Wahhabists and Jihadis look pretty narrow and brutal.
In fact, it seems that the human soul cannot long endure that which militates against human nature. The descendents of the New England Puritans became Unitarians, and who could have guessed a generation ago that Marxism would collapse of its own weight?
This of course does not negate the short-term danger of Wahhabist militancy, but it may give us a different perspective over the long run.
On the other hand, as in the case of the struggle against Marxism, perhaps the greater danger historically will be consumerist capitalism, which is seductive, rather than hostile, to fallen human nature.
The children of darkness seem to intuit this; Howard Stern has suggested, with all seriousness, that the way to defeat Islamist militants is to fund huge shipments of pornography to the Middle East, and for the American government to build strip clubs in Islamic countries.
And we wonder why they hate us?
The news story last week, with its tale of sexual and religious abuse of Muslim prisoners at Guantanomo, was reminiscent of earlier reports of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In both cases women participated in subjecting Islamic men to pornographic degradation and religious humiliation.
Those responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, currently being tried in military courts, insist that they were following orders. If anyone is prosecuted for similar crimes at Guantanomo they will doubless say the same. While I do not have much trust that military and governmental authorities are likely either to behave morally or tell the truth, that is not what concerns me here. Rather, I suggest that such behavior is a reflection of American culture at the beginning of the third millenium, and an indictment of our society.
Does anyone for a moment think that women of my mother's generation, which came of age in the 1940s, would have behaved like this? Is not such behavior the result of exposure to pornography? What sort of culture accepts that its young women would possess such easy familiarity with such things?
It is common even among Christians, who should know better, to describe Islamic radicals as madmen, and to claim that they hate the United States "because we are good; because we are free." How odd this is, not to pay attention to one's professed enemies.
Among other reasons, the Islamists hate the United States for the sort of culture we export. Since the invasion of Iraq pornography has become widely available in that country, as it has wherever we have planted our flag. Pornography, abortion, insipid and obscene pop culture: these are the things the Muslim militants associate with our nation.
In the Middle Ages when Muslim armies threatened Europe, people refered to Islam as the "scourge of God." The destruction which followed in its path was seen as divine punishment for sin. People turned to penitence. How far this is from our self-righteousness, how far from our inability to see ourselves as others see us, let alone as God sees us.
This blindness extends to the roots of the conflict. Al Qaeda is rightly and roundly condemned for its attacks on innocent civilians. Yet how many Americans will fail to defend our country's use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of the second World War? This is not lost on Osama bin Laden, who in his writings has invoked the moral logic of Hiroshima to justify his attack on the World Trade Center. Indeed, if Hiroshima can be justified the only argument is whether circumstances justified 9/11, not the inherent immorality of the act.
If Christians are willing to honestly take stock of the moral state of America today we are likely to view the Islamic threat as our ancestors did: the scourge of God, these fierce monotheists sent to awaken us to repentance. And if the battle is jihad vs imperial pornocracy, perhaps we should at least philosophically declare neutrality.