Strength without leverage is nothing. Even Samson at his power’s peak could not have budged a massive object in a vacuum: he’d simply push himself backwards into empty space. Likewise, an intellect ungrounded in history can only bounce aimlessly off the ineluctable marble of facts (“stubborn things,” John Adams said). I recently remarked, by way of giving the devil his due, that despite the ghoulish Reign of Terror into which the French Revolution swiftly devolved, the poor of Paris had at least been justified in their initial defiance of the monarchy; but my sporadically sagacious brother, Canon Turner ICKSP, called my attention to facts that my inadequate research had missed. Louis XVI turns out to have been a man of deep charity, routinely paying personal visits to his suffering countrymen to give them aid out of his own pocket. The vague, miasmic assumption to the contrary, to which the modernly “educated” now default, represents the triumph of pure propagandist calumny—like the still-popular lie that attributes the phrase “Let them eat cake” to the martyress Marie Antoinette.
The problem, or part of the problem, is that we can’t take steps to rectify an ignorance of which we’re unaware. If I’m fundamentally certain the Civil War ended in 1864, why would I stop to look it up? It took the wisest man in Athens to acknowledge “I know nothing.” Our deliberate, systematic miseducation has been so pervasive that it grows ever more difficult to predicate an argument on anything solid at all. We gave the devil his due by admitting that Columbus (for instance) was not without his failings: now we have college graduates who believe Cortes was a brutal oppressor for tampering with the beautiful indigenous culture of the Aztecs. We conceded that the Spanish Inquisition was guilty of injustices: now a ludicrous majority of us believe they killed more people than were alive in Europe. And our dutiful tithes to Pandemonium in allowing the very rare, exceptional divorce have yielded such bounties of compound interest that a child with married parents has long been rather an aberration.
Divorce rates, however, have recently hit a 50-year low. The Internet, as dangerous as it can be, is nonetheless a powerful tool for dispersing the mustard gas of false information in which we and our children suspire. And ordinary people are beginning to stir and push back against the flabby juggernaut of Woke politics. (Really, would it have killed them to say “Awakened”?) As of this writing, the New Jerusalem has not arrived, which means there is never an absence of temptation and peril; but peril necessarily entails hope, and temptation constancy. “Where sin increased, Grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). We’re bloody well not beaten yet. Furthermore, the promise of Our Lord (Matthew 16:18) that the gates of hell would not withstand His Church seems odd, if one envisions a Church on the defensive. On the contrary, our conflict with the devil’s door implies a frontal assault.
But, again, strength without leverage is nothing. This is true above all in the moral sphere. As we survey the wreckage caused by truth’s enemies and consider our response, the celerity and savagery with which the recently bullied so often turn bullies at the moment of receiving power—downtrodden Parisians in 1789, starving Germans in 1933, even the Jews themselves in the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948—should give us pause. It takes far more effort and forethought to push a left-swinging pendulum back to an equipoise and stop, than to smash it all the way over to the right. If our indignation isn’t grounded in humility and charity, we’re all too likely to fly right past the mark. It’s crucial to remember the miseries visited upon women and minorities throughout the years, and that even the lunacy of the Woke movement is, ultimately, the cry of the poor. If the pendulum has now been pushed too far to the left, the push was not without justification.
Do I contradict myself? Whitman was content to be a multitude, like the pig-demons in the tomb-dweller (Mark 5:9), but let’s aim higher. I said earlier that in giving the devil his due—i.e., granting that many far-left movements have their roots in legitimate grievances—we opened the twin floodgates of iniquity and imbecility; now I caution against forgetting why we permitted the original crack, which may seem inconsistent. To this objection I reply, following St. Justin Martyr (and 1P5’s Kale Zelden): If it’s true, it’s Christian. The concessions we’ve made to the left were misguided, not by being concessions, but by being to the left. We should never have needed radical groups to bring these injustices to light. We should have gotten there first. It was our business, our burden, our blessing, to set them right. It was through being smug, complacent Pharisees that we galvanized the flailing, murderous Barabbas of the age. We give to God what is God’s, in part, by giving to our neighbors what is theirs: it’s when we fail that we give the devil what he considers his due. The rightful mission of Christians like Martin Luther King Jr. has fallen into pagan hands because we left it half-done; our mission now is to enter hell, like Christ before us in the Harrowing, and reclaim those jumbled shards of Woke philosophy that are grounded in His Truth.
King St. Louis IX, acquaintance of Aquinas and not-so-distant forebear of Louis the guillotined, once said that if one does not possess the learning to debate with a heretic, one must simply “thrust a sword through his body as far as it will go.” Now, these are fightin’ words worthy of Beowulf, or even our co-religionist John Wayne; but it’s also the kind of incredibly dangerous thing, like Augustine’s “Love God and do what you will,” that only a saint would dare to say out loud. In our vastly more complex era, St. Louis’ debating style—which, for the sheer fun of unabashed pomposity, I shall dub the Xiphoid Polemic—would lead to widespread and serious problems if literally applied. But in the end, our quarrel is not with this or that ideology, but with Evil itself, operating through individual persons. As Solzhenitsyn observed, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” It’s not our place to address the Big Picture; only God can see the Big Picture. “Take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34), and “Remember that you are not to prepare your defense beforehand” (Luke 21:14). What we are called to do is no more or less than the good that is directly in front of us, trusting Providence to attend to what lies beyond our reach. Speak truth. Give alms. Uphold chastity. Defend life. In this way, we thrust crusader’s steel through the heart of whatever enemy confronts us, making a channel for the good to bleed into the evil and purify it.
If we can reason with an infidel, we should; if not, then we bless him and go about our daily work, showing by our actions how a life without hatred might look.
J.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College; He has contributed to First Things, Dappled Things, National Catholic Register, The Remnant, The Wanderer, Catholic Lane, America Magazine, and numerous secular venues.