By Elishama |

On October 17, 2018 Canada removed a 95-year old prohibition on cannabis, becoming only the second nation – after Uruguay – to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Pope Francis — at the 2014 International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome — spoke strongly against the legalization of drugs for recreational purposes. In 2017 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Liberal government’s decision to legalize marijuana “unwise” and “potentially dangerous.”

But now that marijuana is nonetheless legal in Canada, is it morally permissible for a Catholic to use it?

If one is talking about medical use – which has been permitted in Canada since 2001 – if prescribed by a physician, under proper controls and for a legitimate medical condition believed to be helped by it, then, yes, it is morally permissible. Recreational use however is an entirely different matter.

The law is a teacher and helps to establish social mores. As such, legalization sends a message to many people, especially to those who are impressionable, that recreation use of pot is morally acceptable.

Many people think the Church is against the use of marijuana because it was illegal. But this is not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offence” (No. 2291).

While marijuana may not have as damaging effects as harder drugs like methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine, it does create a temporary impairment of the mind, and regular use may risk detrimental long-term effects to the brain.

Recreational pot consumers use cannabis to induce themselves into a state of euphoria. Their intent is to get “high” and to alter their consciousness. This entails an alteration of their perceptions and faculties of cognition. Since human cognition is a precondition for making any decisions, to impair our cognition means impairing our ability to make proper choices.

Even when we are habitually predisposed to acting well, we know that consistently doing so is still a demanding task. We face temptations from within, in the form of unruly emotions and desires, and from without, in the form of alluring but spiritually and morally destructive activities and the inducements of less conscientious persons.

So when we are stoned, it is even more difficult to make good choices, like behaving modestly, treating members of the opposite sex with dignity and respect, refraining from inappropriate speech, avoiding potentially dangerous activities (like driving stoned), eating and drinking moderately, being faithful to one’s daily prayer.

And so the Church’s official position will always be against the recreational use of any mind-altering drugs. As with all her moral teachings, the Church seeks guidance from Revelation (as found in Scripture and Tradition) but also appeals to reason reflecting on what it means to be a human being and what type of actions fulfil or frustrate the teleology of our human nature.

The Bible does not directly address “getting high” but it does speak about drunkenness. Saint Paul admonishes, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and calls us to “live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness” (Rom. 13:13).

The same moral assessment on drunkenness can be applied to getting high. Getting high, like drunkenness, is objectively wrong. It temporarily diminishes our ability to think clearly and weakens our resolve to act properly.

The Catholic moral tradition teaches that for human beings to flourish we must think and act in accordance with God’s design and right reason. If any activity undermines or degrades our rational capacities, we have moral obligation to avoid that activity.

Intoxication of any sort impairs our consciousness, makes us less receptive to carrying out God’s will, and lends to conduct unbecoming of a human being and a Christian.

But alcohol is different from marijuana in that alcohol can be used in moderation; in other words, without getting drunk. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points to the key principle here applicable, that of temperance. “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine” (#2290).

By using alcohol temperately, it can have its intended effect of raising one’s spirits without altering one’s level of consciousness. Alcohol may represent a temptation to abuse – and in fact its misuse has caused untold harm to individuals, families and society – yet with moderation alcohol can be used in a morally responsible manner.

But unlike taking a glass of wine to relax, recreational use of marijuana is for the sake of getting stoned. It is true that you could ingest a miniscule amount of the THC in cannabis and not impair your reason but, talking realistically, who actually does that? People don’t do marijuana in order to stop after a mild buzz. They smoke or consume it with the intention of getting high. And a high is very easy got. Its mind-altering effects are felt almost immediately upon use.

So even though Canadian law may sanction the use of marijuana in order to get high, it still remains objectively morally wrong.

Freedom does not mean doing whatever we want as long as the law permits it. True freedom means exercising our human abilities in order to reach our intended God-given potential.

The effects on our physical and mental health of prolonged marijuana use are still being investigated and debated but there does appear to be potentially detrimental effects on intellectual ability and mental health, especially with long-term use from a young age.

The Catholic Church teaches that life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God and that we must take reasonable care of them.

As Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recently said: “Our bodies are ours to use, but we have to account one day to the Lord as to how we took care of them and what we did with them…. To steward our bodies well, we should abstain from substances that impair our decision-making and that harm our health. That includes cannabis.”

Or as St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body” (6:19-20).

By File:Canada Weed Flag.svg: Oren neu dagderivative work: AntiCompositeNumber (This file was derived from: Canada Weed Flag.svg:) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
By Elishama |

The argument is made that if homosexual partners love each other what is wrong with them finding pleasure in the sexual expression of that love, especially if they are in a “committed, long-term relationship”? The crasser version of this argument is, whatever two (or more?) consenting adults wish to do sexually is nobody else’s business, as long as no one is hurt.

One may respond to this argument from historical experience. Past and present experience has already demonstrated just how much effect private actions can have on the moral fabric of society. We have witnessed this with pre-marital sex. While originally presented back in the 1960s as solely a private matter between consenting adults, the eventual repercussions of its growth and social acceptance on rates of illegitimacy, the moral demeanor of adolescents, the stability and esteem of marriage, the acceptance and prevalence of contraception and abortion, on the psyches of children conceived outside wedlock (and often raised without their biological fathers), on state welfare programs, on civil law, on the courts, etc. have been beyond calculation. So while many argued pre-marital sex a private matter of no concern to others, its effects sure extended into the public realm and affected the common good and so is the concern of everyone.

This privacy argument has recently been reformulated into a directed question, ala Svend Robinson, along the following lines: “What difference does it make to you if my partner and I get married? How does it change your life in any real way?” This is as clever as it is naive or disingenuous. Why? Because it attempts to distract from the issue of objective moral norms and the common good, and even dismiss such concern if one cannot show direct personal negative consequence. Demonstrable self-interest (i.e. personal harm) is the only criteria it accepts. This is the criteria of a radical individualism and subjectivism. Used consistently such criteria could end public debate on any number of moral issues (e.g. “What difference does it make to you if the man down the street is sleeping with his daughter?” “How does it change your life in any real way if the U.S. invades Iraq?” “What difference does it make to you if companies start cloning human beings?”). The simple answer is, two men openly sleeping together may not have a direct and immediate impact on me per se, but this does not determine whether it is right or not. And given sanction of law it will make a difference on the sexual mores and institutions of our society. The common good should be of common interest. The recognition of same-sex marriage, for example, will be saying to all our children that a husband/wife or mother/father are merely optional for the family – and schools will be forced to teach that. Since public acceptance of homosexual relationships will affect the society in which we live it will have repercussions on me and my posterity. Private actions can have profound public consequences and that is of concern to me and should be to everyone.

But it is not only society at large that is affected. The participants who are sexually acting out are affected too. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “There is in sex a fury.” While at one level enchanting, sex easily becomes an obsessive craving (especially in men) or means of power (especially in women) that can coarsen one’s character and corrupt the way one thinks and behaves. Poet Robert Burns spoke from experience of the potential ill effect sexual license can have on the person: “It hardens all within/And petrifies the feeling.” Homosexual relations may make the partners happy at one level but at another cause serious harm to their character and personality and cost society dearly both financially (e.g. AIDS) and in its proper regulation of the sexual impulse. There is truth in the old Chinese adage: Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.

What is being popularly assumed today – that makes the case for the morality of homosexual relations seem tenable – is that sex is an autonomous matter, that everyone has a right to a sex life, that any type of sex act enjoyed between consenting partners is acceptable, and none of this has ill effects on one’s character or on society. We have addressed the issues of privacy, character and society. On the rights issue it needs be said that sexual relations are not an absolute right but, like most rights, a conditional one: based on right use, proper disposition and appropriate circumstance. Human rights are not subjectively based or civilly bestowed. Human rights flow from what it is to be a human being. Sexuality in human beings has an intrinsic nature and purpose. It is in seeking to fulfill that purpose that rights and responsibilities flow. Since sex is naturally ordered to procreation, as we have explained, then procreative-type genital acts are its rightful expression. The reason for this becomes clearer when we realize that the procreation of human beings, existentially speaking, is not the same as the reproduction of animals. Human life has nobility and worth that transcends that of mere animals. Since our sexual power can bring forth human life it too is imbued with a more transcendent significance than animal sex. How we treat our sex faculty, then, effects the way we look at the power of sex (i.e. as a means of participation in the creation of new human life) and the product of sex (i.e. the fetal human being). Since children need a stable environment in which to flourish, then the proper venue for sexual relations is within a committed, exclusive, and permanent marital union. Placing before the impressionable young the notion that pre-marital sex and deviations of the sexual act are as acceptable as marriage and conjugal love undermines the very basis of a stable and healthy society – the family – and perverts human sexual expression. Our society is a living testimony to this truth. Many people’s sex lives have become unstable and disordered; having gone from the permanent and procreative to the transitory and pornographic. The reverence for the sex’s power to procreate human life, and the human life thus procreated, has been denigrated by contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, and new forms of eugenics.

The generosity and sacrifice that is required if young couples are to marry and undertake the task of raising a family requires every support from the community at large. Anything that separates sex from the context of marriage and family undermines the difficult ideal upon which we all ultimately depend. And the acceptance of homosexual partnerships as equal to heterosexual marriage effects that separation in the most comprehensive way.

Homosexual sex is obviously deficient from a procreative perspective. Is it also deficient in terms of the unitive aspect? What can be said of the love between two homosexuals? First, love is not the same thing as sex. Love does not inevitably or rightly always lead to sex. There are different kinds of love. A person who loves sports does not necessarily want to have sex with athletes. Friendship is a form of close interpersonal love that does not necessarily involve sex. Friendship is possible between any human beings. The love between homosexual persons may be real in terms of being a true friendship but when that friendship seeks to express itself sexually it misuses the purpose of sex in a parody of conjugal love and distorts the type of friendship natural to those of the same sex.

To understand why it is a distortion of their friendship let us use a different example: The paternal love of a father toward his daughter is natural and good. It can be affectionate and even be considered a type of friendship. But if the father has a strong sexual attraction to his daughter as well then he needs to recognize that this desire is deviant and, no matter how intense or even mutual, refrain from acting on it. It is contrary to the nature of true paternal love. Sex is a primal urge and can seek gratification by disordered means. Incest is a disordered means, as is homosexuality.

Even an exclusive, permanent homosexual relationship, a rare thing in itself, could not achieve the authentic communion proper to true spouses. This is because the authentic communion of spouses is only made possible by a commitment to the real goods of human love and sexuality. Homosexual acts are not true bodily unions, being anatomically incompatible for coitus. But even the coital union of bodies is not the fullness of conjugal union. It is meant to express the union of two personalities. When into the coital union of bodies all the shared life and shared love of a man and a woman are poured then you have the sexual union in its fullness.

Why is this so? There is a one-to-one completion inherent in conjugal love that is possible only for couples of opposite sex. A man and a woman represent, each of them, half of human nature: each needs the other for completion. Homosexual partners represent the same half of humanity, lack the natural complementariness of a man and a woman, and so cannot bring each other to completion. Their sexual acts are therefore never truly unitive. Homosexuals cannot therefore claim sexual relations as a rightful and necessary expression of their love. The giving of the bodies sexually is meant at once to symbolize, express, and help effect the giving of the selves. This is also why the giving of a self and the receiving of a self, the union of personalities, belong in marriage, and precisely in marriage that is monogamous, faithful and indissoluble. They are not always found in marriage but they are not easily had outside of it.

Some will protest do we not want homosexual persons to be happy? Of course we want all people to be happy. But that is not all that sex is about or what love means. People can be apparently happy while engaged in immoral conduct like adultery. Happiness is often misunderstood, just as love is, as simply a state of emotion. It is not. If it were then no one could ever really say he is happy except in reference to his emotional state at a particular moment. Objectively, happiness involves a life possessed of certain basic material goods that allows one comfort and good health, a moral life possessing virtues that give harmony between one’s actions and what is really good, an intellectual life in possession of truth, and a spiritual life united in love with God. You can see the difference between this state of being and a person whose life is in flux and bother, driven by disordered passions, caught up in vice and rationalizations, weighed down by guilt or resentments, indifferent to or angry at God. Both persons can experience moments, maybe even prolonged occasions, of emotional jubilation but only in the former case is his state of happiness not dependent on it nor reducible to it.

As for love, if it were merely a feeling, a mood, an engaged couple could never honestly vow their love to each other. Moods by their very nature are fickle while vows are steadfast. Only love understood as a self-donating commitment to another and a concern for his or her wellbeing can be vowed. Love keeps in mind the other person’s ultimate good. Such love is demanding, self-sacrificing. It should also take into account the common good of all. For love of a particular person never permits one to ignore or undermine what is in the best interest of others including society as a whole. We must love our neighbour too.

This leads to a final but important point. The sexual instinct does not exist just for the good of the person but also for the good of society. The sexual difference between men and women is in view of their sexual union; and their sexual union is in view of having offspring. The act of procreation is the only biological function of man that is for the common good of the race rather than simply the private good of the individual. The continuation of the human race and the healthy formation of its new members requires above all things an ordered framework of life. Yet these goods are entrusted to sex, which of itself makes for chaos. How to reconcile these two irreconcilables? This is what marriage does. The critics of marriage have simply not realized how incredibly difficult, and how totally necessary, is the reconciliation it effects. In marriage sex loses none of its strength, but it serves life and love. This is why sexual behaviour cannot be left to personal whim but needs to be regulated by moral law; both divine and positive. Both Church and state law should reinforce the natural tendency of most human beings to indivisible marriage. Good moral and social conditions depend, to a large extent, on the normalcy and indivisibility of marriage. State acceptance and support of pre-marital sex, cohabitation, and homosexual relations undermines the stability and normalcy of marriage.
By Patrick Meagher | originally published on Farmers Forum.

What if I told you that I had a new product that I knew would make tons of money but there were just a few health risks? What would you say?

If you cared about your fellow citizen, you would likely ask, “What are the risks?” My product will make tons of money for me and the tax revenues will be enormous. But there is a link between my product to addictions and damage to brain development among youth.

“Okay,” you say. “Let’s limit your product to adults.”

Yeah, that should work.

“Are there other risks?”

Well, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Paediatrician Society say that my product is also linked to depression, anxiety, psychosis, lung problems, asthma and emphysema.

As a reasonable person, you might reply: “You’re starting to worry me. Has anyone else looked at your product?”

The World Health Organization offered a small critique. But I’m telling you it will make tons of money.

“What does the World Health Organization say?”

My product will impair the user’s learning capabilities and memory, such as free recall of things you already learned. The product also impairs motor coordination and once you take my product you might have the affects of the impairment for up to 24 hours. If you use my product long-term it could lead to greater impairment. In fact, you might not recover from that impairment and it could affect how you function in daily life.

“That sounds like poison,” you might conclude. “Nobody is going to want to buy that?”

Are you kidding? According to the United Nations, Canadian youth are the most frequent users in the developed world. My product is new because it would be legal.

“So, it’s Illegal now? But if legalized you will make a lot of money. Is there anything else I should know?”

Canada’s police chiefs have said that if we legalize my product – which would make tons of money, by the way – crime would go up because of the need for cash to buy my product and there would be an increase in car accidents.

“So, like sniffing model airplane glue, your product can permanently tinker with one’s brain, inspire breaking and entering and now you’re telling me I am going to get a call in the middle the night saying that your product killed my aunt Jane on the Hwy 7.”

Think about it. It is going to make me tons of money, lots of tax dollars for the government and there’s demand for it.

“Why on earth is there demand for this sh--?”

It helps people relax and you only need one of my product to suspend reality for hours.

“Only buy one and you can’t drive?”

It’s therapeutic.

“You mean it makes people lazy and forget their responsibilities?”

It’s a nice product. You can make cookies out of it and candy in shapes of animals.

“And give them to children? You’ve just shut down Halloween.”

No one would give them to children.

“Of course, no one would.”

With proper education risks can be minimized.

“Not eliminated?”

My product will be regulated by the way and will make some people tons of money. I’m telling you that our youth want it.

“Would you encourage your teenage son to buy your product?”

He’s not interested.

“That’s not what I asked. I don’t think you’re being truthful.”

It’s his choice.

“It’s a bad choice.”

Well, that’s your truth. My truth is that it will make tons of money. Our youth want it. So do adults and it will be legal on Oct. 17.

"Does anyone care?"
By Elishama |

I must confess that the topic I will speak on today makes me uncomfortable. I suspect it must make you uncomfortable as well to hear me speak about it. For I want to address the scandal that continues to rock our Church: reports of clergy who sexually abused minors.

We have all been reeling this last month with the revelation that former Cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a minor and later seminarians and priests; that fellow bishops knew about it but did nothing; and that it did not even prevent his being promoted.

We have also heard about a Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania which found that over a period of seventy years 301 priests, deacons and religious in six dioceses were accused of abusing over 1,000 minors (by “minors” they mean anyone under the age of 18).

And most recently (and locally) we have heard again about Fr. Barry McGrory, who claims that he admitted to former Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde that he was sexually addicted, attracted to adolescent boys and girls, and asked for help. Instead, he says, he was transferred to Toronto to head an organization that supported the northern missions – only to be convicted in 1993 of sexually assaulting a 17-year old Native boy. There are at least five other persons who have accused him of abuse in incidences that go back to the 1960s and 1970s.

So, what am I to say? What can I say!

First, I want to extend my deepest sorrow and apologies to the victims of the sexual abuse that has occurred in the Church; to them and their family members who suffer with them. My heart goes out to you. Such abuse can destroy faith, can destroy lives. Their suffering needs to be addressed. They need to be heard. Justice needs to be done.

My heart also goes out to all of you, dear parishioners, who have probably had your own faith tested by these continuing revelations and who may have to deal with family, friends or colleagues who challenge or ridicule your fidelity to the Church in the light of this scandal. It makes it harder to be joyous or proud to be Catholic.

I also sympathize with innocent clergy who are now viewed with suspicion and even maligned for things of which they had no part.

Like you I get frustrated, ashamed, and angry that this abuse has occurred and that for decades those to whom many victims turned, the leaders of the Church, our shepherds, frequently failed to deal adequately with the problem, have not infrequently protected the perpetrators, or sometimes been perpetrators themselves.

As Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recently said: “The scandal affects us all…. How can this not upset us? It involves a betrayal of trust and it wounds the hearts of Christians everywhere who hear the pain of the victims and question the integrity of the enablers who did not intervene.”

This whole scandal seriously undermines the sacred mission of the Church, entrusted to Her by Christ Himself, to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and to sanctify souls. For although priests and bishops are merely human beings (and the Church is bigger than just them), nonetheless they have a God-given authority and mission, are the public face of the Church, and are meant to be, in the words of St Paul, “ambassadors for Christ.”

A bit of history. The revelations of clerical sexual abuse first came to public attention in the United States back in the mid-1980s, most notably with the case of a Louisiana priest who pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. But it began to encompass the entire American Church after the Boston Globe published its famous 2002 expose.

As revelations of clerical sexual abuse surfaced across the nation, the USCCB commissioned an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as to the nature and scope of the problem. In 2004 the John Jay Report was released. It is the most comprehensive study on child sexual abuse of any major organization ever conducted. The Report found that 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse of a minor (that is to say, someone under 18 years of age) had been made against 4,400 priests and deacons serving in the US between 1950 and 2002. That was about 4% of all clergy in the US during that period. Shockingly, 149 priests were responsible for almost 27% of all the allegations!

Of the more than 4,000 substantiated victims that the John Jay Report investigated, 19% were female and 81% were male. Of the male victims 77% were between the ages of 11 and 17, 13% were 10 years of age or younger. On average female victims tended to be younger than the male victims.

Whereas in the general population adolescent victims of sexual abuse are overwhelmingly female, the pattern among American Catholic clergy is quite the opposite. The majority of their adolescent victims were male.

The vast majority of the abuse cases found in the John Jay Report occurred from the mid-1960's to the mid-1980's. They peaked in the 1970’s and then began to decline. By the 1990’s the reported incidents of abuse were back to 1950’s levels.

In Canada the scandal erupted in 1988 with allegations of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The next year similar allegations were made against another facility run by the Christian Brothers: St. Joseph's Training School for boys in Alfred, Ontario, in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Soon allegations against individual priests of the Ottawa Archdiocese began to surface. In all eleven priests of the Archdiocese have been accused and seven convicted of sexual abuse against minors.

Since then clerical abuse scandals have arisen in many other countries; notably Ireland, Australia and Chile.

I wish I could say we are over the worst of this whole tragic episode. I don’t know, but I doubt it. Other American states will likely follow suit with Pennsylvania in setting up their own Grand Jury Investigations. Maybe similar type investigations will commence here in Canada? Other nations have still to begin, or to dig more deeply, into this whole matter. I think we will be hearing more about abuse scandals in the future.

While such a prospect is very troubling, I believe it also very good. Why? Because these things happened in the dark, they receive their power from the dark, and will continue as long as they remain hidden in the dark. But the light exposes them and ends their power. The light is stronger than the darkness. So, we must bring this evil to the light so that it may be faced and destroyed, and Jesus may heal.

I also think it is very good because all this can lead to a purification of the Church. It is a means by which Christ can cleanse His Temple, wash clean His Bride, and make Her beautiful once more. But it will not be pleasant thing to go through. The Resurrection will only happen after the Crucifixion.

And as this purification occurs many good Catholics may be tempted to give up in despair and disgust. It is understandable. But what should we do? We should look to Jesus and make the words of St. Peter our own: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

I firmly believe that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, founded it to bring His revelation and His salvation to the world. The Church is His Kingdom on earth. He is the sower, it is His Field. There may be weeds in the field planted by the Enemy but there is also a great deal of wheat. There is more goodness in the Church than evil.

So, we must cling to our faith. But we need to remember that our faith is not in priests, not in bishops, not even in popes. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. We need to keep our eyes on Him. He is the one that founded the Church. He is the one that promised the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

This is a time of trial for all Catholics. The Church may become weaker and smaller but it is the Body of Christ. It cannot be destroyed, it will survive.

So, in this ongoing time of trial each one of us must make a conscious decision. A decision much like the one the Apostles had to make when Christ was suffering His Passion: were they going to remain faithful to Christ all the way up to Calvary or were they going to run away? You and I now have to make that same decision: stay or flee. Are we going to persevere with our fellow practicing Catholics through this long Good Friday? Or are we going to leave?

What has happened and what is happening is horrific, tragic and disgusting, but the Church is not the only place where such things happen. They happen in many secular institutions too but are little reported because still largely hidden in the dark.

St. Peter speaks to this in his First Letter: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt 4:17). This cleansing is only starting with the Church - because the Church desperately needs to be cleansed.

So, this is not a time to fall into despair. It is not something we should run away from. We need to remain faithful. We need to continue to pray, to fast, and to gather together. We are going to go through some hard times but we have the promise of resurrection.

No matter what happens remain faithful to Christ. Remain close to Him in the Eucharist. Give encouragement to your brothers or sisters in Christ who may be close to giving up. We will get through this together! But, especially remain faithful to Christ by becoming the saint He calls you to be.

By Paul Malvern |

Learning from Each Other

Islam is a difficult topic for many people to discuss in a rational manner – in large measure due to the strong opinions held by partisans on all sides of the issue. For example, for some Muslims, it is nothing short of blasphemy to discuss their religion with others in any way that does not recognize it as the last and perfect revelation from God. Then too, many Christians view Islam as inherently violent and an existential threat to their faith which must be resisted at all costs. And for those secularists who have an animus toward Christianity, accusations of Islamophobia represent a heaven-sent chance to engage in some good old-fashioned virtue signaling.

And then there are the terrorist attacks – which horrify everyone.

In such an emotion-charged atmosphere, discussing in any dispassionate way the world’s second biggest religion which boasts some 1.8 billion followers1 is challenging at best. To my mind this is a great pity since both Muslims and non-Muslims can learn a great deal from each other. And indeed a great deal of mutually beneficial knowledge transfer has occurred over the last 1400 years.

One good example must surely be the contact between Muhammed and the Christian monk, Bahira, (aka Sergius) who is said to have had a significant impact on the founder of Islam – and whom a number of scholars believe may have been responsible for the inclusion of those elements in the Qur’an that are close to Christian teachings.2 (Sadly for Christians, this particular monk was also a member of a heretical Christian sect – possibly Arianism or Nestorianism – which has caused difficulties for Christians ever since.) Later on, Christians continued to influence the early history of Islam – one very good example being the work of Christian intellectuals and administrators in Iraq who were held in high esteem by Muslim rulers following their invasion of that country. For, having a greater level of education and more administrative experience than their newly arrived Muslim rulers, they continued to teach at universities and other educational institutions and hold senior administrative positions in the new regimes.

For their part, Muslim scholars and scientists played an important role in enriching the knowledge-base of medieval Europe through their own research and through their work in transmitting the writings of classical Roman and Greek authors to Western Europe, where these manuscripts formed the foundation of European knowledge in the areas of science and medicine up until the Enlightenment.

Even now there is much that Christians and Muslims can learn from each other. For example, the West has a vast storehouse of scientific and technological knowledge that can be of great benefit to the Muslim world. And it has much to teach Islam about the importance of tolerance and protecting the rights of minorities (lessons learned in the West through hard experience over the last millennium) which could temper some of the worst human rights abuses seen in a number of Muslim countries. For their part Islam’s greatest minds have much to teach the West particularly in such areas as the centrality of God in human society and the importance of following His laws and trusting in Him – lessons which many in the West have rejected, much to their detriment.

Ibn Khaldun – A Universal Genius

One of those great minds must surely be the 14th century historian, sociologist, jurist, teacher, and statesman, Ibn Khaldun, whose magnificent work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, has much to teach us about human society even today.

My own introduction to this remarkable man and his ideas occurred when I was studying Arabic in Tunis, the city of his birth, where one of the streets near where I lived was named after him. During my time there, I heard frequent mention of the man and his many accomplishments – which is hardly surprising since Tunisians of all political and religious stripes are rightly proud of this great scholar. And well they might be, given the deep insights contained in his writings and the breadth of his vision of human society which transcends time, place and culture. For this was a man who in his role as a statesman and a jurist active in many quite different countries across the Muslim world saw firsthand what works and what doesn’t work in human society and government.

Much of what he has written and which has been written about his life reveals a complex and thoughtful man who was well placed to comment on the world of his time, given his close association with many of the key figures in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East. Of special interest were his lengthy discussions with the Mongol Emperor, Tamerlane (aka Timur), whose empire stretched from India to what is now Turkey and who was responsible for killing 5% of those human beings living at the time.3 This close contact with the great military and political figures of his time provided him with deep insights into the nature of power, the functioning of societies, economies and political systems, and the stages of development through which nations and empires pass before eventually succumbing to their own vices, foolishness and internal contradictions. From his writings, it is clear that he used these encounters to great effect. And his detailed observations and his insistence upon employing a rigorous analytical methodology have caused many to call him the father of both sociology and economics.

Unlocking the Code

Of course, for many in the contemporary West the idea of reading the work of a long dead Muslim historian who lived in a very different time and place may seem daunting, if not ludicrous. After all, what can such a person possibly say of value to those of us living in the technologically advanced West? Well, quite a lot really! For while technology changes, human beings do not – which means that their motivations, behaviour and errors remain very much the same, no matter what the state of technological development might be.

Even so there is a bit of cultural translation that is required for Western readers dipping into Ibn Khaldun’s thought. One such problem involves the many names, places and events cited in his book plus some of the specialized terms he uses. Coming as they do from the Arabic, Persian or Berber languages, these can be a bit daunting for those not previously exposed to these languages. In my experience, one of the best ways to address this difficulty is by simply glossing over such names and words – very much as people do when reading Dostoevsky’s novels. For what most readers are interested in are the concepts, not the nitty-gritty of North African, Arab, or Persian politics and linguistics in the 14th century.

Another much more important problem involves an issue which lies very much at the heart of Ibn Khaldun’s historical analysis – namely, the conflict between affluent city dwellers and those barbaric or semi-civilized tribes living on the periphery of civilization. Living in the 14th century Islamic world where nomadic tribes (e.g. Bedouin) could be found living close to many settled population centers, such a tension would have been obvious. However, for those of us living in the industrialized West, such a tension may not be instantly apparent. Still, before we dismiss this concept out of hand, it is important to note that for much of human history this tension has been a more or less universal reality. And indeed this conflict is a matter that many historians continue to discuss – the most famous being the great historian, Arnold Toynbee, who refers to these groups of poor and sometimes violent people living on the border of rich countries and empires as the ‘external proletariat’. While Toynbee is talking about largely the same phenomenon as Ibn Khaldun (namely, masses of poor people looking enviously at societies that resemble huge treasure troves of poorly guarded wealth), his term for the phenomenon has a more familiar ring to those who have studied sociology or been exposed to the ideas of the Left. And it’s safe to say that this particular concept now seems more credible than it used to in light of daily news reports dealing with the masses of poverty-stricken migrants flooding into Europe, the United States and now Canada. All of which suggests that our current world may not be all that different from that of Ibn Khaldun.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the key concepts in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of human history and how they may apply to the world in which we live.

Ibn Khaldun’s Great Work – An Introduction to History

While Ibn Khaldun’s literary and scholarly output encompassed a wide array of topics ranging from logic, to theology, law, and the history of the Arab and Berber peoples, the book for which he is best known must surely be his multivolume work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, which attempts to track the history of the world as he understood it up to the time of writing. The power of this masterpiece, which weaves together philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics and history, to reach across the centuries and national borders is shown by the wide array of intellectuals and public figures who have sung its praises. This includes such famous individuals as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, economist Arthur Laffer, science fiction author Frank Herbert and British philosopher Robert Flint. One of his greatest admirers, historian Arnold Toynbee, declared Ibn Khaldun’s book to be, “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.”4

The Task of the Historian

Part of the book’s success lies in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of what history is and how historians should undertake the writing of history. In the world in which he lived, many – if not most - historians confined themselves to chronicling dynasties, rulers, and important events. For Ibn Khaldun, this approach was a sterile exercise which missed the most important point about history – namely, that it is about people and how they behave both as individuals and as members of society. Given this understanding, he held that historians should seek to explain the underlying economic, societal and cultural forces that cause events to unfold as they do. And since the study of history embraces all of life, he believed that it should draw upon a wide range of disciplines to discover the forces that drive human history.5

The Importance of Group Cohesion

One such powerful force that played a central role in Ibn Khaldun’s thinking was what he calls Asabiyyah – a difficult term to translate into English which can be roughly thought of as unity, group cohesion, a sense of common purpose, social solidarity … or all of the above.

According to Ibn Khaldun, possessing a strong sense of social solidarity and a common purpose has over the ages allowed many weak, less-advanced, and numerically smaller groups of people to conquer large, rich, powerful and technologically advanced nations that have become decadent and corrupt. For having lost their sense of social solidarity and group cohesion, such wealthy nations become soft and lack courage and patriotism – thus fatally weakening their will to fight and their ability to defend themselves. To support this thesis he points to a very striking incident in history where a small, ill-equipped Arab army, whose members possessed a powerful sense of group cohesion due to their shared religion and common desert origins, was able to defeat a much larger and better equipped Persian army with a weaker sense of group identity.

Recent history suggests that this principle continues to be valid today. Take for instance the defeat of Soviet forces in Afghanistan which were forced to withdraw from that country in the face of dogged resistance by ragtag bands of ill-equipped guerillas often armed with little more than rifles and grenades. Or the experience of American forces in Vietnam which, while vastly superior in equipment and technological prowess, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a much less sophisticated army made up largely of peasants.

Of course, the power of group cohesion is not restricted just to the realm of warfare. For it can also operate in the realm of politics – as seen time and again these days in Europe and North America where minorities and small, cohesive and highly motivated groups of people daily exercise influence far out of proportion to their numbers. Good examples include the powerful influence exercised by African-American politicians at all levels of government in the United State and the remarkable ability of Quebec to impact the Canadian national agenda. Even more striking is the disproportionate influence enjoyed by small, cohesive groups of LGBT and feminist activists - not infrequently with funding from wealthy donors and with the full support of our political and judicial elites - who have succeeded in overturning centuries-old customs and laws dealing with marriage, adoption and abortion, often contrary to the wishes of the great majority of the population.

The Rise and Fall of Regimes, Nations and Empires

Of particular interest is Ibn Khaldun’s use of the concept of Asabiyyah in explaining the rise and fall of regimes, nations and empires. According to Ibn Khaldun, nations go through stages of life similar to those experienced by human beings. They are born. They mature. They grow old and become senile. And then they die – only to be replaced by others.

At the heart of this societal or dynastic life cycle, he believes, is the strength of group consciousness, which he views as critical to the health and survival of nations. For as he points out, “Group feeling produces the ability to defend oneself, to offer opposition, to protect oneself, and to press one’s claims. Whoever loses it is too weak to do any of these things.”6 Unfortunately for nations and dynasties and those who live in them, group feeling varies in strength over time. Initially, when power is first seized, it is at its height. Over time it declines, as those in power become more individualistic, self-centered and corrupt. Eventually this group feeling and sense of solidarity becomes so weak that citizens and their rulers lack the courage and will to defend themselves and their state. At this latter stage those disenfranchised or external groups who possess strong group consciousness and a sense of common purpose seize the reins of power and the cycle begins again.

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, the strongest and purest form of group cohesion exists among nomads (or the ‘external proletariat’ to use Toynbee’s term) – because such people are forced to maintain close ties with those around them if they are to survive. And because they live in a very challenging environment, they are forced to become tough and courageous. (In part, I suppose, because they have little to lose by dying in battle.) Once in power these people and their descendants change for the worst over a number of generations (usually about three) and the cycle of history begins yet again.

The Sociological Critique

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, as successive generations become more and more accustomed to wealth, material comfort, and sedentary living, they also become less noble, less virtuous, less honest and more interested in the pleasures of life. And for him one particularly troubling expression of this phenomenon is a general decline in morality.

One area in which he detects such a trend is the economic sphere where people are now willing to do whatever it takes (no matter how dishonest or corrupt) to get the money needed to support their increasingly sophisticated lifestyle. Over time this reaches the point where, “People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury, and usury.”7 While this moral laxity may initially be limited to relatively small numbers of especially greedy or unethical people, it quickly spreads to the population as a whole as competition for wealth increases and as people “adopt the qualities of their environment and company.”8

This growing wealth of society also disposes people more and more toward pleasure-seeking and overindulgence. While this may initially take the form of trying out new culinary delights, he also believes that it eventually expands to the “diversification of the pleasure of sex through various ways of sexual intercourse, such as adultery and homosexuality”.9 In Ibn Khaldun’s view these new forms of sexual expression come at a cost to society. For example, adultery results in confusion as to who the father of a child might be – with the result that “the natural compassion a man feels for his children and his feeling of responsibility for them is lost.”10 And homosexuality denies society those children who might otherwise have been born and who as adults would have contributed to the general well-being.

However, most troubling of all is the fact that this growing affluence also corrupts religion – which in Ibn Khaldun’s view has a profoundly negative impact on a nation. For as he points out, “When the strength of a man and then his character and religion are corrupted, his humanity is corrupted, and he becomes, in effect, transformed into an animal.”11

The Economic Critique

Judging from the lengths to which Ibn Khaldun goes in discussing economic issues in his multivolume work, he clearly believes that money plays a powerful role in influencing human behaviour and determining the fate of regimes and nations.

One of his most significant economic insights is that raising tax rates beyond a certain point actually reduces tax revenues while reducing tax rates spurs economic activity, thus increasing tax revenues overall. While such a phenomenon may seem counterintuitive to contemporary ‘tax and spend’ politicians, it has in recent years become widely accepted by many economists – with its theoretical foundations best explained by the now famous ‘Laffer Curve’ developed by American economist, Arthur Laffer. A good example of this can be seen currently in the United States where a potent combination of tax cuts, reduced regulation and the repatriation of manufacturing facilities has caused growth and employment to skyrocket. This ability of tax cuts to power growth and increase tax revenues was recently underlined by statistics from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which show that tax revenues for the first half of 2018 were $76 billion higher (a 9% jump) than those seen in the same period for 2017 - even though income tax rates were reduced in February of this year. This was supported by the Treasury Department which stated that it expects federal income tax revenues to continue to exceed last year’s figures for the rest of this year.12

Of course, this was not the only arrow in Ibn Khaldun’s economic quiver, for he also explored what happens when governments get overly involved in the functioning of the marketplace.

One such case involves the situation that occurs when a government or ruler becomes directly involved in the marketplace as an actual participant – an act he considers highly undesirable given its potential for harming the economy as a whole as well as the citizens who depend on it.

For example, because governments have much more money at their disposal, they can easily outbid private businesses when purchasing the resources, products and services needed to run a successful operation. And the power possessed by rulers and governments allows them to buy goods, resources and other assets at the lowest possible price - or even to expropriate them by force if necessary. Also, not wishing to offend those in power, many private sector businesses will be afraid to bid against their rulers or governments and may feel obliged to buy goods from them at an inflated price – goods which they may have to resell later on at a lower price due to poor market conditions. Plagued by these and many other aspects of unfair competition, a number of businesses will be forced into bankruptcy – which will in turn reduce the tax revenues received by fiscal authorities. Faced with lower tax receipts, governments may then succumb to the temptation to raise tax rates to make up the shortfall in tax revenues – which may in turn further reduce tax revenues for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, it is clear that Ibn Khaldun was a strong defender of property rights since he believed that attacks on private property represent an injustice which can bring about the ruin of a nation. He reasoned that attacks on people’s property remove their incentive to own and improve property – especially if they believe they are likely to have it taken away at some point in the future. And when the assets in question are commercial ones, this is particularly serious since it could negatively impact business activity. For the possibility of seizure would discourage people from setting up businesses – which in turn would reduce employment and take away people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. When this happens, “the business of civilization slumps and everything decays.”13

Summing Up

These then are just a few of the important insights which this great Islamic thinker has passed on to us - insights that continue to be relevant even today. For example, the link he draws between great wealth and the decline in the moral fibre of a nation, patriotism, and religious feeling must surely give all of us pause to consider as we watch the world around us. And his observations on the impact of ‘tax and spend’ policies on the ability of citizens to provide for themselves and their families plus his defence of property rights should give all of us reason to be concerned as we watch governments of all political stripes continuing to pile up debt as if there were no tomorrow.

Still, while none of this makes for very happy learning, it nevertheless is learning that must be undertaken. For as the great philosopher George Santayana reminds us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Ibn Khaldun has done us a great service by telling us what worked and didn’t in his world. We can return that kindness by taking these lessons from the past and applying them to our current world in hopes of making it a better place for those who will follow us.

[1]  Pew Research Center. Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world. August 9, 2017. Retrieved from:

[2] “Bahira”. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

[3] Ed West. “The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed”. The Spectator. August 3, 2015. Retrieved from:

[4] “Ibn Khaldun”. New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from:

[5] Fida Mohammad. “Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Charge: A Comparison with Hegel, Marx and Durkheim”. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Summer 1998. p.27.

[6] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed.] Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [2005]. p.111.

[7] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [1967]. Vol.2. p.294.

[8] Ibid. p.294.

[9] Ibid. p.295.

[10] Ibid. p.296.

[11] Ibid. p.297.

[12] “Income Tax Revenues Are Up 9% This Year — Is Trump Tax Cut Paying For Itself?” Investor’s Business Daily. July 11, 2018. Retrieved from:

[13] Op. cit. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed. 2005]. p.238.

Photo Attribution: Tunisian Community Center [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Culture Witness |

Bishop Barron discusses Jordan Peterson's latest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

Here's an in depth analysis of Jordan Peterson's work. It's very good!

By Paul Malvern |

Revolutions are funny things. They start off promising a glorious future of freedom, equality and happiness – and frequently end up creating a world that is considerably less free, equal and happy than was previously the case under the old regime. Such would appear to be the likely end result of the Cultural Revolution currently raging though most Western, industrial countries. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of freedom of thought, speech and conscience – basic freedoms that until recently were held to be the cornerstones of democracy. For while virtually everyone continues to pay lip service to these ideals, the truth is that each year seems to bring more and more restrictions on our ability to think, speak and live our lives as our consciences demand – with the result that these basic freedoms are now more honoured in the breech than the observance.

The Totalitarian Impulse

To begin with, it is important to note that antagonism toward these basic freedoms is by no means a new phenomenon. For truth to be told, people have deceived, manipulated and oppressed each other as long as there have been human beings on the planet. It is as if there is something hard-wired into the brains of the more aggressive members of our species that drives them to shade the truth as a way to make their way in the world. If that means telling lies to deceive and manipulate others, well, ok. If that means making false accusations or inventing events that never happened or crimes that were never committed, well that’s ok too. Or if it means denying the citizens of entire nations the God-given right to know the truth and live, speak and worship according to the dictates of their conscience, well, so much the worse for them. The important thing for such people is to get what they want, no matter how it impacts others.

The Historical Record

Up until a few centuries back, the ability to recast the thinking of whole nations according to one’s own vision of the truth was limited – in large measure because of the lack of communication vehicles capable of reaching large numbers of people spread over a wide geographic area. Even so it did happen occasionally, particularly in the case of religion – with both Christianity and Islam demonstrating the power of great ideas to mould the thinking and behaviour of huge swaths of the world’s population. Still, dramatic as these historical events were, examples of social and intellectual transformation on such a grand scale were few and far between – up until the introduction of printing in Europe in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg.

And that, as they say, changed everything. For it was not long thereafter that people found that this new mode of communications could be weaponized - a good example occurring during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) where Protestants and Catholics used this new communications technology in their struggle against each other for the hearts and minds of an entire continent. By the time they were finished, up to 11.5 million people were dead – clearly demonstrating the power of the printed word and the mayhem that can be unleashed when governments and rulers use force to violate freedom of conscience and religion.

But as horrifying as this loss of life and property was, even worse was yet to come later on when the focus of the totalitarian mindset passed from religion to politics. For a little over a hundred years later the militant atheists and secularists who formed the intellectual core of the French Revolution gave the world a powerful lesson in what can happen when propaganda and terror are applied at the national level in hopes of creating a secular heaven on earth. In just a few short years this secular heaven they were determined to impose on their follow citizens became a literal hell on earth engulfing almost all of Europe in a series of wars that only ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

Even so, the totalitarian genie was now out of the bottle as more and more ideologues looked to the French Revolution as a model for how nations could be socially engineered to more closely resemble their own vision of a better world. Sadly, this drive to force one’s fellow human beings into a Procrustean bed of political and social virtue was to create quite the opposite of what these idealists had dreamed of – a fact clearly evident from the impressive body count that has piled up since then due to weaponized utopian fantasies. Hitler’s name comes quickly to mind – along with the 35 million deaths that resulted from the European phase of the Second World War that can be directly attributed to his handiwork. But to really get the big numbers you have to look at the death total resulting from the Communist experiments of the 20th Century – which may have been responsible for as many as 100 million deaths.1

With such a clear historical record of what all too often results from such misguided idealism, you would think that those in power around the world would have learned an important lesson – namely, that forcing the consciences of citizens and taking away their right to speak, think, and live as they see fit is a recipe for disaster. And so many did – at least for a while - as seen in the lofty principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Declaration of Human rights proclaimed in 1948 which among other things declared that everyone has the right to:
  • Life, liberty and security of person (Article 3); 
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (Article 18); and
  • Freedom of opinion and expression – including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Article 19).2
With noble sentiments such as these to live by you would think that the signatories – especially those countries with a long history of democratic government – would by now be glorious examples of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religious belief. And sadly you would be wrong. For, as we shall see, in recent decades there has been a trend in virtually every Western country to twist the original concept of human rights – i.e. a means of protecting citizens from governmental oppression and interference - into a vehicle for protecting governments and elites from their citizens.

Killing with Kindness – the Rise of Totalitarian Democracy

Of course part of the problem in thinking clearly about our current situation is that many of the concepts we might be tempted to use involve semantically-loaded words that evoke strong and instant emotional reactions. Words like ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’ evoke instant and positive emotional responses among most people – which is all the more noteworthy given the vastly different understandings people have of these terms. Similarly, words like ‘fascist’, ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ are universally negative words (which no doubt explains why they are so frequently employed as rhetorical hand grenades to hurl at one’s political opponents). Finally, there are those terms which, while powerful, mean diametrically different things depending on which side of the partisan fence you find yourself. For example, ‘conservative’ is a positive term for those on the Right while for many on the Left it is an insult. Similarly, ‘socialism’ is a good thing for many on the Left and a synonym for ‘hell on earth’ for conservatives.

Sadly, the word ‘totalitarian’ also fits into the category of those words that nowadays seem to generate more heat than light. For while the word was originally simply a helpful term for use by political scientists in describing those systems of government which exercise powerful control over all aspects of the political, economic and social life of a nation, it has by now been misused so badly for so long as to be of very limited use in any rational discussion. Still you fight a war with the army you have and you analyze political systems with the rhetorical arsenal at your disposal – which is why I will continue use the term in spite of its limitations.

Part of the emotional loading of the word ‘totalitarian’ results from our memory of some of the worst regimes of the 20th Century which have been quite correctly labelled ‘totalitarian’. These include such monstrosities as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe created following the end of the Second World War – the very mention of which evokes images of jackbooted storm troopers, cruel tyrants, concentration camps and armies marching off to war. Such mental images are far from helpful in analysing the current situation in the West. For while all too often accurate in the past, these tools for exercising control are no longer facets of regimes in the West, which – thanks to insights from social psychology and advances in communications technology – no longer require such crude instruments of power to manage and manipulate every aspect of the social, economic and intellectual life.

Recognizing the inadequacy of our understanding of totalitarianism, a number of historians and political scientists (both on the Left and Right) have coined the term “totalitarian democracy’ to describe those governments, which while seemingly democratic – given that elections are held – actually exclude the great mass of people from the decision-making process. Most notable among such academics is the late Israeli historian, Jacob Leib Talmon, who popularized the term in his book, The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy. In this book, he draws a sharp contrast between liberal democracy - which takes a pragmatic approach to politics and views many aspects of life as being outside the sphere of politics - and totalitarian democracy - which more closely resembles a secular religion animated by a form of political Messianism. Speaking of this messianic impulse, he notes that, “It recognizes ultimately only one plane of existence, the political. It widens the scope of politics to embrace the whole of human existence. It treats all human thought and action as having social significance, and therefore as falling within the orbit of political action. Its political ideas are not a set of pragmatic precepts or a body of devices applicable to a special branch of human endeavour. They are an integral part of an all-embracing and coherent philosophy. Politics is defined as the art of applying this philosophy to the organization of society, and the final purpose of politics is only achieved when this philosophy reigns supreme over all fields of life.3 While such governments may give lip service to freedom, they find it extremely difficult to reconcile individual freedom with their narrow vision of social justice. According to Talmon, this contradiction can only be resolved “by thinking not in terms of men as they are, but as they were meant to be, and would be, given the proper conditions. In so far as they are at variance with the absolute ideal they can be ignored, coerced or intimidated into conforming …4 So much for freedom of speech and conscience.

While Talmon’s comments nicely explain the ‘totalitarian’ portion of the term, the ‘democratic’ aspect is more complex, requiring a bit more explanation. For while such regimes are prepared to do pretty much whatever it takes to force their will upon their citizens, the reality is that no regime can base its rule for very long solely on force or repression. Ultimately, it must have the support of some segment of the population – at least initially – as well as some semblance of legitimacy. This is where elections come into the picture – providing as they do a democratic veneer to conceal the authoritarian reality lurking just below the surface. However, once elections are over, these regimes apply themselves to the all-important task of putting their utopian vision into practice, secure in the belief that they are the sole representatives of the people’s will – now and for the foreseeable future. Armed with this view of themselves and their sense of certainty as to the rightness of their cause, they press their will upon their citizens, tolerating no opposition and using whatever means of coercion are at their disposal. In the past, this involved crude propaganda, brute force and what amounted to state-sponsored terrorism waged against one’s own population. More recently, the emphasis has shifted more or less exclusively in favour of using the legal system to punish dissenters and criminalize politically incorrect speech, relying on a compliant (and at times complicit) media that can be counted on to parrot the ‘Party line’, indoctrinating the young in schools and universities, and using the full power of the state to reward supporters and marginalize or suppress those holding opposing views.

Dizzy with Success – The Progress of Totalitarian Democracy in the West

Back in 1930, Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, published a long essay in the Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, in which he condemned some of the excesses of the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture – a policy conceived and implemented by him which is said to have killed some 12 million people. One such problem which he condemned involved the ‘ease’ with which collectivization had been achieved – noting that, “successes have their seamy side, especially when they are attained with comparative ‘ease’.5 He went on to add that, “such successes sometimes induce a spirit of vanity and conceit … People not infrequently become intoxicated by such successes; they become dizzy with success, lose all sense of proportion and the capacity to understand realities …6

Such a statement could be said to apply to the social engineers who have ruled most Western countries since the 1960s, driven as they are by a sense of moral superiority and their own special brand of political millennialism. Convinced of the purity of their motives and the rightness of their vision, these would be revolutionaries have literally turned their nations upside down, leaving in their wake a trail of cultural, societal and moral debris that will take decades to clear away – that is, if we can ever get rid of these ‘masters of the universe’.

For currently not one institution of any significance has been left unscathed. Marriage is a mess – with almost one-half of marriages ending in divorce in some jurisdictions. Children are suffering the emotional consequences of growing up in single-parent families. Intergenerational warfare is being waged against young people leaving school, who find it increasingly difficult to get a good full-time job, who cannot afford to buy a house and start a family, and who are faced with the unenviable prospect of paying off the vast deficits that will be left behind when their parents and grandparents shuffle off this mortal coil and go to wherever it is that baby boomers go after death. As well, society has degenerated into a combat zone of competing groups not dissimilar to that seen in Hobbes’ state of nature with its war of all against all – with sexual, racial, linguistic, religious and class conflict the order of the day. And not wishing to leave even a scrap of spiritual comfort to those suffering under them, our current elites seem intent on marginalizing or eliminating Christianity altogether as a force for good in our society – a process that is being actively aided and abetted by not a few leaders of various denominations, including some elements within the hierarchy of the thoroughly modern and oh so progressive Catholic Church under Pope Francis.

And as with all revolutions (our current one being of the cultural variety), there is the inevitable death toll to be considered – which up to now has been largely restricted to unwanted unborn babies. As of the date of writing, this has amounted to about 4 million deaths in Canada since the overturning of Canada’s abortion laws and almost 59 million in the United States since Roe v. Wade. 7 Not content with this modern day Holocaust, Canada’s Supreme Court has recently overturned legislation prohibiting euthanasia – an act of judicial activism that promises to ratchet up the killing even more as the few restrictions and protections promised to us by the Federal Government magically melt away over time just as they did when Canada’s abortion laws were overturned. When that happens, it will be open season on the old, the sick and the disabled – particularly when penny-pinching government officials begin to appreciate the potential savings to the public purse that can be realized when we eliminate that very expensive last year of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens.

Taken by itself, all of this would qualify as a sufficiently damning verdict on the current state of Western civilization as reimagined by the social engineering of ‘our betters’, were it not for the moral and spiritual damage that has made all of this possible – and immeasurably worse. It is said that culture is upstream from politics – which is to say that cultural change causes political change and not the other way around. While this aphorism is widely accepted by many, the truth is that the spiritual is upstream from absolutely everything. One of the characters in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book, The Brothers Karamazov, is frequently quoted as saying that, if there is no God, all things are permissible. While actually something of a misquotation, it is nevertheless a very profound thought deserving of careful consideration. For it does seem that the very worst crimes of Western Civilization have occurred with greater intensity and frequency as the Sea of Faith (as Matthew Arnold called it in his poem, Dover Beach 8) has receded. Seen from this perspective, it is no accident that abortion has become a secular sacrament at the very time that people in the West have lost their sense of the sacredness of life. Apparently, all things are indeed permissible now that people no longer believe in God – at least in any sense that matters.

Reason to Hope

Even so, there is still hope – hope being one of the greatest virtues.

For me one of the greatest reasons to hope comes from the 17th century Czech genius, Jan Amos Komenský (aka Comenius), who envisaged what he called ‘the hidden seed’ – made up of those believers who keep the flame of faith alive in bad times (quietly and secretly if need be) and pass it on to the generations that follow in expectation of a better future when faith can once again burst into flame.

These are not good times for those of us who cherish the freedom to speak, believe and live according to the dictates of our consciences – especially since every passing year seems to bring with it even more assaults on these basic freedoms. But nothing lasts forever – and certainly not the kinder, gentler totalitarianism we see growing around us. And eventually Comenius’ dream will once again be realized – as it has so many times before.

  1. 1. “Mass killings under Communist regimes” Wikipedia. Retrieved from:
  2. 2. United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from:
  3. 3. J. L. Talmon. The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. New York: Beacon Press, 1952. Retrieved from:
  4. 4. Ibid
  5. 5. J. V. Stalin. “Dizzy with Success: Concerning Questions of the Collective-Farm Movement.” Retrieved from:
  6. 6. Ibid
  7. 7. “Number of Abortions – Abortion Counters”. Retrieved from:
  8. 8. Matthew Arnold. “Dover Beach”. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from:

photo credit: LaStellaBlu Like a bird in a cage via photopin (license)

One of the great ironies of life is that some of the greatest works of art and literature have been produced by people who are (to be charitable) not very nice.

A prime example of this phenomenon is the long dead Czech writer, Jaroslav Hašek, who authored one of the greatest satirical books of all time, The Good Soldier Švejk. To say that Hašek was less than an upstanding citizen would be an understatement of epic proportions. He was a bigamist - having married a woman in Russia while his first wife waited patiently for him back in Prague. He had a major problem with alcohol - which dogged him his entire adult life and which almost certainly led to or contributed to his early death at the age of 39. He was a ne’er-do-well who constantly sponged off his friends. He was a journalist, an author, an anarchist, a cabaret performer, the founder of a bogus political party, and a Bolshevik commissar in a small community in Russia not long after the Revolution.

In short, he lived a big life while possessing character flaws that were every bit as large.

Even so, he did have one redeeming virtue. Namely, that he was a great writer - whose incredibly funny book, The Good Soldier Švejk, is a classic that has stood the test of time.

At the heart of this book is his iconic character, Josef Švejk, a pleasant and woolly-headed chap whom scholars even now cannot quite figure out. Was he an idiot - as he himself claims to be in the book? Was he a crafty malingerer who used his apparent simplicity and foolishness as a cover for his cunning - as yet others suppose? Or was he a revolutionary hero subverting the military, judicial and governmental authorities of his time - as was thought to be the case by Communist educators in the former Czechoslovakia? Or, or, or.... The possibilities are endless.

What is clear though is that Hašek’s character, Švejk, was remarkably successful at surviving in a world gone mad – that is, the vast bloodbath which was the First World War. And he did it all the while by being polite, optimistic, pleasant, obedient to a fault, and quick to embrace orders that made absolutely no sense.

These qualities were, of course, a two-edged sword. For, while they ensured his survival, they also got him into trouble - big trouble. Good examples of this include his over-the-top enthusiasm for the Imperial Government - which pretty much everyone else had ceased to believe in - and his oft proclaimed eagerness to die a horrible and painful death for his Emperor in the trenches of the Eastern Front. It was this extreme and clearly misplaced faith in ‘his betters’ which ultimately convinced those officers and medical doctors unfortunate enough to cross his path that he was either a scoundrel, a fool, an idiot or a lunatic - or perhaps all of the above. With the result that a significant portion of his military service was spent in jails, prisons and hospital wards - thus frustrating his stated goal of dying in agony for his Emperor.

Showing great pride in having been officially declared an imbecile by army doctors, he very much enjoyed his confinement as a lunatic in a mental ward. For as he put it: “'I really don't know why those loonies get so angry when they're kept there. You can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, rage and bite. If anyone did this anywhere on the promenade people would be astonished, but there it's the most common or garden thing to do. There's a freedom there which not even Socialists have ever dreamed of.”

Still, this book, while hilarious throughout – especially for those of us who harbour a somewhat warped sense of humour – is not everyone’s cup of tea. For it clearly represents heavy going for those readers who possess rigid personalities or delicate sensibilities - given its earthy language and Hašek’s determination to gore every sacred cow in sight. That being said, it is important to note that Hašek is no school yard bully who preys on the weak and mocks the powerless. Rather he punches up - not down. For his harshest criticisms are reserved for those at the top – the hard-hearted individuals who control the soulless military, governmental and judicial bureaucracies that destroy the lives of those poor little human beings unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches. And while it is true that he does poke fun at the foibles of ordinary people, this is little more than good-humoured teasing that is not meant to leave a mark.

While the book is full of memorable characters, perhaps one of the most fascinating must surely be the military chaplain, Father Otto Katz, who employed Švejk for a time as his batman. To make a long story short, Katz was a very bad priest – whose sole reason for entering the priesthood in the first place involved a desire to improve his career prospects. From Katz’ rather twisted point of view, the priesthood represented a dream come true. It allowed him to earn a reasonable salary. He didn’t have to work very hard. And apart from having to say the occasional mass, he could do whatever he pleased with his time – which in his case involved playing cards, socializing and engaging in more or less constant heavy drinking. With pastimes such as these it is little wonder that he and Švejk got on like a house on fire – a friendship which ended badly when Katz lost Švejk in a card game to another officer, Senior Lieutenant Lukaš, who then became his new boss.

From the unflattering (and extremely funny) portrait of Father Katz contained in the book, readers might suppose that Hašek was not all that well-disposed toward the Catholic Church. And they would be right to think this. But if Hašek portrayed Holy Mother Church in a bad light, at least he did it with wit and humour - unlike many critics today - which to my mind covers a multitude of sins. And Hašek’s negative view of the Catholic Church (a sentiment still held by many today in the Czech Republic) is easier to understand when seen in the context of events in Czech history where the Catholic Church has from time to time played a less than beneficent role in that nation’s history. One such black mark was the martyrdom of the Czech national hero, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415 – an event for which Pope John Paul II issued an apology in 1999 in which he expressed regret for Hus’ “cruel death”, praising his “moral courage”. Yet another incident was the destruction of the Czech nation after the Battle of White Mountain (Bilá Hora) in 1620 and the brutal forced re-Catholicization that followed it - the memory of which continues to haunt the Czech Catholic Church even today. Such memories, once in the culture, do not die easily – and Hašek clearly did his best to keep this national grudge alive.

But while Hašek did not like the Catholic Church, he nevertheless does seem to have had considerable respect for Jesus of Nazareth, that great religious figure from whom every Christian denomination draws its inspiration. Commenting on the general injustice of the world and using Jesus’ crucifixion as a prime example, Švejk notes: “Jesus Christ was innocent too … and all the same they crucified him. No one anywhere has ever worried about a man being innocent.”

Consistent with this is a strong moral critique that runs throughout the work, including one particularly noteworthy warning against loose living (not a little ironic given Hašek’s very messy life) where he declares that, “After debauches and orgies there always follows the moral hangover.” A clear warning for our own generation as we watch the wheels come off Western Civilization!

Given the powerful moral undertone running through the book, it is safe to conclude that Hašek’s work is far from being the simple harmless fun many suppose it to be. For he frequently makes use of what might best be described as Galgenhumor – that is, black humour or gallows humour. And it is humour that rings true to life since Hašek knew what he was talking about. For he served in the 91st Infantry Regiment of the Austro‑Hungarian Army in the truly horrific First World War which saw some 41 million civilian and military casualties (18 million dead and 23 million wounded). This included the death of between 1.2 and 1.5 million Austro-Hungarian soldiers and total Czechoslovak casualties of about 185,000 (155,000 military personnel and 30,000 civilians). With butchery on this scale, Hašek had more than enough examples of human misery and military stupidity to draw on.

Happily, suffering on such a vast scale did not go to waste on Hašek whose portrayal of the insanity of war was masterful. Unfortunately, it was also inspiration which cost the author dearly, causing him enormous emotional pain – a reality evident from even the most cursory reading of his book. For his humour has an edge. It cuts like a razor. This is clearly a book that has a point to make – a point which Hašek is determined to make sure we get. And millions of readers around the world have got his point ever since the first segment of the book was published in 1921 – all the while roaring with laughter at the misadventures of poor, benighted Švejk whose fame has spread around the world, having been translated into some 60 languages and turned into numerous movies and made-for-television productions.

Of course, the real test of genius rests not on whether a literary work was well received at its time of publication, but rather if it is able to stand the test of time. By such a measure it is obvious that Švejk is indeed a classic since it continues to speak to modern readers every bit as clearly as it did back in 1921. Part of this is due to the wit and clarity of Hašek`s writing. But that’s only part of it. For many witty, well written books have fallen out of favour over the centuries, never to be read again – in large measure because they failed to address the needs of successive generations of readers. But such is clearly not the case with Hašek`s book which continues to delight readers around the world – and for good reason! For The Good Soldier Švejk is not simply about the comic misadventures of one somewhat foolish man living a century ago in Central Europe – as amusing as these anecdotes might be. Rather it is bigger than that – and more profound – a reality that becomes crystal clear when you take the time and effort to delve into it and read between the lines. For it is then that you see that this is a book that seeks to say something important about the human condition – which sadly does not seem to change much with the passage of time. Because, like it or not, the truth is that mankind and its failings remain very much the same as they were in Hašek`s time. Technology has changed, of course. And our economic and political systems are very different from those which existed in Hašek`s time. But the brokenness seen in all human beings and the terrible cruelty and stupidity of human society continue very much as they did when Švejk was written. Wars still rage. Injustice and bald-face lies remain a major feature of public life. And the heavy hand of corruption, the soul-destroying reach of bureaucracy, and the denial of freedom of thought and conscience continue to plague the lives of ordinary human beings very much as they did in Hašek`s time. So the need to laugh at the sheer stupidity of those directing our lives remains every bit as strong as in the past. Think of it, if you will, as a sort of psychotherapy which allows readers to remain relatively sane in a totally mad world that shows every sign of spinning out of control.

That’s where Hašek`s literary classic comes riding in to the rescue.

So lift a glass of good Czech beer to the memory of this great writer, whose compassion for the sufferings of the much abused ‘little people’ of his time justly qualifies him for the title of Patron Saint of the Common Man. May his memory continue to be revered and may his iconic character, Josef Švejk, (who lifted more than a few beers in his time) continue to delight readers forever.

Na zdraví!

Photo credit: By Jirka.h23 (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons