Prudential voting in bad times

George Weigel

Sixty years ago, Father John Courtney Murray, SJ, published what I regard as the finest Catholic analysis of American democracy ever penned: We Hold These Truths – Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition. In recent decades, Father Murray has been accused of being an uncritical celebrant of the United States. That unjust charge is decisively refuted by the most pungent sentence in We Hold These Truths, which I shall cite in a moment.  

In his wide-ranging book, Murray examined the deterioration of the moral and cultural foundations of American public life, a process he thought had been underway for some time. Mainline Protestantism could no longer help buttress those foundations; its doctrinal and moral confusions were part of the problem, not the solution. Nor could the country rely on its great centers of higher education for cultural ballast; the prestige universities, Murray wrote, had abandoned the classic philosophical and moral traditions of the West,  settling comfortably into the dual ruts of pragmatism (“What’s right is what works”) and utilitarianism (“What’s good is what’s useful”). The notion that freedom was having the right to do what we ought – meaning that genuine freedom is always tethered to truth and ordered to goodness – was being supplanted by the thin and dangerous notion of freedom as willfulness.

What would happen, Murray asked, if those baleful tendencies won the contest for American culture? What would happen if Americans decided that democratic self-governance was simply a matter of political and legal machinery, rather than the cultural accomplishment of a virtuous people? If Americans decided that truth and goodness had nothing to do with politics and law? If Americans no longer believed that the laws we make are under the judgment of the moral law written on the human heart? What would happen, Murray warned, was not going to be pretty: “…the noble many-storeyed mansion of democracy will be dismantled, levelled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged.”

Anyone who hears, here, a premonition of what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism” is not imagining things. 

I am not a doomist. There are reservoirs of goodness in the American people – including a sense of mutual obligation I’ve witnessed many times during the pandemic. There are powerful sources of national renewal to be found in an honest telling of the American story and in the moral commitments and political ideas of the Founders and Framers (read Washington’s Farewell Address for a glowing example). At the moment, however, those sources of renewal are not being effectively deployed. Why?

Because academic leaders have been cowed by cancel culture totalitarians who take their stage cues from Stalin and Mao Zedong. Because too much of corporate America, including virtually the entire sports-and-entertainment complex, has not only surrendered to political correctness but actively promotes it. Because elective public office these days tends to attract the screamers and ideologues, not the men and women of reason. Because too few religious leaders have found the public vocabulary necessary to summon the nation beyond bitterness and retribution; how many times have you heard the words “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” invoked these past six months by those whose primary public tasks include calling the country beyond accusation and hatred? 

What is the thoughtful Catholic voter, who understands that the Church’s social doctrine cannot be confined in any partisan box, to do in this election cycle?

While all the cardinal virtues – prudence, justice, courage, and moderation – play a role in religiously serious citizenship, prudence is arguably the virtue most relevant to making electoral choices in 2020. The country is bitterly divided and irrationality stalks the land. Local officials are gravely defaulting on their responsibilities by refusing to maintain public order. There are two deeply flawed candidates for president, either of whose election portends more trouble. America needs time to renew itself by creating a more sober, rational and decent public square.

That renewal will be more difficult if the Democratic Party wins the presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives – and is thus able to enforce the agenda of lifestyle libertinism and intolerant “tolerance” to which its platform commits it, especially in matters of the sanctity of life and the conscience rights of believers. As the House will certainly have a Democratic majority in 2021-2022, prudence dictates maintaining a Republican Senate, irrespective of who is elected president. 

There are moments when a unified federal government is essential. This is not one of them.

COMING UP: Preparing your Home and Heart for the Advent Season

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The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  It extends over the four Sundays before Christmas.  Try some of these Ideas to celebrate Advent in your home by decorating, cooking, singing, and reading your way to Christmas. Some of the best ideas are the simplest.

Special thanks to Patty Lunder for putting this together!

Advent Crafts

Handprint Advent Wreath for Children 
Bring the meaning of Advent into your home by having your kids make this fun and easy Advent wreath.

Pink and purple construction paper
– Yellow tissue or construction paper (to make a flame)
– One piece of red construction paper cut into 15 small circles
– Scissors
– Glue
– Two colors of green construction paper
– One paper plate
– 2 empty paper towel tubes

1. Take the two shades of green construction paper and cut out several of your child’s (Children’s) handprints. Glue the handprints to the rim of a paper plate with the center cut out.

2. Roll one of the paper towels tubes in purple construction paper and glue in place.

3. Take the second paper towel and roll half in pink construction paper and half in purple construction and glue in place.

4. Cut the covered paper towel tubes in half.

5. Cut 15 small circles from the red construction paper. Take three circles and glue two next to each other and a third below to make berries. Do this next to each candle until all circles are used.

6. Cut 4 rain drop shapes (to make a flame) from the yellow construction paper. Each week glue the yellow construction paper to the candle to make a flame. On the first week light the purple candle, the second week light the second purple candle, the third week light the pink candle and on the fourth week light the final purple candle.

A Meal to Share during the Advent Season

Slow-Cooker Barley & Bean Soup 

Make Sunday dinner during Advent into a special family gathering with a simple, easy dinner. Growing up in a large family, we knew everyone would be together for a family dinner after Mass on Sunday. Let the smells and aromas of a slow stress-free dinner fill your house and heart during the Advent Season. Choose a member of the family to lead grace and enjoy an evening together. This is the perfect setting to light the candles on your Advent wreath and invite all to join in a special prayer for that week.

– 1 cup dried multi-bean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
– 1/2 cup pearl barley (Instant works great, I cook separate and add at end when soup is done)
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
– 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– Salt to taste
– 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (basil, oregano)
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
– 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
– 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra for garnish

1. Put 6 cups water, the beans, barley, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, 1 tablespoons salt, herb blend, some pepper in a slow cooker. Squeeze the tomatoes through your hands over the pot to break them down and add their juices. Cover and cook on high until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours. 

2. Add the spinach and cheese, and stir until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. 

3. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve with a baguette.