A SHOW ABOUT NOTHING:

June 22, 2006

How not to secede while really trying: Other countries cope with separatist movements. We cope with a never-quite-separating separatist movement (Mark Steyn, June 19, 2006, Western Standard)

Up to the eighties, the Cold War provided useful cover for Quebec’s bluff: the map was, for the most part, frozen. But, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, any folks who thought they were a nation could pretty much be one. And evidently Quebecers don’t, not in any meaningful way. Why not? They’ve got all the characteristics of a nation. Compared to their nominal compatriots, they speak a different language, they come from a different ethnic stock, they have a different (albeit mostly residual) religion. By contrast, Montenegrins are all but identical to Serbs in lingo, race, religion and culture. And yet 600,000 fellows up in the hills now have their own nation, and seven million Quebecers don’t.

You’ll search hard in Quebec for any signs of affection for Canada. The symbols of the state are all but absent. You can drive for hours in the hinterland and not see a single Canadian flag flying from anything other than a post office. The head of state hasn’t ventured any deeper into the province than Hull in 30 years. Her representative, the lieutenant-governor, isn’t allowed into the national assembly to read the throne speech.

Much of this is fairly recent. It’s well known during the blockbuster Royal tour of 1939 that the streets of Anglo Canada were jammed: a million turned out to cheer the king and queen in Vancouver, a million and a half in Toronto. But the Montreal and Quebec City stops attracted comparable crowds. As Their Majesties passed through Trois-Rivierès, 50,000 people swarmed the train station to sing “Dieu Sauve Le Roi.” The queen (i.e., the late queen mum) was asked whether she considered herself English or Scottish and replied that, ever since arriving at Quebec City, she’d been Canadian.

Sixty-seven years on, you’d be hard put to find anyone in Quebec City who considers himself Canadian, outside a few tourists in the bar of the Chateau Frontenac. Quebec “nationalism” did a grand job at lowering the province’s Canadianness to all but undetectable levels. What they failed to do was provide anything to put in its place. It’s an old political axiom that you can’t beat something with nothing. The Péquistes were very effective at transforming the Canadian something into a big nothing, and then they left it at that. But it seems you can’t beat nothing with nothing. Quebec nationalism successfully semi-detached itself from Canada, only to run out of gas in no man’s land.

Quebec is an object lesson in how multi-culturalism can remove any organizing principle whatsoever from a society.

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E PLURIBUS UNDER:

November 13, 2005

Howard watches his words (Matt Cunningham, 14nov05, Herald Sun)

PRIME Minister John Howard last night refused to back a multicultural Australia saying he preferred a cohesive, integrated society.

Asked if he liked the word “multiculturalism”, Mr Howard said: “No, not particularly.

“Different people have different versions of what it means,” he said.

“I’m in favour of drawing people from everywhere and when they come to this country I’m in favour of them becoming Australian.”

Try to have many cultures and you’ll have none. Odd that only the Anglosphere grasps that.


THE WAGES OF MULTICULTURALISM:

November 4, 2005

Intifada in France (New York Sun Staff Editorial, November 4, 2005)

If President Chirac thought he was going to gain peace with the Muslim community in France by taking an appeasement line in the Iraq war, it certainly looks like he miscalculated. Today the streets of the French capital are looking more like Ramallah and less like the advanced, sophisticated, gay Paree image Monsieur Chirac likes to portray to the world, and the story, which is just starting to grip the world’s attention, is full of ironies. One is tempted to suggest that Prime Minister Sharon send a note cautioning Monsieur Chirac about cycles of violence.

Back in the 1990s, the French sneered at America for the Los Angeles riots. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 1992: “the consensus of French pundits is that something on the scale of the Los Angeles riots could not happen here, mainly because France is a more humane, less racist place with a much stronger commitment to social welfare programs.” President Mitterrand, the Washington Post reported in 1992, blamed the riots on the “conservative society” that Presidents Reagan and Bush had created and said France is different because it “is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world.”

Small, petty, and unChristian it may be, but who can even pretend not to be enjoying this?

MORE:
Paris Burning (Robert Spencer, November 4, 2005, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In her seminal Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, historian Bat Ye’or details a series of agreements between the European Union and the Arab League that guaranteed that Muslim immigrants in Europe would not be compelled in any way to adapt “to the customs of the host countries.” On the contrary, the Euro-Arab Dialogue’s Hamburg Symposium of 1983, to take just one of many examples, recommended that non-Muslim Europeans be made “more aware of the cultural background of migrants, by promoting cultural activities of the immigrant communities or ‘supplying adequate information on the culture of the migrant communities in the school curricula.’” Not only that: “Access to the mass media had to be facilitated to the migrants in order to ensure ‘regular information in their own language about their own culture as well as about the conditions of life in the host country.”

The European Union has implemented such recommendations for decades — so far from playing down the differences between ethnic groups, they have instead stood by approvingly while immigrants formed non-assimilated Islamic enclaves within Europe. Indeed, as Bat Ye’or demonstrates, they have assured the Arab League in multiple agreements that they would aid in the creation and maintenance of such enclaves. Ignorance of the jihad ideology among European officials has allowed that ideology to spread in those enclaves, unchecked until relatively recently.

Consequently, among a generation of Muslims born in Europe, significant numbers have nothing but contempt and disdain for their native lands, and allegiance only to the Muslim umma and the lands of their parents’ birth. Those who continue to arrive in Europe from Muslim countries are encouraged by the isolation, self-imposed and other-abetted, of the Islamic communities in Europe to hold to the same attitudes. The Arab European League, a Muslim advocacy group operating in Belgium and the Netherlands, states as part of its “vision and philosophy” that “we believe in a multicultural society as a social and political model where different cultures coexist with equal rights under the law.” It strongly rejects for Muslims any idea of assimilation or integration into European societies: “We do not want to assimilate and we do not want to be stuck somewhere in the middle. We want to foster our own identity and culture while being law abiding and worthy citizens of the countries where we live. In order to achieve that it is imperative for us to teach our children the Arabic language and history and the Islamic faith. We will resist any attempt to strip us of our right to our own cultural and religious identity, as we believe it is one of the most fundamental human rights.” AEL founder Dyab Abou Jahjah, who was himself arrested in November 2002 and charged with inciting Muslims in Antwerp to riot (Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said that the AEL was “trying to terrorize the city”[2]), has declared: “Assimilation is cultural rape. It means renouncing your identity, becoming like the others.” He implied that European Muslims had a right to bring the ideology of jihad and Sharia to Europe, complaining that in Europe “I could still eat certain dishes from the Middle East, but I cannot have certain thoughts that are based on ideologies and ideas from the Middle East.”

What kind of ideologies? Perhaps Hani Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna and brother of the famed self-proclaimed moderate Muslim spokesman Tariq Ramadan, gave a hint when he defended the traditional Islamic Sharia punishment of stoning for adultery in the Paris journal Le Monde. In Denmark, politician Fatima Shah echoed the same sentiments in November 2004. That same month, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who had made a film, Submission, about the oppression of women by Islamic law, was murdered in Holland by a Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri later declared in court: “I did what I did purely out my beliefs. I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan and felt insulted.” In other words, his problem was religious, not racial: Van Gogh had blasphemed Islam, and so according to Islamic law he had to die. Significantly, Bouyeri maintained during his trial that he did not recognize the authority of the Dutch court, but only of the law of Islam.

How many European Muslims share the sentiments of Mohammed Bouyeri? How many of these are rioting this week in Paris? Alleviating Muslim unemployment and poverty will not ultimately do anything to alter this rejection of European values by growing numbers of people who are only geographically Europeans. And the problem cannot be ignored. For France is not alone: Muslims in Århus, Denmark have also been rioting this week. And in France, Sarkozy recently revealed that this week’s riots are just a particularly virulent flare-up of an ongoing pattern of violence: he told Le Monde that twenty to forty cars are set afire nightly in Paris’ restive Muslim suburbs, and no fewer than nine thousand police cars have been stoned since the beginning of 2005.

Blame for the riots in France has thus far focused on Sarkozy’s tough talk about ending this violence. On October 19 he declared of the suburbs that “they have to be cleaned — we’re going to make them as clean as a whistle.” Six days after this, Muslim protestors threw stones and bottles at him when he visited the suburb of Argenteuil. He has been roundly criticized for calling the rioters “scum”; one of them responded, “We’re not scum. We’re human beings, but we’re neglected.” However, as a solution the same man recommended only more neglect, saying of the Paris riot police: “If they didn’t come here, into our area, nothing would happen. If they come here it’s to provoke us, so we provoke back.” Others complained of rough treatment they have received since 9/11 from police searching for terrorists: “It’s the way they stop and search people, kneeing them between the legs as they put them up against the wall. They get students mixed up with the worst offenders, yet these young people have done nothing wrong.”

But of course, all these problems are exacerbated by the non-assimilation policy that both the French government and the Muslim population have for so long pursued: the rioters are part of a population that has never considered itself French. Nor do French officials seem able or willing to face that this is the core of their problem today.


WHEN THE MODUS VIVENDI TURNS DEADLY:

November 3, 2005

Faith in Democracy: How the debate over religion in the West distorts our understanding of freedom in the Middle East (James W. Ceaser, 11/07/2005, Weekly Standard)

THE STIRRINGS OF A NEW wave of democracy are underway in one of the least probable regions of the world: the Middle East and Central Asia. Elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territory, and Lebanon, together with rumblings of liberalization in Egypt, are tangible signs of a growing desire for democratic forms. While the ultimate prospects for success are uncertain–waves of democracy have been partly reversed before–all observers agree that the outcome will hinge in part on meeting the enormous challenges stemming from the interactions of faith and politics. The influence of religion, especially Islam, is considerable throughout the region, and it is impossible to imagine achieving a natural equilibrium between society and government without religion playing some role. Yet Western intellectuals have been strangely inhibited in honestly assessing, or even frankly discussing, the many dimensions of this issue, largely because they have been preoccupied with the role of faith in Western societies and with trying to discredit a growing influence of the religiously minded on American political life. Given all that is at stake in the Middle East, the tangle of this willful confusion deserves a closer look. […]

What passes today for examination of religion in Islamic nations is often little more than a cover for efforts by some to score points for their position in the theoretical dispute about faith in the West. Before we can begin to discuss their religious problem, we must first come to grips with our religious problem.

The Western problem with religion became apparent in the reactions to the events of 9/11. As president of the United States, George Bush had the first crack at framing the meaning of what had happened. To the dismay of many, he immediately opted to characterize the attacks as part of a “war.” But a war against whom or what? Bush sought to delimit the enemy to a group of “terrorists” or “evildoers”–he did not use the term fundamentalists. As the terrorists were all Muslims and explicitly justified their actions in the name of Islam, Bush could not avoid raising the religious question. He took pains, however, to separate the terrorists from the practitioners of the religion as a whole, arguing that the threat came from a “fringe form of Islamic extremism.” “Ours is a war not against a religion, not against the Muslim faith.” Bush characterized the enemy on the basis of its inveterate opposition to a free regime: Our enemies are people “who absolutely hate what America stands for, . . . they hate . . . democratically elected government, . . . they hate our freedoms–our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Bush’s defense of democracy and freedom relied on a universal set of ideas deriving from principles of nature and of religion, the latter expressed in nonsectarian terms: “Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”

A strong reaction against this understanding of the conflict and against Bush’s characterization of the West developed. Although none denied that the terrorists opposed freedom, many claimed that what provoked the Islamic world–and would prevent a long-term solution to the conflict–was America’s own religious fundamentalism. In this view, there was indeed a clash of fundamental values, but it was not at bottom one between liberal democracy and its foes, but rather between two religious fundamentalisms: Christian fundamentalism (American style) and Islamic fundamentalism. While obviously different and conflicting, these two fundamentalisms are in another sense the same. They are both “fundamentalisms.” The most important division in the world today, therefore, is one that cuts right through both Western and Islamic societies. It is the line between those who are religiously fundamentalist and those who are not.

This last view has had widespread support among Europe’s intelligentsia. In a highly publicized account of the post-9/11 world, the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida argued that the current international situation is best summed up as “a confrontation between two political theologies.” One is found among those who identify themselves as “Islamic fundamentalists,” the other is localized in America, a nation that, despite a legal separation of church and state, has a religious culture that “relies on a fundamentally biblical (and primarily Christian) . . . discourse of its political leaders.” An equivalency of sorts exists between these two fundamentalisms, captured in the slogan “Bush and Bin Laden.” In neither case do the fundamentalists speak for all of the faithful. Islamic fundamentalists, according to Derrida, do not represent authentic Islam, “any more than all Christians in the world identify with the United States’s fundamentally Christian professions of faith.” The idea of the West as an entity of roughly shared values no longer exists. It has been superceded by the more basic division between fundamentalists and nonfundamentalists, a distinction that places America in one camp along with al Qaeda and Europe in the other camp with certain so-called “moderates.” America’s essence of religious fundamentalism is often captured by the term “Bush,” whose name now designates not so much a person as a worldview alien to Europe. Only this metaphysical use can explain why the American president has become so despised.

The picture of America described by Derrida represents a striking departure from the image that was often purveyed by European intellectuals during the last century, when the stress was placed on America’s relentless and unchecked modernizing impulse. America was decried for its disregard of tradition. America was modernity’s bulldozer, uprooting the past in every realm, from architecture, to gastronomy, to religion. A hundred years ago, Max Weber, in his celebrated work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, characterized modernity as “an iron cage” in which only “the ghost of dead religious beliefs” still lingered. Modernity was governed by a process of “secularization,” under which religion gradually loses its hold on all aspects of society and culture. The nation leading this process, Weber suggested, was America, where “the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions.”

Not all or even most of the European critics of America in the 19th and 20th century were religious, but almost all subscribed to this idea of America as the destroyer of tradition. The greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger, characterized “Americanism,” by this time an abstract concept, as “the still unfolding and not yet full or completed essence of the emerging monstrousness of modern times.” According to Heidegger, Europe (chiefly Germany) was caught in a “great pincer,” squeezed by the modernist ideologies of Americanism and Bolshevism, which, despite their differences, represented from “a metaphysical point of view, the same dreary technological frenzy and the same unrestricted organization of the average man.”

In the contemporary European intellectual critique of America, by contrast, the force threatening Europe derives from religion, with the pincer squeezing Europe coming from the two fundamentalisms. Although many European thinkers still take America to task for being too modern in certain realms, the main charge today is that America is not modern enough–that it adheres to an anachronistic concept of the nation, that it still expresses a belief in a principle of natural rights, and that it is not embarrassed to rely on religion. Meanwhile, European culture and politics have moved on to embrace a post-religious ethos, in which even the slightest mention of the Almighty in an official public address is seen as fatally compromising the practice of true democratic politics. Modern philosophers see this post-religious ethos as the core of a new third force in the world, which alone is consistent with promoting democracy. This time, Europe has much more confidence that it is leading the way to the future.

This change in European thought would seem at first glance to place Europe, not America, in the position of uprooting tradition by breaking with a major part of the West’s heritage. Remarkably, however, Western European thinkers present this shift not as a break or discontinuity, but as an organic fulfillment of tradition. Derrida’s own philosophical school of deconstructionism, which once prided itself on being the intellectual enfant terrible that challenged the Enlightenment, has now settled into a comfortable middle age of bourgeois orthodoxy by achieving, in Derrida’s words, the Enlightenment’s “absolutely original mark with regard to religious doctrine,” namely a political system and public culture in which religion plays no role.

This analysis of the current difference between America and Europe curiously parallels a similar description by Alexis de Tocqueville of the situation in the 18th century. Tocqueville sought to explain how at that time “irreligion” became “the dominant and general passion” among intellectuals in France, though not yet among the public. He attributed the development to the influence of Enlightenment philosophers. But Tocqueville made clear that this was not the only path the Enlightenment might follow. He sketched an alternative, a second version of the Enlightenment, found in America, in which “the spirit of religion” was joined with “the spirit of freedom.” America’s religiosity was exceptional, but its exceptionalism offered a model worthy of consideration in promoting liberal democracy. For Derrida, American exceptionalism is a nightmare and a grave threat to democratic prospects.

From the thesis of the two fundamentalisms has come a general theory of how to approach the problems of the post-9/11 world. If there is to be reconciliation between Islamic societies and the West, it lies with the model discovered by the post-religious nations; any constructive dialogue must take place with the West’s de-fundamentalized part, Europe. The two fundamentalisms only provoke one another, clashing as ignorant armies on a darkling plain. Post-religious nations also hold the key to promoting democracy. Democracy will never be spread if it is proclaimed, as America tries to do, on the basis of a universal standard, which is only another manifestation of American religious fundamentalism. According to Jürgen Habermas, Europe’s most important contemporary philosopher, the promotion of democracy must rely on a different kind of “universalism,” embodied in contemporary European philosophy, that is predicated “on an equality that demands . . . one step outside of one’s own viewpoint in order to put it into relationship with the viewpoints adopted by another, which are to be regarded as equal.” Other cultures must evolve to join this new universalism under Europe’s patient tutelage.

Pierre Rosanvallon, one of France’s most prominent social scientists, has carried Habermas’s doctrine a step further, distinguishing between America’s “dogmatic universalism,” which is “characterized by an intolerable arrogance that is only made more so by its spontaneous naiveté,” and Europe’s pragmatic or “experimental universalism,” which makes no kind of absolute claims.

Europe’s secular


CATHEDRAL VS. CUBE:

December 29, 2004

Politics Without God?: Reflections on Europe and America (George Weigel, DEC. 24, 2004, Zenit.org)

At the far western end of the axis that traverses Paris from the Louvre down the Champs Elysées and through the Arc de Triomphe is the Great Arch of La Défense. Designed by a sternly modernist Danish architect, the Great Arch is a colossal open cube: almost 40 stories tall, faced in glass and 2.47 acres of white Carrara marble. Its rooftop terrace offers an unparalleled view of the French capital, past the Tuilleries to the Ile de la Cité, Sante Chapelle, and Notre-Dame.

The arch’s three-story high roof also houses the International Foundation for Human Rights. For President François Mitterrand planned the Great Arch as a human rights monument, something suitably gigantic to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus, in one guidebook, the Great Arch was dubbed “Fraternity Arch.” That same guidebook, like every other one I consulted, emphasized that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit comfortably inside the Great Arch.

All of which raised some questions, as I walked along that terrace in 1997. Which culture would better protect human rights and secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this rational, geometrically precise, but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the asymmetries and holy “unsameness” of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?

Those questions have come back to me, if in different forms, as I’ve tried to understand Europe in recent years. How, for example, should one understand the fierce argument in Europe over whether a new constitutional treaty for the European Union should include a reference to the Christian sources of European civilization? Why did so many European intellectuals and political leaders deem any reference to the Christian sources of contemporary Europe civilization a threat to human rights and democracy?

Was there some connection between this internal European debate over Europe’s constitution-making and the portrait in the European press of Americans (and especially an American president) as religious fanatics intent on shooting up the world? Was there a further connection between this debate and the fate of Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the post of Commissioner of Justice on the European Commission?

Understanding these phenomena requires something more than a conventional political analysis. Nor can political answers explain the reasons behind perhaps the most urgent issue confronting Europe today — the fact that Western Europe is committing demographic suicide, its far-below-replacement-level birthrates creating enormous pressures on the European welfare state and a demographic vacuum into which Islamic immigrants are flowing in increasing numbers, often becoming radicalized in the process.

My proposal is that Europe is experiencing a crisis of cultural and civilizational morale whose roots are also taking hold in some parts quarters of American society and culture. Understanding and addressing this crisis means confronting the question posed sharply, if unintentionally, by those guidebooks that boast about the alleged superiority of the Great Arch to Notre-Dame: the question of the cube and the cathedral, and their relationship to both the meaning of freedom and the future of democracy. […]

Probing to the deeper roots of Europe’s crisis of civilizational morale is important for understanding Europe today and for discerning whatever promising paths of European renewal there may be. Getting at the roots of “Europe’s problem” is also important for understanding a set of problems Americans may face in the not-too-distant future. And that means that both Europeans and Americans must learn to think in new ways about the dynamics of history.

During 13 years of research and teaching in east central Europe, I’ve been impressed by what might be called the Slavic view of history. You can find it in a great thinker who lived in the borderland between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Vladimir Soloviev, who challenged the fashionable nihilism and materialism of the late 19th century.

You can find it in 19th-century Polish novelists, poets and playwrights, who, breaking with the Jacobin conviction that “revolution” meant a complete rupture with the past, insisted that genuine “revolution” meant the recovery of lost spiritual and moral values. You can find it in such intellectual leaders of the anti-communist resistance in east central Europe as Karol Wojtyla, Václav Havel and Václav Benda, who all argued that “living in the truth” could change what seemed unchangeable in history.

The common thread among these disparate thinkers is the conviction that the deepest currents of “history” are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic. “History” is not simply the byproduct of the contest for power in the world — although power plays an important role in history. And “history” is certainly not the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production, as the Marxists taught.

Rather, “history” is driven by culture — by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good and noble; by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on.

Poland is one embodiment of this way of thinking, which Poles believe has been vindicated empirically by their own modern history. For 123 years, from 1795 to 1918, the Polish state was erased from Europe. Yet during that century and a quarter the Polish nation survived with such vigor that it could give birth to a new Polish state in 1918. And despite the fact that the revived Polish state was then beset for 50 years by the plagues of Nazism and communism, the Polish nation proved strong enough to give a new birth of freedom to east central Europe in the Revolution of 1989.

How did this happen? Poland survived — better, Poland prevailed — because of culture: a culture formed by a distinctive language, by a unique literature, and by an intense Catholic faith (which, an its noblest and deepest expressions, was ecumenical and tolerant, not xenophobic, as so many stereotypes have it). Poles know in their bones that culture is what drives history over the long haul.

This “Slavic view of history” is really a classically Christian way of thinking about history, whose roots can be traced back at least as far as St. Augustine and “The City of God.” Yet, it is the Slavs who have been, in our time, the most powerful exponents of this “culture-first” understanding of the dynamics of the world’s story. […]

If democratic institutions and procedures are the expressions of a distinctive way of life based on specific moral commitments, then democratic citizenship must be more than a matter of following the procedures and abiding by the laws and regulations agreed upon by the institutions A democratic citizen is someone who can give an account of his or her commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and equality before the law, to decision-making by the majority and protection of the rights of minorities. Democratic citizenship means being able to tell why one affirms “the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, democracy, equality, freedom and the rule of law,” to cite the preamble to the European constitution. Who can give such an account?

Here is one of the richest ironies involved in the question of the cube and the cathedral. The original charge against Christians in the Roman empire was that they were “atheists”: people who were “a-theos,” people who had abandoned the gods of Rome and who were thus a threat to public life and public order. To be a-theos was to stand outside and over-against the political community.

The “Christophobia” of contemporary European high culture turns this indictment inside out and upside down: Christianity cannot be acknowledged as a source of European democracy because the only public space safe for pluralism, tolerance, civility, and democracy is a public space that is thoroughly a-theos.

It is all very strange. For the truth of the matter is that European Christians can likely give a more compelling account of their commitment to democratic values than their fellow Europeans who are a-theos — who believe that “neutrality toward worldviews” must characterize democratic Europe. A postmodern or neo-Kantian “neutrality toward worldviews” cannot be truly tolerant; it can only be indifferent.

Absent convictions, there is no tolerance; there is only indifference. Absent some compelling notion of the truth that requires us to be tolerant of those who have a different understanding of the truth, there is only skepticism and relativism. And skepticism and relativism are very weak foundations on which to build and sustain a pluralistic democracy, for neither skepticism nor relativism, by their own logic, can “give an account” of why we should be tolerant and civil.

In contrast to this thin account of tolerance — we should be tolerant because it works better — there is the argument for tolerance given by Pope John Paul II in his 1989 encyclical letter on Christian mission, “Redemptoris Missio” [The Mission of the Redeemer]. There the Pope taught that “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” The Catholic Church respects the “other” as an “other” who is also a seeker of truth and goodness; the Church only asks that the believer and the “other” enter into a dialogue that leads to mutual enrichment rather than to a deeper skepticism about the possibility of grasping the truth of things.

The Catholic Church believes it to be the will of God that Christians be tolerant of those who have a different view of God’s will, or no view of God’s will. Thus Catholics (and other Christians who share this conviction) can “give an account” of their defense of the “other’s” freedom, even if the “other,” skeptical and relativist, finds it hard to “give an account” of the freedom of the Christian.

A great deal of effort has been expended trying to determine why Old Europe and Blue America react with such hysteria to Red America generally and George W. Bush in particular–extending Mr. Weigel’s argument just a bit, the reaction seems more understandable if we consider these cubists to be stuck in the midst of the crisis and looking out, with fear and envy, at the equanimity and confidence of their neighbors in the cathedral.