First, I must say that I am surprised and pleased to be offered an opportunity to post here. I won’t do Fran the disservice of excessive hyperbole and say I sympathize with St. Peter. It more closely resembles the shock that an itinerant preacher may receive when the local pastor applauds his speech, then wordlessly gives him keys to the rectory.
I will try to confine my concerns to a more political nature, and, I guess, as an introduction, discuss myself as a political animal. Had you asked me ten years ago, I would have told you I wasn’t one. But my deeds belied my words, and also my doxology. I talked like a relativist and acted-- more like an observant pragmatist motivated toward Higher Things.
Because politics is ultimately about what you do, and why. What I said was more akin to the propaganda in the air all around me. I think it started out as protective coloration-- and in a rash, despairing instant I threw away what I knew to be true in favor of what I wanted to be true.
I was given further 'freedom' in this direction by the gentle assistance of a certain behavioral psychologist, who’s duties included interrogating enemy combatants during Desert Storm. He taught me that I could not trust my perceptions, therefore I could not trust my conclusions, no matter how ineffably logical they were. I will admit I was a bright and stubborn young teen in his care-- but I had little training in defending myself against those who truly wanted to destroy my essence in favor of curing religion. After all, I thought he only wanted to help me.
And people wonder why I so loved the heavy, verbose Russian authors in those days. Indeed-- I was hardly aware of the reason myself. My most beloved favorite was two-fold: Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and The First Circle by Solzhenitsyn. I still liked the idea that the world had an inexorable order in it whether we acknowledged it or not. I still liked that people believed in Justice-- and had a clear conception of it, and not watered down, half-mumbled niceties that made you feel good inside. I especially loved Dostoevsky’s ability to lay Nietzsche bare as a howling narcissist shaking an ordinary, mortal fist at the unfairness of it all. And to think he was polite and sympathetic to do so in the guise of the arrogant but ultimately likable Raskolnikov.
Nope, this is not a literary commentary either. But I did not have much exposure to politics as a child. One of my earliest exposures to thus was when my father bought a VCR to record a black economics professor give a talk on 60 Minutes. These days, that doesn’t seem like much. But in those days, a VCR cost upwards of $2,000. And that was in early eighties money, meaning far more than a week’s pay. Some of you might recognize the timing, as the time that Thomas Sowell talked to the world about the errors inherent in price controls for housing in New York City.
So my dad tinkered for hours getting that VCR set up, fine tuning the thing by hand and what have you. Fortunately, he did that the day before. I wasn’t sure what an economist would say that would be so important-- so ignorant was I of the power of money in those days. But dad refused to explain, and invited me to watch, instead.
It turns out, that even if I did not remember the principles he discussed, Sowell conveyed a character that riveted itself in my mind, and indeed haunted me all my life. And I’m not talking about characters in a novel, but character as in the shape of one. I mean as in those fine virtues that no one talks about anymore (save some few cranks in odd corners on the internet).
You see, he wasn’t without controversy in those days. They weren’t content with dismissing Sowell with a few well turned racial slurs. Indeed, he faced down at least three different journalists on that show who tried to unseat him, tried a wide array of argument, insult and false flattery to assault that calm and sure knowledge that indeed those price controls did aggregate the poverty and homelessness problems in NYC. They tried everything, but his logic was unassailable. I vividly remember that after the last male journalist was red-faced, sweating, and practically reduced to tears by Sowell’s calm and gracious demeanor, there was a blip in the service, and static. The static was hypnotic as I absorbed the results. You did not see such vicious fireworks in the average interview in those days.
Soon, after a little tag letting you know your television still worked, a new face appeared in the interview room. She was blond, preppy, thoughtful, and actually started asking him intelligent questions. She left off trying to refute him, and gave at least a half-hearted attempt to understand him. I was blown away by the results. Sowell not only carefully unfolded his fine garment of an argument, but Walters shone as a reporter by being a credible witness. It had gone from one of the worst to one of the best interviews I have personally ever seen. That was probably the interview that made Barbara Walter’s career.
Because it wasn’t his argument that impressed my young mind. It was the fact that he had tolerated the insult, the rudeness, the hypocrisy, the fury, the panic, and the hatred-- and only returned a loving concern coupled with a determination to deliver truth. And when offered the opportunity, he took it without remonstrance or complaint. You could believe what he said because he held firm with gracious calm. That opened the gates in my heart to actually hear the argument-- but it took a fair number of repetitions of this to truly see what was true and what wasn't. It is too easy to fall into the trap of safely thinking what you'd like to see to put up with the hardship of living up to your principals-- until you realize that your life has an expiration date.
It is always that firm and solid ground that I longed for even in the depths of the best and worst indulgences that the culture has to offer. Whatever I said, I longed for peace, not only of heart, but of the knowledge that North would stay North, and South would not leave it’s moorings. But to see the glory of God in front of me, I had to wander the desert for "40 years", whining and complaining about how the Almighty was leading me around in circles. For I did not hold anything that was true enough to follow with a whole heart.
“So, fine,” you say, “now we know why you are a conservative, and why you are a Catholic. Tell us why you believe in Freedom!”
It’s simple. Because with Freedom you can choose to be conservative or not, you can choose to Love, or not. Without Natural Law, you can’t define Freedom. Without rock-solid definitions and a definable (and defensible) Truth, the word freedom is just a word- a symbol- or a sweet nothing. Those decisions only have meaning if you are truly free. There is a third side of this triangular foundation-- that's Love, and without it, life is just more toil and hardship-- a useless sacrifice to vanity. The trouble is, you can't nail down Love without God.
Ultimately, I think that's why Heinlein got Love wrong. He had a fine definition that sounded suspiciously like the religious one, but it went dangerously off the rails because there was no absolute reference to hold it in place. So the principles lead me to Freedom, but it was the delivery-- the demonstration of Love, that led me to truth. The Love part just proof that the veritably true, and based on something you can use in your own life. Something worth more valuable than even life itself-- so it shows that even fairy tales held Truth and taught Truth, just as all things that are true.
The point of these stories and the repetitive axiomatic thinking is to show how one late-comer to Liberty was won. I will grant you that it was not the arguments that did it, but a perception of Truth as evidenced by a particular set of behaviors. No, it is not as simple as just being nice. It was having a set of ideas with the grace of supporters willing to endure great hardship-- and the preponderance of evidence in the face of ever-shifting circumstances. Everywhere I looked-- from the Constitution, to various commentators, to the Bible, seemed to support this idea of Freedom and hold a consistent definition of Liberty-- even if the knuckleheads in power, or men with MSW degrees did not seem to agree.
I decided eventually that Love was possibly worth making mistakes and relying on my perceptions anyway. I mean-- it was either that or a Thorazine drip. And the people in my life deserved to be loved as they had loved me. And trying to gain knowledge of the world by a fuzzy feel-good consensus Just. Doesn't. Work. Even that annoying relative you can't stand deserves better.
It is easy to be disillusioned by a Democrat. For me, that happened in the Clinton Administration-- and probably before. (To be fair, it also points to the date I was disillusioned by the Republicans, too.)
The problem is to be Romanced by Truth, when the Truth is hard, and doesn't seem to give dividends until you have already reaped it's benefits. Which is, for me why the definition of Love is so important, and cannot (I'm sorry) be separated from politics as such.
Because most of the Left and the Great Undecided desperately want principles. They just don't know what they are, how to get them, or why they should bother. And yelling at them won't always help. I have certainly had a wake up call from a friend or a relative who informs me of my bad behavior-- but generally you have to know that you did wrong in the first place for it to have a salutary effect. They have to know why that it is right and proper to have a right and a wrong in the first place.
Love should be more than sex or being nice, Truth should be more than (even verified) data, and Freedom should be more than license. Because they are, whether we like it or not. Life is better, if more difficult, when you know that. For one thing, living has value, even being a person with a small imprint has meaning.
That is why (in more ways than one) I am here today.
FYI: I should be clear that when I use Truth with the capital "T" I am not referring specifically to the Gospel. It certainly includes that, but I mean also that Freedom was a gift granted to us, and from there all that follows out of Natural Law. From Natural Law, the Constitution is easily seen as an outline to a superior form of government, and from there everything else flows like water.