Local policy

Over at Touchstone, Anthony Esolen writes:

. . .
Neither party understands that it is good for human beings to do what they can to govern themselves locally, not simply because they will do a better job of it than will distant bureaucrats, but because it is essential to their dignity as human beings that they make law (or custom, more integral to human life and more venerable), rather than, like everlasting adolescents, merely comply with it.

Neither party, in other words, has anything kind to say about Nazareth. I am not saying that it ought to be a matter of indifference for the Christian choosing between a party utterly committed to the Anticulture of Death and a party too stupid to understand what the choice for life implies. All I mean is that if Nazareth isn’t going to be saved by mass politics and mass entertainment and the undermining of sexual morality and the mass welfare state that that undermining requires, it sure is not going to be saved by a technocracy that is also perfectly comfortable with perfectly comfortable masses. And yet not only do good things come from Nazareth. The very thing we need most can only come from Nazareth. For what comes from Nazareth is not an economic program, or a way to build a “smarter planet” (to cite the loathsome cliche), but a Person. Who comes from Nazareth is, of course, the central thing, but for us now in our slough of impersonalism, it is important to note that any Person at all comes from there — that the life of the Nazareths of the world is first of all a Personal life, wherein we enounter not a What in human form, but someone deeply mysterious named Joe or Martha; not nature to stretch on a rack to render up her secrets, but a being to love, who can love in turn.

We cannot be saved by science, and especially not by the signal failure known as social science, because science deals in what, not who, and in generality, not in the particular as such. That’s not a criticism of science, only an acknowledgment of its limitations. It cannot save me, because it has nothing to say to me as who I am in myself; it can heal an arm or a leg, only because my arm or my leg resembles the arms and legs of other people. It reaches me insofar as I am an example of a generality, but otherwise it must hold its peace. It can tell me why I might be attracted to women, and why women might be attracted to me, but it must keep silent when I ask, “Why should I love this woman in particular, and marry her?” For then the answer requires knowledge of my whole being, what makes me myself and not Anybody, and what makes my wife herself, and some notion of the Good that escapes the rules on How Water Flows Through a Pipe. As for modern social science (as opposed to classical political thinking), not only can it not save me, it can only treat me by reducing me to a cipher within some larger social phenomenon; in other words, it is the sort of intellectual endeavor that helps to produce the “mass” that it attempts to analyze. It misses what is scandalously particular — both Nazareth, and the Nazorean.

But our Christian faith revels in the particular. The good shepherd seeks the one lost sheep, apparently not content with the generality of ninety nine safe out of a hundred. God chooses Israel to bear the truth to the world that He Is Who Is. The Son is born to a particular woman, at a particular place and time. . . .

From a different angle, William Cavanaugh writes:

The “Wars of Religion” were not the events which necessitated the birth of the modern State; they were in fact themselves the birthpangs of the State. These wars were not simply a matter of conflict between “Protestantism” and “Catholicism,” but were fought largely for the aggrandizement of the emerging State over the decaying remnants of the medieval ecclesial order. I do not wish merely to contend that political and economic factors played a central role in these wars, nor to make a facile reduction of religion to more mundane concerns. I will rather argue that to call these conflicts “Wars of Religion” is an anachronism, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance. The creation of religion was necessitated by the new State’s need to secure absolute sovereignty over its subjects. I hope to challenge the soteriology of the modern State as peacemaker, and show that Christian resistance to State violence depends on a recovery of the Church’s disciplinary resources.

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