Merry Christmas

It is an odd thing to be a Roman Catholic co-blogger amongst a bunch of libertarians who are mostly not religious, or are formerly religious, and some of whom are actively hostile. I see more and more of that hostility these days, so I feel more and more free to just say what I think on the subject. I have never had any interest whatsoever in being anything else. But today most of all I a realize how blessed I am.

During Advent, we get ready for the arrival of the baby, and we turn our prayers more and more onto the scene which is coming, which has been reproduced so often, sometimes as masterpieces of art, more often as kitsch. The last day or so, it is easy to imagine Mary and Joseph, real flesh-and-blood people, on the road, tired, worried, not sure where they will be staying, roughing it. You can imagine yourself walking beside them on the road, coming over a rise, Bethlehem ahead at last. Maybe you put your hand on Joseph’s shoulder, “look, it will be OK. You are almost there”. But then, no place to stay, after all that. They carried on, they did what they could with the means at hand. They did not have an easy time. What a small act of kindness it would have been for someone to make room for a pregnant woman for one day. Make an effor to be patient and kind to the people around you, to be alert to their needs, look up from what you are doing and look around. This is harder than it sounds. Decide not to hold personal grudges. If that is too hard, pick one and drop that one.

God Almighty chose to disclose himself, at first, in the most understated possible fashion, silently, obscurely, at the edge of civilization, far away from the powerful and the wealthy and the well-connected, the well-read, the clever. This is so clearly a Divine approach, at least it seems so to me, no need to show off. Humility is a very basic virtue we all lack to some degree, but one which we would do well to work on. I direct this at myself as much as anyone.

The creator of the universe is Love. Hard to grasp. Love is as basic as being itself, love precedes the material existence of the universe. This is not how it seems much of the time. The world itself, despite its many terrors, its many disappointments, which are consequences of original sin, is after all a good place and we are lucky to be here. Love, of course, the real article, is deeds, not sweet words. God in his providence has brought people into your life, so love them by how you treat them, and where appropriate, by telling them so. This time of the year is a good time to decide to turn up the effort a little bit in this department.

I hope all our readers get the presents they want. Around here people are still wrapping things.

God bless all our contributors, our readers, our friends and our enemies.

Hating Pinochet

The Spanish Inquisition is the one event or institution of 16th-Century Europe that everyone today knows of even if they know of nothing else of that era. Most people believe that we remember the Spanish Inquisition 400 years later because it represented a particularly brutal event in world history.

Most people are wrong.

Prior to circa 1800, every culture or society used torture as both a means of investigation and punishment for all types of crimes, whether civil, political or religious. As a rule, however, only members of the powerless and poor classes actually got tortured. Most cultures held the idea of torturing members of the upper classes to be almost unthinkable. The Spanish Inquisition broke this rule. The Spanish Inquisition had next to nothing to do with religion. Its true purpose was to destroy the political enemies of the Spanish crown and to confiscate or extort wealth. To that end, it tortured the noble and the wealthy and thereby shocked the conscious of Europe. Had the Spanish Inquisition stuck to torturing the poor and common like the Inquisition in other regions, we would not remember it today.

The Spanish Inquisition burned itself into the collective conscious of the world not due to its use of torture but due to the value that the culture of the day placed on the class of the people tortured. Even though most religions believed all human life to be of the same value, few put that belief into practice. Most people viscerally believed that some groups of people were morally exempt from facing torture. Elitism ruled the cultures of the time.

So what does it say about our culture today that some of us place a much higher value on the lives of some groups of people than they do on others?

One can hardly find an individual more passionately hated by the Left than the recently deceased Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Leftists say that they justifiably single out Pinochet for special opprobrium due to the uniquely vile nature of his actions. After all, he overthrew a democratically elected government, killed 3,000 people and tortured thousands more.

Yet, this explanation rings false. When you see an angry mob take after a petty thief while ignoring the blood soaked serial killer standing next to him, you know immediately that something other than outrage at the degree of the crime drives the mob. Pinochet was a minor villain by any measure. Why then did the mob hound him until his death while ignoring others with far more blood on their hands?

Pinochet did kill and torture but not to such a degree as to earn a special place in history. Sad to say, but by any objective measure Pinochet ranks far down on the list of murderous 3rd-world leaders of the post-WWII era. He wouldn’t even make it into the top 100 killers. Across the border, in Argentina, the military junta killed over 20,000 in the same era and the generals in Brazil 2 or 3 times that many, but few people today remember them at all. Even more damning, the same people who condemn Pinochet actively applaud people far more brutal. Castro murdered 13,000 Cubans, tens of thousands of Africans and nearly triggered a nuclear war, yet leftists still literally give him standing ovations in forums all around the world. Yassir Arafat’s war crimes were very, very public and very unambiguous yet no one threatened to arrest him when he traveled to Europe for medical care.

Looking back with 30 years’ hindsight we can perhaps forgive the leftists of the time for buying into the myth of Allende’s regime. Uncritical adulation of socialist states was part of the zeitgeist of the era. The degree of bloodshed in other, similar countries wasn’t yet widely known, so Pinochet might have stood out at the time. But that doesn’t explain why Pinochet still today occupies a special place of hatred in the minds of many leftists.

I think Pinochet stands out in the history of the 20th Century for the same reason that the Spanish Inquisition stood out in 16th: Pinochet killed those perceived to belong to a protected class. Unlike other right-wing dictators (and their opposites on the Left), Pinochet didn’t kill people largely at random or by quota just to spread terror. He targeted those believed to be part of the extreme-leftist leadership. He cut the head off the snake. Unfortunately for his place in history, that group included several hundred foreigners, mostly from western Europe.

Many Marxists from around the world flocked to Allende’s Chile so they could play at being revolutionaries. They tended to be the most politically radical. They didn’t want to muck about with bourgeois baggage like democracy and the rule of law. They gravitated towards those factions within Allende’s coalition which advocated immediate, violent revolution. When Pinochet decided to wipe out the radical leadership, foreigners were disproportionately represented in the body count.

Until that time, 1st-world Marxist intellectuals expected to be able to travel anywhere and do or say anything and be able to skate away scot-free. They thought of themselves not only as intellectually superior human beings but also as individuals endowed with a moral authority that made their persons inviolable. Most 3rd-world governments of all political persuasions just shipped off troublesome 1st-world foreigners, regardless of their complicity in any violence or subversion. Pinochet broke that rule.

Leftists reacted with outrage. Pinochet had not murdered nameless members of the “masses.” He had killed members of the new nobility, people just like the leftist intellectuals of Europe, and in many cases people they knew personally. To this day, virtually every news story on Pinochet contains a first-hand account from some 1st-world citizen who was either imprisoned himself or lost someone close to him. Like the upper classes of 16th-Century Europe, who saw themselves in the victims of the Spanish Inquisition, modern leftist intellectuals saw themselves in Pinochet’s victims. 1st-world leftists single Pinochet out for special venom because they believe he attacked them personally. It doesn’t matter that other rulers of other political persuasions killed far more; Pinochet killed members of the protected class.

In the end, Pinochet becomes a mirror that reflects the Left’s own dark heart. Leftists always portray themselves as altruistic, only concerned with the fates of the least powerful among us. Pinochet revealed their narcissism to the world. While he showed them to be no worse than the rest of us, he also showed them to be no better.

Perhaps on some level they understand that and hate him even more.

Discuss this post at the Chicago Boyz Forum.

Symposium on the Pope’s Regensberg Speech at U of C on 11.01.06

I received the following today:

The Lumen Christi Institute presents a symposium at the University of Chicago on Benedict XVI on “Faith, Reason and the University”: The Regensburg Address in Context, with remarks by Hans Joas, University of Chicago, Michael Kremer, University of Chicago, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Northwestern University, Paul Griffiths, University of Illinois, Chicago. Wed., Nov. 1, 2006, 4:00-6:00 PM, Room 101, Hinds Lab. for Geophysical Sciences, 5734 South Ellis Avenue. For more information and the revised text of the Pope’s address (with footnotes), see the notice at

We have had some discussion of this speech and its meaning and impact on the blog. If you are able to get to Hyde Park for this symposium, I am sure that it will be good, as all Lumen Christi events always are.

Incidentally, I think the best thing I have seen about the speech was this piece by Lee Harris.

Lepanto: 435

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly celebrated as Our Lady of Victory, which the Catholic Church celebrates to commemorate the victory of the Christian fleet over the Turks at Lepanto, October 7, 1571. This was the first major victory of the West against the Muslims at sea, a military, political and cultural milestone of great importance. Prior to that day, the onrush of the Ottomans had seemed unstoppable. The Turks were not similarly checked on land until 1683, at Vienna. Prior to the battle, Pope St. Pius V asked the faithful to pray the rosary for what appeared to be an unlikely victory, and the victory was attributed to her intercession. The Turkish galleys were propelled by Christian captives taken and held as slaves.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a very stirring poem about the battle.