The Gardens of Ordinary Times

By Lucia A. Silecchia

Years ago, a child in my family asked, “If a Church is God’s house, is a cemetery God’s garden?” I lack the theologically correct answer. Yet, that question recognized what I know is true: there is something profoundly sacred about the land where we lay our loved ones to rest.

This month of All Saints and All Souls seems a better time than ever to admit that I cherish long walks in peaceful cemeteries. In recent years, some of those I loved most have been lowered into earth’s embrace, So, more often than before, I take walks through a hilly hometown cemetery in Queens N.Y.– a holy place that seems, paradoxically, very much alive.

I have met a musician who plays bagpipes at the graves of his loved ones. He asked without words if it would disturb me if he continued to play. Without words, I assured him it would not. Bagpipe melodies are a perfect soulful soundtrack for this garden.

I have seen an elderly man carrying plants and gardening gear as he walks alone. Is he tending the grave of a wife with whom he walked through life? A father killed in a long ago war? A child who never grew old? I did not ask. I left him to his loved ones as he left me to mine, with the peaceful serenity of knowing this garden gives us both a place to remember and pray.

I once saw a small boy innocently take a pumpkin adorning the grave of a stranger and reverently move it to his grandfather’s grave. Later, the pumpkin was returned to its rightful place. Yet, my heart rejoiced to see that death did not end this young child’s impulse to shower his grandfather with tangible tokens of his love.

At the grave of my own grandparents, I planted geraniums for my grandmother. But, as a gag gift to my grandfather – an Italian farm boy who believed soil was best used for growing food — I planted a small sprig of basil as a private joke between us. This did not remain private as the basil plant thrived and unsubtly towered over the flowers blooming below. The sweet scent of this basil brought gratitude for times when that same scent filled my grandfather’s gardens long ago.

I have seen gardeners and gravediggers laboring through all types of weather to tend this blessed land. I hope that they know both what a profound responsibility they have and how much the living appreciate it when they care for the dead with such dignity and love.

I have passed graves with familiar names: the parents of my friends; the friends of my parents; neighbors I knew for years; religious sisters who taught in my schools; and, now, some peers of my own.

Most graves I pass belong to those who were strangers. Yet, here, they do not seem that way. The brief words on their gravestones are an invitation to pray for them – in a way that I hope strangers may one day pray for me. There are graves that were dug far too soon for those who died years younger than I am – and I pray with gratitude for the years I have. There are graves

freshly dug and still unmarked, where grief is fresh and raw – and I pray that those who mourn know comfort and care. There are graves of those who died many decades ago that are still adorned with fresh flowers – and I pray with hope that, especially in November, those who have long passed from this life will always be remembered with the gift of prayer.

There are the graves marked with such simple words as “beloved wife,” “cherished father,” “dear nonna,” “loving daughter,” “baby son,” and “dearest friend,” – and I pray that the lifetimes of love so imperfectly captured by these words are someday perfected in lifetimes that do not end. There are graves that have only a name and a date engraved on them. If these are graves of those who walked alone through life without family or friends, I pray that they now know the joy of communion beyond this life.

It is at the graves of my own parents that this garden seems most sacred and holy – a sentiment likely shared by all who wend their way to the graves where the names are most familiar. I see the days of their births and remember to be grateful for the gifts of their lives. I see the days of their deaths and remember that grief with far too much detail and mourn for what I have lost – for now. It is here where it is easiest to pray for them, in the hope that their lives have merely changed and not ended, and in hope that we will meet again.

The bond between us and those who have gone before us is one that is deep, profound, and beyond my ability to grasp. So, I am grateful, in November more than ever, for the ways our cemeteries connect me to them in a way that is real and tangible. I pray for the blessing of seeing them again. Until then, I am grateful for sacred cemeteries – the gardens where God comforts us through our ordinary times.

Lucia A. Silecchia is a Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America. “On Ordinary Times” is a biweekly column reflecting on the ways to find the sacred in the simple. Email her at

Past columns in the series may be found here. 

The Myth of Technocratic Infallibility

By Andrew Yuengert

Modern government is a collaboration between “politicians” and “technocrats.” “Politicians” (some of whom are elected) argue for policy on behalf of constituencies (some of whom are voters). “Technocrats” are the engineers of public policy. They run the numbers: carefully measuring social phenomena, analyzing cause and effect, and evaluating policy rigorously and “scientifically.”

When this collaboration goes according to script, politicians of every stripe take as facts the technocrats’ measurements and analyses. Politicians are not supposed to dispute the growth rate of GDP, the poverty rate, and estimates of the effects of tax cuts. When politicians bend facts and rules, technocrats check them with empirical measurements and statistical analyses.

Read more here.

Originally published at Public Discourse. 

Abortion Comes To The Supreme Court: <br> High Court Will Review Case on Louisiana Law

By William L. Saunders

On Oct. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of an abortion case. The case, June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, involves a law in Louisiana that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If they do not have them, they cannot commit abortions.

Oddly, at first glance, this issue appears to have already been decided by the Supreme Court. On June 27, 2016, that is, two and a half years ago, the court decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In that decision, the high court struck down a Texas law that, among other things, required abortionists to have admitting privileges in a local hospital. The two cases seem more or less identical. What has changed? Why would the court consider the issue again? Is not the court bound by “precedent”? There are several answers to these questions, all of which bode well for the pro-life cause.

Read more here.

Originally published at the National Catholic Register.

The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility

By Dr. Reinhard Huetter

October 22 is the memorial of Pope Saint John Paul II, who can be seen as the spiritus rector of the Institute for Human Ecology, for Saint John Paul has articulated in the broadest and deepest sense a full, comprehensive, and integral ecology of the human person — natural, familial, communal, social, economic, political — and most fundamentally — spiritual and theological. 
The human being, created in the image of God, is called to a life of union with God that commences in this life on earth as a life of ever increasing discipleship of and friendship with Jesus Christ and is consummated in the eternal communion with the Triune God. Yet this drama of salvation includes not only human beings but all of creation such that the destiny of the whole created order is included in the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is present from the beginning: “All things have been created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). 
If this is true, then quite obviously human ecology — the right ordering of the human being, interiorly and vertically, so to speak, to God in faith, hope, and charity, and exteriorly and horizontally, so to speak, to all other human beings in the orders of justice and charity — is inherently connected to the ecology of the created order. The created order, after all, comes from God and is itself ordered toward God. 
If the human ecology is distorted by the eclipse of God, the contempt for the human person, and the ensuing exploitation of human beings, it will not take long for this distortion to affect the natural order. The contempt of the human person and the contempt for God’s creation are two sides of the same coin. Hence, as Pope John Paul II stresses in his message The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility: “We must go to the source of the problem and face in its entirety that profound moral crisis of which the destruction of the environment is only one troubling aspect. . . . Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress. The complexity of the ecological question is evident to all. There are, however, certain underlying principles, which, while respecting the legitimate autonomy and the specific competence of those involved, can direct research towards adequate and lasting solutions. These principles are essential to the building of a peaceful society; no peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation. . . . When the ecological crisis is set within the broader context of the search for peace within society, we can better understand the importance of giving attention to what the earth and its atmosphere are telling us: namely, that there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
The end of this calendar year will mark the 30th anniversary of an unjustly forgotten, prescient, and prophetic text of Saint John Paul II, a text promulgated on December 8, 1989 and delivered on January 1, 1990.  It behoves us to remember this text and encourage a thoughtful reconsideration of what the saintly Pope urged onto the consciousness and conscience of the faithful and all people of good will on the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990. This was almost 30 years ago — and if these words had been taken to heart and transposed into politics, laws, and personal habits collectively then countless people would be able to continue a tradition initiated a generation earlier.

Tolle lege, take and read.


Click here to read the message from Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Program Director William Saunders Addresses Human Rights in China with Chen Guangcheng

By William Saunders, J.D.

On October 9, the program in human rights held its second annual human rights lecture/discussion, “Thirty Years after Tiananmen Square – Human Rights in China Today.” Last year, the series was inaugurated in a conversation with Princeton professor and former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert P. George, who also serves on the Advisory Board of the MA in human rights.  This year the speaker was Chen Guangcheng, a Distinguished Fellow at CUA.

Program director, William Saunders, began the event by referring to three anniversaries occurring this year – the four month anniversary of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in China, and the thirtieth anniversary of the suppression of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  He noted that human rights in China was regularly in the news – only a few days earlier a public furor had erupted due to a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team in favor of the Hong Kong protests; the Chinese government replied that “Freedom of speech does not include the right to criticize the government,” and threatened to ban the NBA from China.

Noting that those under thirty-seven years of age might be unfamiliar with the events of Tiananmen Square, Saunders discussed those protests and the suppression of them by the Communist Party and the army.  He noted that we can get a good idea of what had happened in China afterwards by looking at the life of Guangcheng.

Guangcheng, who was born in 1971 in a poor village and who became blind in infancy because of inadequate rural medical care, became an advocate for the disabled and for the rural poor, becoming in the process the most famous of China’s “barefoot lawyers.” After several years in illegal detention, he was confined to his home, which was closely guarded.  Yet, he managed to escape to the U.S. embassy, and then on to the U.S.

Since coming to the U.S., he has been a tireless advocate for democracy in China, finding effective ways around the electronic wall China created to keep such information from reaching its people.  His lecture on human rights in China was followed by a question-and-answer session with Saunders. Then the event was opened to audience questions.

You can view the entire event here.

“The Power and the Glory”<br> Episode 17: The Death of a Whisky Priest

By Jennifer Frey and Angela Knobel at The Virtue Blog

In episode 17 of Sacred and Profane Love, IHE Fellows Jennifer Frey and Angela Knobel discuss Graham Greene’s masterpiece, The Power and the Glory. Set in Mexico during a period of brutal religious persecution, Greene’s novel explores questions of what true power and glory consist in, and what sort of love and life can make one a witness to it.

Listen here.

Anything that threatens Communism is a target, Chinese human rights advocate says

By JD Flynn

A Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner has called for renewed focus on the country’s practices of mass detention, religious oppression, and reports of organ harvesting.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Chen Guangcheng told listeners at the Catholic University of America that there is no doubt about the Communist regime’s determination to hold onto power by any means necessary.

“Human rights have declined and today are very bad,” Chen said of the current situation in China. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is “afraid of losing power,” he said, and so “anything that threatens its power will be a target for violence.”

Read more here.

Originally published at Catholic News Agency.

The event was hosted by the MA in Human Rights program at The Catholic University, lead by director William Saunders, J.D.. Learn more about the program here.

To a young aspiring theologian – don’t neglect Faith

By Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D., IHE Fellow and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America

Theology is a science ordered to the end of seeing God, not reinterpreting Him through changing human standards

The young aspiring theologian who embarks on the academic study of theology encounters today a bewildering field of study. They may set out to understand their faith better, and perhaps one day come to teach it. But soon they may discover that theology is also about things other than God. They may soon come to see that theological claims are not simply true or false, but must be constantly reassessed in the light of some new theory about human experience, such as sexuality, gender, race, class, politics, climate, or simply “the future.” At the professional conferences, the young theologian is bound to hear papers which awkwardly “problematize”’ theological topics according to whatever is culturally ascendent. This is usually not done in order to bring a ray of God’s brightness into the darkest places of our cultural minds, but quite the opposite. The aspiring young theologian may thus become habituated to a discipline that trains them to talk far more about ourselves than about God. Like Narcissus, such a person can pursue the discipline of theology only to discover that they have not found God, but an image of themselves reflected in a cultural mirror.

This may sound like a criticism a conservative might make of theology today. But in the nineteenth century, something very much like this concern was raised by Ludwig Feuerbach. Following the liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Feuerbach concluded that religion was principally a matter of subjective and social feeling, and that God was just a projection of man’s inner nature infinitely expressed. Theology was, in the end, just anthropology writ large. Feuerbach concluded that this was the essence of Christianity, and so, understandably if wrongly, rejected the ancient faith as so many of his countrymen after him have done.

If the vicissitudes of human experience are taken to be the standard by which theology is ordered and judged, I am afraid that our aspiring theologian will not find the discipline leading to the wisdom of God. It will only and inevitably lead to the collapse of faith itself. And this is why we must think better about the role of faith in theology as a sacred science which we have not made up for ourselves. As Augustine taught, only divine revelation can crush our errors.

Read more here.

Originally published on 24 September 2019 at the Catholic Herald.

Why God’s Grace Is Needed For Human Flourishing

By Michael Gorman, Ph.D., IHE Fellow and Ordinary Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Thinking about human ecology means thinking about the environment humans need. This includes air quality and so on, but more importantly, it includes our moral and spiritual environment. And just as there are toxins to worry about in the physical environment, so too are there spiritual toxins. One of the worst is disregard for truth.

Sometimes the source of this toxin is greed. We promote the product we are selling by saying things we believe to be false, or by saying things without concern for whether they are true or not—a form of phony talk that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has analyzed with some care. But greed is not the only source, and maybe not the most important.

Consider pride. We say things not to inform people of truths they need to hear, but to impress our hearers—to make them think we are knowledgeable and important. And if speaking in a deceptive or truth-indifferent way doesn’t work, there are other strategies. Sometimes a conversational non sequitur happens because someone shifts the conversation away from a topic where he’s unable to prevail to one where he is.

Pride, as Augustine taught, is the inordinate appetite for exaltation. Becoming humble involves giving up this appetite—giving up the desire to be the smartest person in the room, the person who won the argument, the person who had the last word. In principle, being a tenured academic makes it easier to arrive at such a purgation, because it makes one less subject to the pressures of politics and public opinion. On the other hand, academics are not particularly known for their humility. It’s a complicated issue, but in a fallen world, the only thing we can really count on for environmental clean-up is God’s grace.

Experts Explore Happiness

In every issue of CatholicU magazine, it features a Q&A with a least one faculty member focusing on his or her area of scholarship. This time, it invited five faculty members, including three IHE Fellows, representing the disciplines of theology, philosophy, and psychology to a roundtable discussion on the topic of happiness.

Read more here.

Originally published at CatholicU magazine.

The Truth About Intelligence

By Katie Bahr
Illustrations by LA Johnson

Inside the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, there’s a display of spycraft tools dating back to the earliest days of the organization’s history. Messages written in invisible ink. A radio transmitter hidden in a martini olive. A smoking pipe communicator that uses bone conduction technology. And cameras hidden in brooches, in cigarette packs, in umbrellas, and even in other cameras.

The CIA museum collection tells the story of how the world of intelligence has changed over the decades, progressing from hidden cameras to modern satellites and cybertech. One of the most recent exhibits is a scale model of the Abbottabad compound where Navy SEALs working in conjunction with the CIA conducted the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. Hanging on the wall beside the model is a Russian-made AK-47 believed to have belonged to bin Laden himself.

Read more here.

Originally published at CatholicU magazine.

The Favorability Rating of the U.S. Congress:<br> Is There Anything That Can Be Done?

By Emmett J. McGroarty, J.D., director of the Subsidiarity and the Constitution program at the Institute for Human Ecology

In a mark of solidarity, seventy-eight percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. That’s not a fleeting drop. The number has steadily declined through the years. Nor are such dismal numbers a surprise. Congress does not attend to necessities. It tends to make things worse or, at best, kick the can down the road.

Over the last century, Congress has done a poor job exercising the powers entrusted to it by the American people, and it has done a poor job protecting the constitutional structure. It has transferred power to the administrative state that, under the constitutional design, should remain with Congress. It has empowered the administrative state to pass labyrinth regulations that intimidate both individuals and corporations. It has encouraged the administrative state to subdue the states. And it refuses to address easily solvable problems.

A case in point is the Agency Accountability Act (HR 850; S.1456), a simple four-page bill. If enacted, it would restore Congress’s power of the purse by requiring that “any agency that receives a fee, fine, penalty, or proceeds from a settlement” deposit such amount in the Treasury’s general fund.

At issue is the $500 billion collected by agencies each year in fees, fines, penalties, and proceeds from settlements of legal actions brought against individuals and corporations. Under current law, agencies can do as they see fit with these funds. As Senator Mike Lee stated when introducing the bill:

Congress has given far too much power and authority to the executive branch and it is far past time for us to start taking it back. By forcing government agencies to get approval from Congress before spending government money, the Agency Accountability Act is an essential element of any effort to rein in executive branch overreach.

There are a couple of problems with the current practice.

Under the constitutional design, Congress raises the money and decides how it will be spent. As to raising the money, the Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” (Art. I, Sec. 8). Although fines, penalties, settlements and the like might fall outside the constitutional verbiage, Congress is still responsible for setting the parameters of the administrative state.

By letting agencies keep the money, Congress incentivizes them to pursue legal action against persons for the purpose of collecting money and thereby compromises their duty to exercise good faith and prudence in deciding who to pursue. Likewise, it further incentivizes them to squeeze as much money as possible from defendants, rather than to make a concerted effort to negotiate a just amount. Such untethered discretion creates ill will and a sense of unfairness among the citizenry.

Finally, such incentives could interfere with the efforts of both Congress and the president to direct the energies of the agencies. This fuels the sense that the citizenry has lost control of the government.

The Agency Accountability Act is a common-sense bill. It would be a small but decisive step in restoring the integrity of the constitutional structure. Is it likely to pass? Probably not. Congress is mired in partisanship. The House version has eighty-four cosponsors, all of whom are Republican. The Senate bill has four cosponsors, all of whom are Republican. As long as Congress fails to pass common-sense fixes, we should expect further decline in its favorability rating.

New graduate program in Human Rights delves into Catholic thought and perspective on human rights

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – This fall, five graduate students will embark on a unique, one-year journey back to the origins of thought on human nature.

They will study natural law and natural rights, anthropology, international law, religious liberty, global politics and papal encyclicals, emerging from the program with a fully formed, Catholic understanding of human rights and a zeal to defend and explain these rights.

The Institute for Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America is offering this master of arts degree in human rights for the first time in the fall of 2019. The program, headed and organized by William Saunders, lawyer and longtime human rights scholar and activist, is interdisciplinary, drawing classes from five of Catholic University’s schools.

Read more here.

Originally published on 23 August 2019 at Mississippi Catholic

Russia After Putin Is Not a Solved Problem

By Jakub Grygiel

Tyrannies are fragile things and when the fear upon which they are based crumbles, they collapse. The protests in Russia over the past weeks may be a sign of the growing fearlessness of some Russian citizens and the resulting weakness of Putin and his gang. There is good reason, therefore, to be hopeful that the Putinist kleptocracy may end. Who, or what type of regime, will follow the two decades of Putin’s rule is another matter. We can hope that it will be more lenient and less authoritarian, but the future of Russia’s domestic system is anyone’s guess.

In any case, the inevitable end of Putin—after all, sooner or later through elections, revolt, or their own death, all political leaders lose power—will not bring a solution to the security problems Russia creates. The Kremlin can change its occupants, but there is more continuity than change in Russian foreign policy. Putin will leave and Russia will remain.

Geography imposes a consistent simplicity of conception on Russian foreign policy. In a nutshell, Russia wants to be in Europe, but not of Europe. While it cannot be an Asian great power, Russia has sought in the past (as it is seeking now) to be the key European potentate.

Read more here.

Originally published on 15 August 2019 at The American Interest

Is Nationalism Consistent With the Catholic Faith?

By Bradley Lewis

It was not long ago that all right-thinking people believed in globalization as both an irresistible fact and a goal to be earnestly sought and promoted.

Globalization would feed the hungry, cure the sick, teach the ignorant, and bring with it the conditions of enduring peace. We had, it seemed, reached an era in which narrow identities and rivalries were transcended by a universalism that was increasingly embraced by more and more of the world. This universalism embraced nearly borderless free markets, the free movement of capital and labor, and a commitment to liberal democratic political institutions.

Certainly aspects of globalization did have extraordinary effects: Tens of millions of people were lifted out of dire poverty in China and India. Information began to move at blinding speeds, spurring innovation and real progress in many areas of human life.

Read more here.

Originally published on 6 August 2019 at the National Catholic Register

Civitas Dei Summer Fellowship: Seeking Earthly and Heavenly Flourishing

By Very Rev. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., Prior, Priory of the Immaculate Conception — Professor of Moral Theology, Dominican House of Studies

Robert Frost famously observed that good fences make good neighbors. The same could be said of good roads: they, too, can make good neighbors. The Catholic University of America and the Dominican House of Studies (DHS) know this to be true. Perched on opposite sides of Michigan Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C., Catholic University and DHS have been good neighbors for nearly 115 years.

As across-the-street neighbors, Catholic University and DHS pursue distinct missions in Catholic higher education, the former as the official university of the nation’s bishops, the latter as a studium of the Dominican Order. As across-the-street friends, these two schools—each enjoying pontifical right—support each other’s work through frequent exchanges among faculty and students. Between the two schools, St. Peter’s counsel to the Church takes flesh: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt 4:10).

Over a century strong, the friendship between Catholic University and DHS continues to find new expression. An example lies in the growing collaboration between Catholic’s Institute for Human Ecology and DHS’s Thomistic Institute (TI). Recent creations of their respective faculties, IHE and the TI co-sponsored in July their second Civitas Dei Fellowship. Organized by Prof. Joseph Capizzi and Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., the directors of the institutes, the Fellowship “supports rising scholars seeking to better understand the Catholic intellectual tradition.” To that end, the Fellowship gathers graduate students from around the country—future lawyers, entrepreneurs, and professors—for intensive introductions to Catholic political thought.

At the invitation of Prof. Capizzi and Fr. Legge, I had the honor of lecturing at this year’s Fellowship. My topic was St. Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of the common good. These presentations complemented two other series of talks: Catholic’s own Chad Pecknold led discussions of critical chapters of St. Augustine’s City of God, and Harvard Law School’s Adrian Vermeule treated questions in contemporary constitutional law. All together, the three series, and the lively discussions they launched, offered fellows an overview of Christian legal and political theory, pinpointing how important parts of the ancient, medieval, and modern Catholic tradition aptly address contemporary concerns.

The Civitas Dei Fellowship is just the latest fruit of the long friendship enjoyed between Catholic University and DHS, a camaraderie stretching across Michigan Avenue but extending itself in service to Church and State. For the flourishing of both societies—the heavenly and the earthly—may this friendship thrive for years to come.

The Impact of Common Core

By Emmett J. McGroarty, J.D., director of the Subsidiarity and the Constitution program at the Institute for Human Ecology

We often think of centralized government as impairing sound decision-making, efficiency, and liberty. But it has other consequences to human flourishing. When centralized government makes decisions that individuals or local government should be making, it places the human person in lower standing. That may be abstract, but invariably it has practical consequences. The sad story of great, classic literature in America demonstrates this.

One of America’s great cultural achievements was the popular view that all children should have an academic education. That’s not to say that all should attend university, and it’s not to discount the trades, which certainly offer wonderful opportunities. It simply means that to flourish children should have a grounding in their culture and have an appreciation for the good and beauty of the Almighty’s creation. They should be equipped to pursue the truth, to fully exercise their liberties, and to be persons of substance in their communities and in their families. Early on, such an education took root in America. It included the study of classic literature–fiction, poetry, and biographies in narrative form.

Great literature sparks the imagination. It develops the ability to express one’s self, in verbal and written form, providing a sound means for the exchange of ideas. It hones one’s analytical skills.  Through it, one develops empathy and practices prudential decision-making without the consequences of the real world. It helps one handle uncertainty and ambiguity, enabling one to better resist rushing to conclusions and assuming the ill-will of another. Through great literature, we pass culture to others, including to following generations. It is a gateway to a passion for history. Reading great literature facilitates the study of the human condition.

In the 1800s a counter-theory arose to the American Experiment and began to gain favor in elitist camps. Experts must manage society to peaceful and prosperous ends. Citizen-directed government must be marginalized, all the better to give experts the necessary leeway. Likewise, the fabled checks-and-balances our Constitutional structure must be circumvented. That view favored a different type of basic education for the masses—a lower, utilitarian education that would further the narrow aims of employers and bureaucrats in a managed economy.

For over a century that view was increasingly reflected in public policy and the growing administrative state. From the1990s that trend accelerated and reached its apex with the development, and federally driven adoption of, the Common Core standards. Fidelity to those standards required a dramatic reduction in the amount of classic literature children read: as noted in the Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12, “[m]ost ELA programs and materials designed for them will need to increase substantially the amount of literary nonfiction they include.”
See study here and commentary here and here.

What does this mean to the formation of the person? Does the trend away from classic literature lend itself to a climate of rancor and divisiveness, a rush to judgment and an inability to understand the perspectives of other? Does it callously deprive the human person of all but crude practices in the sharing of ideas with others? Does it deprive them of the beauty of appreciating another’s point-of-view, without necessarily agreeing with it?  Are we disintegrating into a society composed not of mere rivals but of enemies, as Alexis de Tocqueville described France to have been on the eve of the French Revolution?

State Department launches panel focused on human rights and natural law

By Carol Morello

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the creation of an advisory commission on human rights that has engendered controversy since it was proposed.

Pompeo said the Commission on Unalienable Rights “will provide the intellectual grist of what I hope will be one of the most profound re-examinations of inalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Universal Declaration.”

The panel will be headed by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor who wrote a book about the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pompeo was Glendon’s research assistant when he studied law at Harvard. Glendon is also a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Read more here.

Originally published on 8 July 2019 at The Washington Post

Reflections from an Institution

By Robert Royal

It’s a commonplace today that people have lost faith in institutions. And it’s no wonder. Wherever you look – politics, culture, education, even the Church – the institutions that normally provide us with stable identity and points of reference have become sources of disorder and disorientation.

Hillary Clinton famously wrote a book: It Takes a Village. She was expressing something not so much wrong as deceptive. It does take a village – and a family, and a church, and a school, and a community – to form children into mature and responsible adults. The “village” that progressive politicians talk about, however, is not an assembly of these natural civil society institutions, but an array of government programs designed to replace and, often, hasten the demise of real human connections.

In healthy times, people identify with family, faith, nation. At least among our cultural elites, identity these days revolves around race, class, and gender.

Read more here.

Originally published on 1 July 2019 at The Catholic Thing

Former US Ambassador to Holy See to Chair New Human Rights Commission

Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, will head a new human rights advisory body to the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday.

“It’s a sad commentary on our times that more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, gross violations continue throughout the world,” Secretary Pompeo stated at a July 8 press conference announcing the new Commission on Unalienable Human Rights.

Pompeo said that “the time is right for an informed review of American human rights in foreign policy,” and that Glendon was “the perfect person to chair this effort” and chair the new commission.

Read more here.

Originally published on 8 July 2019 at The Catholic World Report.

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