Faction against faction
Arguably, politics is the oldest profession. By convention, we acknowledge prostitution instead, but I wonder if the two aren’t closely related, even different versions of the same enterprise: politics being the masculine way, prostitution the feminine way, to obtain things not legitimately available. Which is hardly to say the two provinces of human activity are restricted to the respective sexes.
As the more masculine enterprise, however, politics has tended to attract more male participants. There is, contrary to official secular belief, a serious distinction to be made between the sexes, & I have often noticed that despite what everyone says they are not the same. It is not just biological, or else, the biological goes deeper than may first appear. That women alone have babies is sometimes allowed, even by the politically correct; & I have met feminists who still claim that women are more “nurturing.” (Being male, I hardly know what that means.) Other distinctions may be more controversial.
Example: men are team players. Not all of them, of course, & not all women aren’t; it is time to invoke Warren’s Rule of Thumb. This is modelled on the Pareto Curve, & I first proposed it to explain the presence or absence of a geographical sense of direction. Some 80 percent of men have this, 20 percent do not. Perhaps 20 percent of women also have it, & let’s leave it there, as a recurring ratio in nature — four to one, or that of fingers to thumbs. So when I say, “men are team players” I don’t mean you can’t find me a tomboy.
Indeed, if gentle reader has ever wondered why, no matter what advantages are given to women, men usually emerge to rule, I can answer in four words. Men are team players.
Hence, the common observation of the resemblance between party politics & another essentially masculine activity, professional team sports. From what I can see, it has been so from the beginning (the Byzantine political parties began as horse-racing factions), & while representative democratic arrangements bring this into full bloom, we may also detect party formations within entirely non-democratic political orders. They are, potentially, a highly unpleasant fact of life. For men not only play in teams, they are also in their nature highly competitive. The word “tribal” could be inserted somewhere around here.
Ask a democratic politician why he got into the trade, & he is likely to claim some absurdity, such as, “to serve the public.” He will then claim one party is more apt to serve it than another, & give that as the reason for his party affiliation. But no: it is the game of politics that appeals more deeply to the “alpha” male participants (along with female thumbs), as well as to the more numerous “beta” spectators egging them along. It is a tribal contest, & as I have actually come to believe, the motive for opposition between parties is not disagreement over public policy. That is the ball that is in play, & anyone who has looked into political history should have noticed that possession of any given “policy ball” changes sides frequently over time.
The motive is instead tribal. It is mutual pathological hatred, that quickly associates with class & ethnicity. Under earlier, more aristocratic regimes, when the idea of a Christian gentleman was still in play, this was masked behind sportsmanlike etiquette. Indeed, British parliamentary practices were until recently imbued with a tremendous quantity of unwritten rules, now lost upon our over-literal society. The masks have been coming off, together with the gloves, & rather than a contest confined to at least a semblance of policy debate — to playing the ball not the man — we have sheer barbarism.
I was struck, in following arrangements for the interment of the late Baroness Thatcher for instance, by the fear it might turn into a circus. There were already people — so young as not to have been around when Mrs Thatcher was in power, & therefore trained to hate her by another generation — doing their Morris dancing in Brixton, & Glasgow, singing songs with unbecoming lyrics, & so forth. As the politicians say, “The youth are our future!” & one may glimpse the future of our politics in such performances. Not argument, nor even a pretence of argument, rather, straightforwardly violent public demonstrations of moral filth & satanic ugliness.
When Thomas Aquinas & others explain why democracy will never work, some emphasis is placed on its divisive nature. In announcing himself for limited monarchy (1a 2ae, question 105, 1st article & thereabouts), Saint Thomas expounds the typically mediaeval & Catholic notion that all should participate in government, in such a way as to sustain unity. Electoral democracy does not follow from this. In the Summa, & in his political treatises, he is vividly aware that tyranny is borne of faction & disorder. The basic problem with democracy is not “the people” per se, but the cultivation of faction inevitable when men form into competitive political teams. By increments, unadulterated democracy leads to civil war. Even the adulterated sort will get there if the mix is heady enough.
It would be anachronistic to make Saint Thomas into a pundit of our present political order. He died in AD 1274; he doesn’t give sound bites any more. It is thus wrong to assume that despite what he says, he would be in favour of “Democracy” were he alive today — perhaps as “the worst form of government except all the others.” That was not the set of his mind. He did not advocate limited monarchy, & the subsidiary institutions the monarchy crowned, as a least evil. Rather, he considered it as something good intrinsically. Nor did he restrict his understanding of the fallen nature of man to political behaviour. He was aware of it in many more dimensions than we are, in our philosophical poverty. He was also aware of the human propensity to distort language, so would have cut through a great deal of the bafflegab we employ, in championing democracy — in particular the purposeful confusion of specific institutions with abstract ideals, as if one constitution or another were the inevitable embodiment of civic freedom & virtue.
He assumes politics is a male sport. We assume that is only because he was limited by his time to assume that. Perhaps he wasn’t. His remarks show an acute grasp of the masculine nature of this sport, regardless of the sex participating; so much, it can turn women into men. I think, though I cannot yet prove, he understands that this sport is as much in need of public repression as, say, prostitution. To the Christian, sin needs repression. We need not “give it an outlet,” it can find its own.
The Thomist, as more generally the mediaeval mind, looks for ways to restrain the evils associated with each known form of government, while also looking to the good that each embodies. It seeks the best available combination of the virtues in monarchy, aristocracy, democracy — & finds in each bulwarks against the vices to which each other is prey.
While modern teaching on the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” is associated with the Jesuit, Oswald von Nell-Breuning (who helped Pius XI draft Quadragesimo Anno); & behind that goes back only to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of 1891; the thinking which animates it is thoroughly mediaeval, indeed formatively Christian. It is a view of society so organized that the higher genuinely serves the lower, rather than the other way around. The last eleven popes have been struggling to interpret this teaching in terms comprehensible to our Age of Revolution. It is a struggle because political factions are determined to use whatever the popes say for their own immediate purposes.
Party is itself the insuperable obstacle here. It is hard to conceive of a party whose purpose is to obviate party, as it is hard to conceive of a centralized government whose purpose is to restrain centralized government. Only Marxists can believe in that sort of thing. To my mind, it is what stands in the way of any direct, genuinely Catholic participation in the democratic, party political order. One is put in that odd position described by Malcolm Muggeridge: of being the pianist in a brothel, playing “Abide With Me.”
My thought for today is that we do not need a Catholic Politics. On the contrary, we are desperately in need of a Catholic Anti-Politics, & if someone could tell me of what that might consist, I would join up right away.