November 26, 2006

From heroes to bums in not much more than a generation...

[Rambling Sunday thoughts] I've been thinking about how in the comments at this post of mine, Andrea Harris and I got onto a discussion of the decline of Europe (and perhaps the USA), and it's possible cause in the enormously high levels of welfare common in European countries.

I for various reasons have Germany much in mind these days, and I wrote:

....West Germany in say 1960, was to outward appearances, hard-working, economically vibrant, Christian, confident, with a rapidly growing population and lots of young people. Experts were saying that we Americans had better pull up our socks or be totally out-classedI

And that's all gone! All of it. The corpse is still walking but nobody's fooled except those who want to be fooled. We're not talking slow decline-of-the-Roman-Empire here, these guys went from heroes to bums in not much more than a generation. If that's happened before in history I really missed something....

I'd say the proximate cause is welfare, which I know increased hugely in Germany in the 1970's. (By the way, the post-war German economic miracle was made possible by low taxes and reduced regulation. It's not like Germany is unacquainted with what makes for success.) Welfare meaning not just checks for the poor or unemployed, but all sorts of cozy security blankets for the whole population.

And I'd say the ante-proximate cause, the cause right behind the cause, is socialism. Socialism promotes the welfare state because it wants to destroy souls, and to make men dependent on the state. It has given up on the Revolution, and the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," but the goal is still the same.

But frankly, these things are so obvious they've become boring. There is no intellectual battle to be waged against socialism or the welfare state. There is ceaseless war to be waged against the things themselves, of course. But no open intellectual fight. Any leftist reading this will curl his lip in disdain, but not one of them will have the guts to make a case for what he believes. "Fell-lurking curs," as Shakespeare put it.

So, what interests me is, what is the root cause? Welfare is destructive, but why wasn't there resistance, in Europe, to its terrible threat? In the US every increase in welfare and other socialistic innovations has generated vigorous criticism and political opposition. One result of which was the federal Welfare Reform law in the 1990's, which cut our welfare rolls in half!

Why was there—is there—little or nothing like this in Europe? I can think of several possibilities. One clue that smells right to me—can't prove anything here—comes from one of the smarter chaps living...

...Bonn in those years was the almost accidental capital of Adenauer’s Germany. In the divided land, whose eastern states were behind the Iron Curtain, economic and civilian rebirth was proceeding at a dizzying pace. In the 1957 elections, the Christian Democratic Party had won an absolute majority in Parliament. After the Nazi nightmare, the German Church, with deserved pride, offered an essential contribution to Germany’s new beginning.

In an atmosphere that could have encouraged triumphalism, the young professor-priest Ratzinger had just written an article in 1958 for the magazine Hochland some reflections arising from his brief but intense pastoral experience as a chaplain in the parish of the Most Precious Blood in Bogenhausen, an haute-bourgeois section of Munich.

In that article, he uses the term “statistical deception” for the cliché that described Europe as “a Continent that is almost totally Christian.” The Church in the postwar modern world appeared to him instead as “a Church of pagans – no longer, as in the past, a church of pagans who have become Christian, but a Church of pagans that still call themselves Christian but who have really become pagans.”

He tells of a new paganism “which is growing ceaselessly in the heart of the Church and threatens to demolish it from the inside.”....[link]

I'd sure love to know what tipped him off! He knew, all-right. He saw. But nobody else seemed to see it. What did he see?

<armchair theorizin'> One of the things you have to do, if you are going to grow in faith, is to fight against ones natural desire to avoid suffering. (Or just grow psychologically. It's not a specifically Christian insight. One of the Noble Truths the Buddha taught was "Life is suffering.") It seems wrong-headed; avoiding pain is just good sense, right? (Seems like that to me too, most of the time.) But it's a mistake. And if your goal is to avoid pain, your faith will shrink. (And you'll get the suffering anyway.)

And a priest is going to observe people's pain and suffering up close. This will tell him a lot, if he has eyes to see. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something like that that was clear to young Fr. Josef Ratzinger. It would not be surprising in a nation that had endured millions of deaths in two world wars...</armchair theorizin'>

Young Fr. Josef Ratzinger

Josef Ratzinger, priest and professor of dogmatic theology, Freising, 1959

Posted by John Weidner at November 26, 2006 4:10 PM
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