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.)