19

Occupy the Republic?

A memorable moment in the Occupy Wall Street movement this month took place in Atlanta, when Congressman John Lewis (D, GA) showed up and expressed a desire to address the assembly.  Rep. Lewis has a busy schedule, and when asked to wait his turn he walked out.  Elitist types on both ends of the political spectrum took it as rude, or insufficiently deferential, that the agenda was not altered to make way for the important man to speak immediately.

For a revolutionary situation, however, a snub may be contextually appropriate.  The overriding consideration is that the 99% (or the activist portion thereof) are trying to respond to the royal mess made by important people — “the 1%.”  In that context it is right and just that we the people move on our own to reorder the world, and that we rise up to address our own needs, rather than bowing to a system which caters mainly to the wants and preferences of the few.

“Occupation” in 2011, and the Tea Party some months before, may or may not exercise significant contemporary impact on the USA.  Or perhaps these movements will serve only as “seed plots of history,” like the revolutions of 1848, which have been described as apprenticeships for Europe in republican democracy.

The same uncertain forecast can be applied to the “Arab Spring.” The rebellions began with popular uprisings in Tunisia, resulting in the downfall of the President (January 2011).  Then, in one country after another populist insurgents rose against autocratic dictators, notably in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.

A basic populist instinct common to the uprisings of recent months — Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party movement and the Arab Spring — is the desire for genuine progress.  In varying degrees this desire is universal.  But in the so called advanced nations, or First World, real progress is difficult to distinguish from dross.  The bewildering complexities of bureaucratized society, as well as the separation of powers, make it challenging and time-consuming for citizens to distinguish gold from iron pyrite, tonic from toxin.

Thus the criticism being leveled at the Occupy movement — that they have, so far, advocated no particular reform agenda — is an invalid critique.  It is like choosing a surgeon before examining the patient.  You don’t propose cures before you identify the maladies.

The Occupy movement is still in the process of forming a consensus on which problems to prioritize.  Its “Declaration” in New York City sets forth a long list of grievances, using much the same literary format as America’s Declaration of Independence.  And the similarity extends beyond literature to substance, in that the document penned in Philadelphia during the American Revolution was likewise a list of grievances, not proposals.  For the particulars of reform, the Declaration (1776) awaited the Articles of Confederation (1781) succeeded by the US Constitution (1787).

As the old French Resistance leader, Stéphane Hessel, puts it in his Indignez-Vous (2010):

[T]he reasons to be indignant can seem today less clearly related, or the world too complex. Who’s doing the ordering, who decides? It is not always easy to differentiate between all the currents that govern us. We are not dealing any more with a small elite whose joint activities can clearly be seen.

Unlike the polity and the economy, however, the domain of culture is quite explicit.  Also it is at once the most depressing for Christians to contemplate, and the most promising.

First consider the pessimistic side of the cultural sphere:  Postmodern society in America is like Saturn who devours his own children, reminiscent of the worst years of the French Revolution – La révolution dévore ses enfants” (Danton).  The postmodernist revolutionary regime of today kills babies in the womb by the millions, while by the tens of millions it destroys religion and morality among America’s youth.  In place of the Holy Trinity, kids are taught to worship at the altar of a secular trinity — tolerance, diversity and choice.

More optimistically, however, the culture still has many citizens of good will, young and old.  Such people are increasingly outraged by the drift away from our country’s spiritual and ethical heritage.  Recent polling indicates that large majorities are not only angry, but perceptive enough to recognize that the nation is like a train which has jumped the track.

This feeling of intense concern is a good cultural indicator.  Indeed, if complacency was the prevalent feeling, and Americans exhibited no anger, we would be quite justified in pessimism:

He who is not angry where he has cause to be, sins.  For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices; it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong.  [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, quoting the attribution to St. John Chrysostom]

But to the extent that anger and outrage have given rise to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, let us take heart.  We can be optimistic also about the extensive sympathy among Americans for the Arab Spring.  Furthermore there is hope abroad in many nations that someday we the people of the world’s greatest military and cultural superpower will rekindle the spirit of 1776.

After accepting my congratulations on his “Arab Spring,” a Middle Eastern acquaintance replied recently, “now we’re wondering when you Americans will have yours.”

Could it be that America is currently in the process?  If so I believe that Catholics have the duty to join and help set the direction.  If moral conservatives — maybe also some Tea Party advocates — enter into the Occupy movement, then the combination would be both more potent and more likely to produce something good.

[ See also my series on Occupy Seattle. ]


Bob Struble is a retired history teacher, and a writer of books, articles and poems. He is Lecturer for the Knights of Columbus in Bremerton WA, and is an associate editor at Catholic Lane.
  • goral

    “After accepting my congratulations on his “Arab Spring,” a Middle Eastern acquaintance replied recently, “now we’re wondering when you Americans will have yours.””

    Perhaps, Mr. Struble, your acquaintance was referring to – when we’re going to overthrow the Obama regime which has brought an economic freeze, a spiritual chill and a social hip-hop cool across America.
    That is indeed what we must do.

    The Arab Spring is a movement of Islamists against any other way of thinking in that part of the world.
    I have an Egyptian young lady in my class who was crying to me last week that they are murdering Copts
    in her country. She is a Coptic herself as the mandatory tattoo Cross on her inside wrist shows.
    She was thankful to get out but she cries for her family. She said they can not get US visas while our embassy IS giving visas to Muslems. She has the information.

    You are narrating such a cacophony of relationships that I don’t know where to begin the un-weaving. I will defer that to some of the other regular posters who have better literary talents. Mine is in engineering.

    The one distinction that I can make to counter your association of Occupy with Tea Party is that any Tea Party member, and I know many, can give you a great lesson in American Revolutionary history while the other can recite in some coherent, sympathetic way the demands of the Bolshevik Revolution but not much else.

    As a history teacher you should understand this full well and not muddle the stark distinctions.

  • noelfitz

    The Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements may show real democracy in action, but Coptic Christians may not look kindly on the Arab Spring.

  • Mary Kochan

    My thoughts exactly, goral and noel. Bob, I really don’t know how you can conscionably keep up your enthusiasm for the “Arab spring” in the face of the slaughter of the Christians.

  • These children have never had to risk anything or make any sacrifices; they have no stature, and they certainly are not the Founding Fathers. I don’t think faithful Catholics need to give them the time of day.

  • Goral. I heard a speech yesterday at Occupy Seattle that recounted lots of U.S. history from the 1930s on, with no mention whatsoever of the Bolscheviks. A number of your fellow teachers were there, including one, a rally leader, who teaches history (not engineering) at Garfield High School.

    As for the Coptic student, I wonder if you would inquire as to whether her family wants Mubarak back. Revolutions are messy and dangerous, and I for one would be willing to be put in a situation (of short duration, hopefully) where I have to fight for my religious freedom, than live in a dictatorship where no one has political freedom. God grant that she and her family and the Christian minority of Egypt win their battle.

  • goral

    I will ask her, Robert. My early guess is that it would be a choice between the devil or the deep blue sea.
    Nevertheless, Mubarak never sent a tank to run over Christians seeking nothing more but legal protection. She described the scene in horrific terms. She said that blood and flesh splattered from under the tank’s tracks as if it ran over watermelons. Of course we had a news black-out from our controlled press.
    “Revolutions are messy and dangerous” yeah!

    The occupiers recounted a lot of history from the 30’s you say; That would be FDR’s The New Deal which implemented a series of socio-economic programs in response to the Great Depression.
    According to Wikipedia – “The New Deal produced a political realignment, making the Democratic Party the majority (as well as the party which held the White House for seven out of nine Presidential terms from 1933 to 1969), with its base in liberal ideas, big city machines, and newly empowered labor unions, ethnic minorities, and the white South.”

    No mention of the Bolsheviks, you say? They’re in there! The Occupiers are not satisfied with FDR’s programs which are still intact today, only strengthened by Johnson’s War on Poverty.
    S.S. is going bankrupt as it can not support all the spin-off welfare that it has to provide. FHA created a financial disaster along with the corrupt investors who willingly or by mandate played Russian roulette with mortgages. The protesters want this and more.

    The 30’s and FDR were arguably the worst period in our history as far as being detrimental to our economic and political freedoms. FDR later sealed a deal with uncle Stalin, whom he and Elenore both admired.

    Only a mediocre historian would not see Red in this whole new raw deal proposition. It’s obvious that the Occupiers want The New Deal response to Obama’s depression. They want gov’t authorities mandating and “providing”.
    Somehow this is suppose to translate into political and economic freedom that will usher in the American Spring.
    I can not follow the logic of this at all.

  • Goral: The fact is that Occupy Seattle, of which I have first hand knowledge, has neither a declaration of grievances (unlike New York City’s Declaration) nor a list of demands. Neither, as I tried to explain, did the D of I have a list of what the Founding Fathers had in mind as of 1776.

    One of my fears is that conservatives will label this movement, while it is in its infancy, as a leftist, pro-Obama plot. This could be a self-fulfilling prophesy if we boycott the Occupiers, and treat them as enemies. Better, I would think, to try to influence them in a pro-Christian direction.

    Today and yesterday at the Occupation site I talked to people about Catholic doctrine on labor and on social justice, and how much of what the Church teaches coincides with the ideas germinating in their movement. I can tell you that, except for the inevitable presence of the old socialist agitators who make sure to set up booths wherever possible, I could detect no sympathizers with Marxism.

    I’m reminded of Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” VI: “…there is nothing more difficult to plan or more uncertain of success or more dangerous to carry out than an attempt to introduce new institutions, because the introducer has as his enemies all those who profit from the old institutions, and has as lukewarm defenders all those who will profit from the new institutions. This lukewarmness results partly from fear of their opponents, who have the laws on their side, partly from the incredulity of men, who do not actually believe new things unless they see them yielding solid proof.”

  • Theodore Kobernick

    If I understand correctly, Robert Struble’s “Occupy the Republic” does not praise or approve of the Arab Spring.” He is citing it as an example of what appears to be a number of “popular uprisings.” Goral labels Mr. Struble a “mediocre” historian, asserting that Robert should “not muddle the stark distinctions.” Goral, it is not Robert Struble who lacks understanding here.

    Goral, you state that “engineering” is your speciality. Clearly your vision is more akin to engineering than to history. Suppose we draw an analogy between a situation in civil engineering – designing a bridge – and the political situation Mr. Struble discusses. The engineer does not begin to design a bridge by assembling a large team composed of a mix of professional engineers, plumbers, unemployed workers, and anyone else who wants to participate for a while. Next, the engineer does not deign a fragmented, multi-part abutment. The approaches are not designed to come from every direction, with no integration. The land the abutments stand on are placed on firm soil or rock. And so on. But most important, the competent engineer will know where the bridge starts, and where it goes to.

    But the political phenomenon Mr. Struble discusses has all of those complications and more. By its very nature it is a “muddle”.

    A rambling, shambling revolutionary (movement, drift, instinct, muddle – you pick the word) may come to nothing, as Struble says. It may die out, but leave “seeds” for future movements – as Struble also says. Or it may coalesce and become an overwhelming flood. We, unlike God, cannot know which – again, as Struble says. There is nothing mediocre in his article.

    You object to aspects of the “Occupy” phenomenon which seem crystal clear to you – Bolshevism, FDRism, and what-not. Count on it Goral, some of that is indeed there. But the historical basis for such thinking appears much clearer to you than to the participants. Moreover, as Struble says, there are other ideas among the Occupiers. Indeed , Mr. Struble made a journey of a few hours to make first-hand observations of the phenomenon in Seattle, so he writes as an actual observer.

    Finally, inasmuch as the United States was founded by revolution, it is pertinent to review some of the observations of the Founders.

    “Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad.” James Madison to Jefferson, June 16, 1798.

    “In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. Every government degenerates when entrusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe their minds must be improved to a certain degree. This indeed is not all that is necessary, though it be essentially necessary.” Thomas Jefferson, Mapp, Alf J., Jr., Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, p. 127

    “I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves. If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, & talk by the hour? That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected.” Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in Thomas Jefferson: Writings, p. 53.

    Finally, a comment by the lawyer / statesman / historian / Founder, which predicts and describes the crisis which has prompted the “Occupy” phenomenon in the United States: “It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in convulsion.” Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia.

    P.S. The “Occupy” people have a whole host of grievances – many are real grievances. Some are against the horrible attack on freedoms and basic civil rights perpetrated by Obama and his administration. Some are against capitalism in general. Some are against the banks that are “too big to fail,” and their cronies at the Fed and Treasury. Some just demand jobs, or oppose abortion, or want extended unemployment benefits, and some are protesting government-imposed inflation.

    These “popular” movements need not appeal to a MAJORITY to succeed. Ron Paul cited the revolutionary Samuel Adams (Boston mob, Boston Tea Party) who said that revolution does not require a majority, only a determined and courageous minority. If there is a revolution brewing, we would do well to heed Mr. Struble’s advice: don’t leave it in the hands of the Bolshi’s, but get in there and proclaim the importance of Christian principles. .

  • goral

    If Occupy Seattle has no grievances and no demands then why are they in the streets? They must want something!
    I will paste Theodore Kobernick’s list of possible wants here.

    “P.S. The “Occupy” people have a whole host of grievances – many are real grievances. Some are against the horrible attack on freedoms and basic civil rights perpetrated by Obama and his administration. Some are against capitalism in general. Some are against the banks that are “too big to fail,” and their cronies at the Fed and Treasury. Some just demand jobs, or oppose abortion, or want extended unemployment benefits, and some are protesting government-imposed inflation.”

    And we want to associate these demands with the Tea Party? Were (are) any of their members also occupiers? They also don’t like the Obama regime or crony capitalism or big gov’t or the big bailout that paid for more of the same. Why are they absent?
    Why are those who oppose the corrupt unions occupying city and state govt’s also absent?

    The Tea Party elected people into Congress to oppose big gov’t, big business and big banking. These know that they must all collaborate or nobody stays big.
    None of this thinking is coming from the occupy mobs.
    They want extension of benefits beyond 99 weeks? Are they all in wheelchairs???
    God help us, this is so muddled. The engineering mind can make no connection here between the piling and the pier.

    “how much of what the Church teaches coincides with the ideas germinating in their movement”
    Robert, I think that is a statement of presumption.
    These people do not know the Church nor do they want to know it.
    Bold statement fans! presumptuous as well, might be the response of some to my assertion. When I see or hear about Rosary beads from news commentators, I will retract that statement.
    I also know of social revolutionary movements. While I was not there at the Lenin shipyards when Solidarity launched it’s movement; I listened to Fr. Popieluszko’s speeches in his native tongue. I know of the occupation of Nowa Huta while the Great Pope was still a bishop. Religious and social movements make sense to me when there is a somewhat clear and stated purpose.
    Movements that lack clarity invariably get hijacked by the profiteers.
    Giving them the benefit of doubt is messy and dangerous thinking.
    The statements and ideals of Jefferson and Adams and Madison had clarity.

  • In the vestibule this AM after mass I was shocked to hear the news that a statue of the BVM had been vandalized during an Occupy Rome march. I watched the video of the event, and would tentatively concur with this take by Bill posting on the blog, Catholic Vote.org:

    “Vandalism never makes any sense, but this was just stupid. I wish I spoke Italian — wonder what they were yelling after the guy smashed the statue? It looked like the one guy smashed the statue, someone yelled what sounded like either “Hey!” or “Yay” (but who knows what that sound means in Italy?), and someone else kicked the base of it afterward, but that seems to have been it. So we have one anti-Catholic thug and (at least) one dupe. The rest of the crowd seemed more intent on chasing down the first guy. …”

    I would add that this appears to be an isolated act by a hooligan and/or anarchist, and does not mean that Occupy Wall St. is an anti-Catholic movement. It may become that (God forbid), but in the meantime let’s not get stampeded by a few cooks into a blanket condemnation of OWS, or stereotype even its offshoot in Rome on the basis of the actions of a few.

    The same principle applies, imo, to the atrocious treatment of the Copts recently in Egypt.

  • goral

    You don’t need to speak Italian Robert S., Italian hand gestures are international.

  • JKHgadfly

    The Occupy Wall Street movement is an international revolutionary effort sponsored by the communist party and fascists in an effort to destabalize and bring down the American government. They don’t want to take down Obama – they want to destroy our Constitutional Republic and replace it with their perverted form of dictatorial rationalism. This is the same tactic employed after the collapse of the German economy which led to the rise of Hitler and the nazis. We need to remember what Santayana taught us… If we fail to learn from the lessons of history, we may indeed be doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past. Go to EWTN and watch Fr. Benedicts show from this past Sunday if you want to know what is going on with these OWS demonstrations… Dr. Alice von Hildebrand: Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Fight against Hitler
    http://www.ewtn.com/tv/live/sundaynightlive.asp#ixzz1b5qy9vbE
    Please view Fr. Benedict’s show from this past Sunday. If we fail to learn the lessons of history, then we very truly could be in for a repeat – Catholics have a moral duty to fight against all forms of dictatorial rationalism!

  • goral

    Robert Struble, I did ask Susanne, the Coptic Egyptian. Coptic means Egyptian so that’s a redundancy. They are the true Egyptians, the Moslem Arabs knifed their way in hundreds of years later.

    I have to admit that I was wrong about Mubarak, afterall I am an American very susceptible to folly.
    Susanne, the engineer would take him back in a heartbeat. Now, for the rest of the story.

    About five years ago, Hasni’s wife came down with cancer. Somehow she was encouraged to pray to the Virgin Mary for healing, she miraculously got her healing. Her husband then proclaimed Christmas day a paid holiday throughout Egypt.
    For that reason he has been despised by the Islamist factions and of course Hillary and Obama.
    I knew there was a reason why our very own sympathizers with the devil also wanted him ousted.
    You and these others call that the Arab Spring.

    In this Arab Spring, thirty Copts have been brutally murdered. There are others still missing and floating in the Nile River whose bodies have yet to be recovered. Ten times as many are suffering with grave injuries and all of the fifteen thousand Coptic Christians face persecution.

    In the meantime, in Afghanistan, the last Christian church has been razed to the ground. All of this under the watchfull eye of American christians – a salt that has lost it’s savour.

    This young lady who proudly wears her Cross on her attire gave me more information during a half hour break than all the mediocre reporters and historians put together.

    • I’m sorry your Coptic student is so traumatized that she would, as you put it, take back the dictatorship in a heartbeat. What was it, Goral, that Ben Franklin said about exchanging freedom for safety? I believe he indicated that whoever would make such a trade deserved neither.

      • Mary Kochan

        Or, Bob, maybe she just values religious freedom over political freedom.

  • goral

    Correction, fifteen million Coptic Christians.
    If the christian west has its way, there may very well be fifteen thousand.

  • Of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Dr. Paul Kengor observes a movement (CL, 1018) “without nary a whiff of religious motivation.” I’ve spend part of five days at Occupy Seattle (last weekend we had over 3000 marching) and I have to admit that a pervasive secularism is also my concern. I did hear one Zoroastrian song, and one Buddhist chant, but nothing explicitly Christian voiced, or spelled out in signs. (There did happen to be one pair of street preachers on the outskirts, not at all involved with the protest.)

    I’ve been identifying myself as a writer for Catholic Lane, and wearing my 40 Days for Life hat, and I seem to be pretty much accepted. I don’t sense hostility to Christianity, but rather the same indifference or discomfort that I saw in the public high school where I used to teach contemporary issues. Thanks to the militant secularists who occupied the Federal Courts in Earl Warren’s day, we have an entire generation accustomed to a public square devoid of religion.

    Here is a big difference between OWS and earlier revolutions: The Islamic faith is omnipresent throughout the Arab Spring. In Poland, 1989, Solidarity and its leader, Lech Walesa, were openly and unapologetically Roman Catholic. The overthrow of Communism in East Germany began a few months later with Protestant church meetings.

    In 1986 the People Power Revolution which overthrew the Philippine dictator Marcos, featured candy and rosaries handed out to government troops. Cardinal Jamie Sin played a leading role in the revolution. From 1974–1999 the Revolution in East Timor for independence from Indonesia was sustained, and ultimately successful, thanks to inspiration from the Catholic religion and its clergy.

    There are many examples down through history of the key role of religion in revolution. See, for instance, the fine film, “Amazing Grace,” about the abolition movement in the UK. Christianity was a driving force also in the abolition of slavery in the USA.

    This revolution (if such it turns out to be) stands in stark contrast in that God is being ignored. Fellow Catholics: instead of sitting on the sidelines and badmouthing the idealistic people involved, how about if we enter into the protests, introduce our Christian worldview, and solicit the interposition of Divine Providence? I presume to say that, given an explicitly Christian presence and influence, God might be more inclined to bless the OWS movement.

  • goral

    That is a misapplication of Ben Franklin’s quote, Robert. Do you really think that militant Islam is capable or even remotely interested in granting religious or political freedoms? I submit to you that it is not. In any case, political, personal and religious freedoms go together.

    It was not Mubarak’s idea to tatoo all Copts. It was the Mullahs who demanded it from the gov’t. In an 80% Muslem population they get what they want short of killing them. Without Mubarak, they are free to kill. It’s the only kind of freedom that Islam values.

  • goral

    Asking God to bless this movement is like asking God to bless your daughter’s frat house party. The best thing she can do is get ottadere.

    “If you want money for people with minds that hate,
    I’m tellin’ you brother you’re gonna have to wait.”