Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Catholic influence remains strong in Poland

[It's very nice to see that the Polish nation refuses to forget its own rich heritage, which is strongly linked to the Catholic faith. May they be an inspiration for the rest of the European continent!]

Poland's leaders lean to the right
Catholic influence large, in contrast to rest of Europe

June 11, 2006

WARSAW, Poland -- Poland could be Europe's first red state.

The 25 members of the European Union do not think of themselves in terms of blue states and red states, at least not yet. If they did, the map of Europe would have a decidedly blue hue. Even countries with conservative governments, such as France and Germany, are blue when it comes to the values debate.

But Poland cuts against the grain. Lech Kaczynski, winner of last October's presidential election, opposes abortion and gay marriage. He has told his education chief to come up with guidelines for the "proper upbringing of children." And lately, he has been spending a lot of time cozying up to conservative Christian groups.

While Christianity appears to be in a steep decline across most of Europe, in Poland the faith still burns brightly. The question is whether Poland is a quirky throwback to another era, or whether it is a harbinger of Europe's coming culture war.

Catholic values

Poland's churches are packed. Its seminaries still are churning out healthy numbers of priests. According to census data, 96% of the population identify themselves as Catholic; 57% say they attend mass every Sunday. There now seem to be as many statues of Pope John Paul II as there once were of V.I. Lenin.

Two week ago, Pope Benedict XVI paid homage to his predecessor with a visit to Poland, and Poles responded by modestly covering up some of the racier lingerie ads along the processional route. The pope's stops included Warsaw, the Auschwitz death camp and Wadowice, John Paul's hometown.

It was the late pope's fervent hope that the intense spirituality of his native Poland would spark a "new evangelization" of Western Europe. During most of his papacy, there was scant sign of that happening. But more recently Poland has emerged at the fore of a fledgling movement to restore Christian values to Europe.

"What's new in Poland is that political parties want to express their Catholicism," said Pawel Spiewak, a Polish sociologist and expert on right-wing politics.

"A few years ago, a typical Pole was Catholic in his private life. Now he's expressing it openly and wants to express it as public policy. It's atypical for Europe."

Beginning in 2003, the Polish government led the push -- ultimately unsuccessful -- to include some reference to Christianity in the new EU constitution.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, the reformed communist who was Poland's president at the time, told a British newspaper that "there is no excuse for making references to ancient Greece and Rome, and to the Enlightenment, without making reference to the Christian values which are so important to the development of Europe."

An unusual argument coming from a self-professed atheist, but Kwasniewski always has grasped the importance of religion in Polish political life.

Last year, the Polish delegation to the European Parliament made waves by setting up a display against abortion in the corridors of the parliament's headquarters in Strasbourg, France. A scuffle ensued when guards attempted to remove it.

"We follow the teachings of the church and the advice of the bishops," said Piotr Slusarczyk, a spokesman for the League of Polish Families, a conservative Catholic party that was behind the display.

Slusarczyk said the league opposes gay rights and euthanasia. It also favors large families and takes a dim view of the EU in general.

"Our goal is to defend Catholic values and to defend Poland against Western tendencies that are being promoted by a vocal EU lobby," he said.

Read more here: Detroit Free Press

A related article: "The New Europes" by Richard John Neuhaus, First Things Magazine

Why Children need to be taught manners!

[Excellent article from Tradition, Family, and Property concerning the great importance of teaching children proper manners. Of course this goes against modern-day "wisdom", which teaches that manners are just a mere personal preference. Thank god my parents had the common sense to teach me manners and how to act like a gentleman.]

The Educational Importance of Manners
By John Horvat II

At first glance it might seem rather forced to make a connection between education and manners. In our secular society, manners like morals seem to be optional in the formation of youth.

It is something relegated to parents to teach children at the dinner table if and when they eat together. Manners are a feel good thing, a way to be nice to people, or maybe even a “social lubricant” that helps one get ahead but hardly an essential part of education.

If we accept the premise that education is the mere imparting of knowledge to children, then manners are indeed superfluous and really serve no purpose

However, if we believe that education involves the formation of the whole character in addition to imparting knowledge, then we must enthusiastically endorse manners as something that has an enormous educational importance.

Indeed, when we say in Spanish that a person is “educado,” or literally “educated,” it is not to say he is a Ph. D. candidate. Rather it means he is well mannered. Similar distinctions were made in the Portuguese and Italian languages which show how these traditional societies definitely made the connection. The teaching of manners was a very important part of the whole education of a child.

And so manners and education definitely do mix.

However, it would be quite premature to recommend a mandated Manners 101 course in public schools or turn an edition of Manners for Dummies into a standard textbook.

This is because manners cannot be seen as a kind of a feel-good set of rules for being nice-to-everyone or a politically correct framework for tolerating just about anything. There are those who are all too ready to spin manners into, for example, “evolution's solution to easing the stresses of communal living.”

If manners are to be taught, it must be within their proper framework. We must go beyond the rules of etiquette and into the very nature of manners themselves.

Read the rest of the article at Tradition, Family, and Property

Monday, June 12, 2006

Learning a Second Language

Sorry for my relative lack of posting here, despite my promise to do so once June came around. However, have no fear, I have not given up on this blog and will continue to post more commentaries here.

For one thing, I've just recently decided to once again pick up on my personal studies of a second language. I have always been interested in learning another language, in particular Slavic languages along with possibly French. However, as an American, there are several difficulties.

Within American society there are very little opportunities to practice whatever language it is you're studying. Unless of course you're studying Spanish, in that case you have little to fear with all the Hispanic immigrants in this country. Sad but true.

Not only that, the manner in which most foreign languages are taught within American schools are not helpful for the most part. They largely focus on memorizing long lists of vocabulary and rules of grammar. It gives the appearance that learning a language is nothing but boring and methodical work.

Also, let's not forget that English is the international language of communication nowadays, which operates twofold in hindering the abilities of native English speakers in learning another language. For one, it makes it seem that learning another language is largely pointless from the English-speaking perspective. Yet on the other hand, it also means that non-native speakers are also far more determined to practice their English rather than help others learn their language. I've certainly have noticed this myself during my travels abroad or talking to people from abroad.

So yes, the odds are certainly stacked against any American trying to study a foreign language. Yet, ironically, many of these disadvantages can be helpful. Since Americans often have such difficulties in studying other languages, programs designed specifically for teaching Americans are among the best in the world!

I have heard quite a lot of praise for the Pimsleur language program. I myself have not tried it yet(too expensive at the moment) but this is what I have heard.

One website I particularly find useful is How-to-learn-any-language.com, which offers practical advice and great insights into learning several languages. I particularly found interesting(both as somebody trying to learning another language and as a Catholic) the biography of Cardinal Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti, who managed to become fluent in 38 languages without ever leaving his native land of Italy!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Death of Statist Nationalism

"The nation-state is dying. Men have begun to transfer their allegiance, loyalty and love from the older nations both upward to the new transnational regimes that are arising and downward to the sub-nations whence they came, the true nations, united by blood and soil, language, literature, history, faith, tradition and memory."
These are the words Pat Buchanan wrote in one of his most recent articles titled "The death of the nation-state". Despite some problems with the semantics Buchanan uses("older nations" vs. "true nations"), he is for the most part correct. However, does this necessarily mean the end of nations as a whole or even the concept of a nationally-based state? No, rather it means the demise of the one form of such that has long dominated the conscience of modern political thinking.

Nations, ethnicities, tribes and other communities based upon kinship have existed since the beginning of time. There is nothing incredibly modern about such forms of social organization. Almost any sincere sociologist and/or anthropologist would concur.

Although Modernist-inclined scholars(who believe nations and nationalism are constructs of the modern age) will staunchly deny this, neither is the concept of a ethnically-based state. For example, Steven Grosby has argued that the basic notion of an ethnic-based state could be found throughout the Ancient Near East in places like Egypt, Babylon, and especially Biblical Israel(which later became the major model for European concepts of nationhood).

Even during the Medieval period similar concepts forged the basis for political organization. According to Medieval scholar Susan Reynolds the basic concept behind the kingdom of the time was that it "comprised and corresponded to a 'people'(gens, natio, populus), which was assumed to be a natural, inherited community of tradition, custom, law, and descent."( Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300, page 250). The late Adrian Hastings also argued that the roots of modern nationhood originated during the Medieval period.

So clearly the notion of a state being organized around an ethnic community is not new. However, all the scholars above will admit that the ancient or Medieval concept of such is remarkably different from the nation-state that we see in the modern era. So how are they different? The differences depend upon distinct theories of how governments should rule and interact with society at large.

Few people today would deny the fact that Medieval governments operated on a different basis than a modern state would. Most people imagine that Medieval governments operated on the basis of all power being centralized into the hands of the monarch, whereas the modern state operates on the principle of a division of powers between central and local authorities.

John P. McCarthy has written much on how this viewpoint is quite contrary to the historical reality. Medieval governments actually operated on a basis of decentralization, whereas modern governments operates on the basis of centralizing power as much as possible.

Now what does that have to do with nations? Well, under the Medieval system of decentralization, each subdivision of the nation(regions, tribes, etc.) was given a relative amount of political self-rule; which also implied a certain amount of cultural self-expression as well. So while there was a strong sense of national unity, it did not necessarily mean a strong sense of national uniformity. This also applied to any national or ethnic minorities that resided within the borders of a particular kingdom. So while the Medieval kingdom did correspond to a particular ethnic/national community; it was not based on the notion of complete ethnic homogeneity within its borders.

By, contrast the modern state has sought to do the opposite. By centralizing authority (in the interests of making the government more "efficient"), the autonomy and self-rule that many regions/tribes/localities enjoyed were brutally suppressed. By extension, the unique customs of such communities were also brutally suppressed; to be replaced by a more uniform sense of national identity that derived from the state rather than the natural communities that made up the national/ethnic community. National uniformity also implied the notion of national homogeneity; the results of which are all too well known.

It was this latter philosophy that governed the formation and implementation of the modern nation-state. Yet now, after so many generations of living under such a system, many communities are striking back. Communities who once had their cultures and self-rule suppressed are now demanding what is rightfully theirs. Hopefully what we are now seeing before our eyes is a return to a system more aligned with the Medieval way of governing; where each local community(ethnic, regional, tribal, etc.) is given a certain amount of political self-rule and cultural self-expression.

The nation-state is indeed dying. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Legacy of the Knight-Monks

As we continue our struggle for the soul of society in what is commonly called "the culture war", it is very refreshing to note that John Hellman may have in fact provided us traditionalists with an inspiring historical model to follow in his book The Knight-Monks of Vichy France: Uriage, 1940-1945. Within its pages, Hellman takes us into the Ecole Nationale des Cadre, an elite academy set up following the French defeat of 1940 by the Vichy Regime. It's intent was to train a new generation of Frenchmen to be "the linchpin of a spiritual revolution that would restore the Catholic Church's prestige, neutralize the poison of permissive liberalism and usher in a "new Middle Ages," a communitarian, hierarchical France."

The man who headed this elite institution was a man by the name of Pierre Dunoyer de Segonzac, who was a dashing young cavalry officer. Since he came from a traditional Catholic upbringing, de Segonzac was also a man deeply interested in restoring the spiritual and cultural vitality of French society from its current decadence. In response to such a challenge, he developed the ideal of the "Knight-Monk". As the label suggests, the ideal of the "Knight-Monk" was to combine the devout piety of the monk with the chivalry and heroism of the knight; and would go out into the lions' den and convert the secularist modern world head on.

Yet de Segonzac's ideas were hardly created out of thin air. They originated with the Catholic intellectual renaissance of the early twentieth century, represented by writers like Charles Peguy, Georges Bernanos, Leon Bloy, and Emmanuel Mounier. The ideals of these men were a great influence on the community at Uriage (especially Mounier, who himself was an instructor at the academy).

The ideals promoted by the Uriage community were also based on the example of the many Catholic social and political movements that emerged throughout France and many parts of Europe during the first half of the 20th century. From labour unions to scouting movements to lay ecclesial organizations; they all sought to create newer, purer, and more heroic communities that were not spoiled by the immorality of the day.

These movements also sought to restore a more authentic way of life: with great emphasis placed on tradition, the primacy of spirituality, organic/folkish communities, and Christian heroism. Hellman goes into more details about these other movements in his book The Communitarian Third Way, which is a wonderful source on 20th century Catholic philosophy along with the political and social movements motivated by such.

Eventually in 1943, the Uriage academy was closed down by the Vichy government, and its members eventually joined the resistance. Despite its short life, however, its ideals are far from dead. With the continual degradation of our culture, the decline in moral standards, and the erosion of traditional communities and cultures through globalization; it can be argued that the ideals of the Knight-Monks are more relevant today than ever before.

Interesting enough, they still are with us in a way and continue to influence the wider Catholic community. Hellman doesn't mention this, but the ideals promoted by Opus Dei correspond very closely to those of the "Knight-Monks" of Uriage. In fact St. Josemaria Escriva founded Opus Dei around the same time that many of the Catholic social movements mentioned above were in their heyday. So the spirit of the Knight-Monks is still with us, and hopefully it will continue to grow.

So brave Catholics of the world, stand up and proudly become a Knight-Monk today!