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Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis). A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)



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3×5 Card of Approved Opinion Strikes Catholic Blog

22nd January 2013      by: Tom Woods     

Longtime readers will know I often refer to “the 3×5 card of approved opinion” that defines the narrow range of permissible debate in American society. When someone strays from that 3×5 card, he will be smeared as an extremist. His views will not be refuted. They will simply be condemned for not being on the card. It is enough to expose the person for straying from the Sacred Card.

A friend writes to tell me that this phenomenon has been on display on the blog of Catholic author Mark Shea. People started discussing secession. This was declared to be out of bounds. Crazy. Of course — why, secession isn’t on the Sacred Card.

So today we have a post there called “Nutjob Secessionism Is Not Welcome Here.” Shea is upset at people discussing scenarios involving secession. These must involve violence, he insists, though of course historically there has not been any direct relationship between secession and violence around the world.

The commenters, too, chimed in with the usual accusations against violators of the Sacred Card. One wrote, “If a state did vote to secede, there would be war because that act of secession is illegal and therefore treasonous and an act of war in itself. The state seceding would have no more legitimacy in asserting its ‘independence’ with force than would any armed foreign force which tried to lay claim to U.S. territory. The inevitable military response from the United States military would be the sole responsibility of those who provoked it, and it would be richly deserved.”

Now this is evil and wrong on all sorts of levels. The author of this comment has no knowledge of the nature of the Union. I have explained this before. He should listen. The author is very good at reciting lines from the Sacred Card. He is not so good at having an independent thought.

As my friend notes:

What I find really disturbing about this whole exchange is the absolute refusal to even consider the possibility of a peaceful secession from the Union, and how such a level of disdain and thinly veiled aggression is directed toward those who want to discuss the issue.  There also seems to be a blame-the-victim psychology at work here, what with the language of a military suppression of secession being “richly deserved”.  In the hypothetical scenario, it doesn’t even occur to them that it might be the United States who is the aggressor.  No, it would be little Vermont, who apparently would be “asking for it” and would deserve whatever they get.

The only reason I bother taking note of this is that public opinion is so cowed by the Sacred Card that even a conservative Catholic blog thinks the correct political posture is nationalism and the modern state, one and indivisible, with any other way of thinking ruled out from the start. (Why, we can’t be unreasonable — we must confine ourselves to the range of options granted to us by the New York Times!) Yet this is pretty much the opposite of the political model of Christendom, which you’d kind of expect Catholics on a conservative Catholic blog to support.

Christendom was not organized as a single, irresistible and indivisible power center, superior and prior to all other modes of human association. It consisted of a patchwork of small political societies, and within those societies there were subsidiary bodies that had rights and liberties of their own — for example, towns, cities, guilds, universities, the Church itself — that could not be cancelled or curtailed by the central authority.

The Thomas Hobbes model of political organization conceives of society as consisting of an undifferentiated aggregate of individuals, ruled over by a single, indivisible authority. Any subsidiary bodies exist only at the sufferance of the center. None of them can be said to have pre-existing rights or liberties — why, that’s treasonous talk! All hail the center!

It was this model of political organization that was pursued with a vengeance during and after the French Revolution. The modern state is one and indivisible! Down with other associations!

In other words, the most obviously anti-Catholic event of modern times, pursuing a political model devised by an anti-Catholic philosopher, puts into place the modern one-and-indivisible model in direct contravention of the decentralized order of Christendom, and even conservative Catholics are so committed to the Sacred 3×5 Card that they think they’re supposed to support central authority against decentralization. They think secession, which embodies the spirit of Christendom, is a horror — we can’t hold an opinion that’s rejected by both Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, after all! — and that one-and-indivisible is the way to go.

So much so that anyone who thinks otherwise is a “nutjob.” They adopt the political model shared by virtually all political philosophers from Hobbes to Hegel to Marx, and they think in doing so they are being super-Catholic.

That is the kind of hold the Sacred Card has on the American public.

(As always, thanks to Prof. Donald Livingston for helping to shape my thinking on this.)

Unlearn the Propaganda!

  • Daniel Brooks

    Someone should craft one of these so-called 3×5 cards of acceptable opinion. I bet it could be done in such a way that it honestly portrayed the stances, but clearly showcased the absurdity of it.

  • Dave

    So what would happen if someone asked this dude to explain the principle of subsidiarity? Is the quintessentially Catholic concept of subsidiarity now unacceptable?

  • Dave in Ann Arbor

    Even funnier would be how much blank space you’d have left on the card, since I’m not even sure there’s enough Allowable Opinion to fill it.

  • Adam L

    If you search on his blog you will find the issue brought up. He accuses libertarian and right-leaning Catholics of putting undue emphasis on subsidiarity at the expense of the Catholic principle of Solidarity.

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, history for conservative Catholics in America does not extend back before 1865, let alone 1648.

  • Matthew M.

    Like a cartoon? That’s what I’ve been thinking, but I have no idea how to create decent looking cartoons like we see almost everywhere.

  • Adam L

    To be fair to Mark Shea, he is actually very good on a lot of issues, such as torture, the police state and military adventurism. He even supported Ron Paul in the last election. For whatever reason the issue of secession is a blind spot for him.

  • Anon

    The public may be swayed if there was an alternate to the ‘sacred card’. Unfortunately, there are no alternatives but to stand on your own two feet and be a real independent without being swayed by any group like tea party or occupy or other factions in the Republican party – as many elements of each faction are dangerous.

    Unless you can offer a real alternative to the public, they only have to go from what is infront of them.

    If there was a real alternative presented in the world, then at this point, people are still sane to choose the right thing.

    fyi – and uh, no – Ron Paul republicans haven’t offered any alternative to date.

  • kirk

    his ‘blind spot’ is quite large.

    i suppose the ‘duty’ of all is to go down with the ship, rather than abandon the ship when it is damaged beyond repair.

  • http://twitter.com/tomesnyder Tom E. Snyder

    Is the Pledge of Allegiance – “one nation…, indivisible” – contrary to the Constitution?

  • Anonymous

    I put in my 2 cents on his blog, comparing secession to lifeboats. Its always important to remember than succession isn’t about abandoning the people of a nation, its abandoning a political structure.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    This is disappointing, especially from Shea, a beacon against a line-item in the conservative 3×5 card: water-boarding is torture.

    However, not only have the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well as the Baltic states proved that it is possible to secede without resorting to war, but also a war against a state seceding peacefully would be an unjust war per St. Augustine’s criteria.

  • Dan Lind

    Anyone here familiar with Rand’s _We the Living_?

    Reread the quoted comment above:
    “The state seceding would have no more legitimacy in asserting its
    ‘independence’ with force than would any armed foreign force which tried
    to lay claim to U.S. territory. The inevitable military response from
    the United States military would be the sole responsibility of those who
    provoked it, and it would be richly deserved.”

    Think Kira Argounova in the last scene on the novel.

    It isn’t much of a leap from saying:

    1. A state is US territory and so the property of the United States and so the act of secession is equivalent to an act of aggression against the territory of the United States. The inevitable military response from the United States military would be the sole responsibility of those who provoked it, and it would be richly deserved.

    to

    2. A US citizen is the property of the United States and so the act of escaping is equivalent to an act of aggression against the United States. The inevitable military
    response from the United States military would be the sole responsibility of the individual who provoked it, and it would be richly deserved.

  • Anonymous

    Deplorable. My brief comment was deleted. His attacks are dishonest. I never want to see this guy or his crappy blog again.

  • Mike

    Mine will be deleted for sure. But I don’t care. I’m not giving him any more page views. What a fool.

  • Branch

    In addition to succession, there is the constitutional convention route where the population of each state becomes unimportant i.e. New York gets one vote the same as Montana. Now the 3/4 threshold to end the country is a high threshold, but the country owes a lot of money and would it be able to borrow money with such a convention going on? Who knows, maybe the minority states would be glad to see the union break up so they could borrow more money. They might be glad to see a few states succeed just to avoid a convention.

    In other words, it doesn’t have to play out as it did in 1861-65

  • vox

    I think so. Before Jefferson was in office, and when he left, he consistenly embraced the idea of America splitting up. Peace and freedom are harder to maintain over political units that have grown too large and obtrusive.

  • vox

    Does Shea even read Thomas Aquinas? While Catholic philosophy/theology doesn’t begin with him, no Catholic should exclude knowing something about the Summa. From what I have heard, Aquinas has largely been purged from modern seminaries. If Shea supports Aquinas’ dictum that even a layperson can publicly rebuke a superior when the faith is at stake, he should extrapolate that to the principles of nullification and peaceful secession. That and the fact that an immoral law is no law at all.

    I like TechTate’s comparison of secession to lifeboats. Recently on a blog discussing secession (where the comments were full of accusations of “nutjob,” etc.), I compared secession to divorce, stating that modern people love divorce. Secession is just large-scale divorce, and I told the other commentators that secessionists and their neighbors, like divorcees, could still be friends. That brought howls from the pledge of allegiance people.

    Incidentally, I recently finished reading the biography of Marcel Lefebvre by Bernard Tissier de Mallerais. I think Lefebvre was a truly Catholic priest and man, with all his human faults.

  • Confederate Papist

    Yeah…he erased a lot of mine when I was going head to head with Irenist…however all of his comments attempting to refute mine are still there..even the one he agreed with me on! I am not happy with Mark on this one.

  • Confederate Papist

    Agreed Augustine. He helped this former “neo-com” Catholic realise the sin or torture and many other things through a Catholic perspective, so his acidity towards secession, though typical of the majority of the US-educated sheeple, is very surprising.

  • BB

    The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist minister (Bellamy) for the sole purpose of marketing and selling US Flags to schools. The abomination should be scrapped IMO.

  • the rein man

    I feel sorry for Mark. I’ve read some of his books, followed his blog and have respected him for years, but over the past few years something seems to have slipped. Many, including myself, have tried on several occasions to calmly talk to him on his blog about issues, only to be put down, yelled and cursed at, and banned. Pray for the man. Something’s not right.

  • the rein man

    I think that’s true, but what he seems to be missing is that the common (false) understanding of Catholic Solidarity is translated into socialism (read Vox Nova), and we have more of that now than can be digested. I think many emphasize subsidiarity in reaction to this. Niether are actually present. But I’ll take a little subsidiarity by secession if the only other option is solidarity by socialism, thank-you.

  • Dave

    ‘Tis sad. Mark is becoming ever quicker to ban people. I’ve probably been commenting there for 15 years and I came pretty close to getting banned. For whatever reason, though, he believes the “Union” is sacrosanct and calls for secession from the USA are necessarily violent in nature, despite many counterexamples of peaceful secession. If that is true, it is really the USA which is to blame, because he apparently can’t conceive of a state peacefully seceding from the USA. What does THAT say about our government?

    Personally, I think Roe vs. Wade alone would be sufficient reason for secession from a Catholic point of view, and the Feds are piling on the reasons for secession fast and furious now. Of course, there are way too many sheeple to make it a realistic possibility at the moment.

  • Adam L

    I’m not disagreeing with you. I was just giving a brief answer to Dave’s question.

  • Anonymous

    All rational discussions end with paragraphs like this, right?

    “This policy is not open for discussion. You are, on this point, welcome to agree with me. That’s it. That’s all.

    Update: Some people chose to ignore me and offer apologetics for secession anyway. Those posts are gone. Keep ignoring me and you will be gone. Comprende?”

  • Anonymous

    I would not necessarily say that the Pledge is contrary to the Constitution, but it is contrary to the sprit of the Declaration of Independence, which does state that, in effect, our nation is divisible. When the government becomes destructive of our rights, it is the right of the people to abolish that government and form a new one.

    I suggest that you read Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s essay on the Pledge of Allegiance. At one time children were taught to recite it in class with outstreched, rasied arms much like the Nazi salute. You can do an Internet search and find the pictures.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo54.html

  • Huw

    I tried to explain secession from my imperfect view of subsidiary authority:

    Mr Shea,

    I agree we have a very violent culture preoccupied with violence. A culture of death. I agree there is a very dangerous argument being made by some that guns and violence are the answer to end statism. I know that is not the answer. But that does not mean the principle of subsidiarity and its practice should be disregarded. I think a peaceful reinstitution of subsidiary authorities can occur. Restoring independence to subsidiary elements within our society is essential to creating a culture of life. Christendom was not like the central state that the USA has been turned into. The authority of Fathers’, necessary to lead/protect their family, is an example of an essential subsidiary authority that is being/has been subjugated to the state. Independence (aka secession) from such subjugation must occur in order for that subsidiary authority to fulfill its role within a culture of life. Secession is occurring without violence. Homeschooling is a form of secession or independence from the Leviathan. Tomorrow I will attend the March for Life with some of my children for the 18th time. The March is an act that many take to declare their rejection of a culture of death and the Leviathan. Every year I hear discussion by other fathers and mothers at the March about separating from Leviathan in ways that do not harm others. The necessity of independence from the Leviathan has a strong tradition within the Church. Monasticism was essentially a form of secession that allowed restoration of subsidiary order. I disagree that any talk of political/economic secession is an endorsement of violence. I would suggest that a culture of life requires some form of secession from the Leviathan that imposes its culture of death. True federalism as sought by the Founders (some excepted) would allow such secession. Too many evils have been imposed by strong central governments like ours. I think peaceful secession is possible, but I agree there are elements of a gun culture that must be refuted. I own firearms and have served in the military and now law enforcement. I do not think guns per se are the problem.

    My own repentance and pursuit of virtuous living would be a good first step in secession from Leviathan. I think many Saints lived lives of secession that led to liberty – even political and economic liberty. That is what made the Founders secession from the British Empire possible IMO.

    As a convert I am very grateful for your book This Is My Body, it was a great blessing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000574231766 Janet O’Connor

    I too think it is sad that he will not even consider talking about certain topics. I used to post a comment on his blog, but I will stop because I don’t think he believes in free speech despite what he claims. He answers personally everyone he disagrees with.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting how some folks react to those of us who dare to object to the inherent nature of government coercion when we point out the ugly truth — the threats of violence and outright violence if you don’t comply with their every whim once enacted in law, no matter how much it violates liberty. Its as if they are being forced to look in the mirror and seeing the truth, can’t possibly accept the truth — that they are quasi-authoritarians actually willing the threat of incarceration or death on those with whom they philosophically disagree. It is why they must paint us as “the crazies”.

    And they wonder why many of us don’t trust them with gun laws. Or maybe they know all too well, and they hate that as much.



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