Thursday, August 7, 2014

Notes on Christianity in the Republic of Georgia

This summer has been our first opportunity to live in an Orthodox country and I wanted to share some of our experiences and observations about Christian life in Tbilisi and Georgia in general.   Christianity has deep roots in Georgia that extend all the way back to the original Apostles.  Georgia was first evangelized by Andrew and is the final resting place of Matthias (the one who was chosen to replace Judas)—his tomb was once in a church around which a military fortress was built, now only 4 miles from the Turkish border, but the church was razed by the Ottoman when they took the fort and only a cross inside marks St. Matthias’ grave.  Georgia has been attacked by many powers.  The Turks alone have gone to war with the Georgians over 300 times trying to take and occupy the land.  In the southeastern part of the country we visited a monastery—Davit Gareja—where the Persian army entered and slaughtered all the monks on one Easter Sunday.  We have also visited another monastery—Gelati—in the central region of the country that saw monks fall to the same fate at the hands of Arab armies.  Both monasteries contain the monks’ relics and are truly beautiful, located on mountain sides or in the desert.  The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mksheta, the old capital, is built over a grave that contains the robe Christ wore while carrying the cross to the crucifixion, not the burial cloth, and came to Georgia from a Jewish man named Elioz who returned from Jerusalem to Mksheta.  The robe ended up with his sister who was buried with it and the cathedral rests over this space.  The church is beautiful and incredibly peaceful, you recognize that you are in a holy place when you enter there.  Even with all this history, the contemporary Christian life in the country is not strong.

What is the best way to describe the contemporary Christian life in Georgia?  When one remembers that the Soviet occupation lasted from the early 1920s until 1991, there will be a long and difficult recovery period.  But the Georgian Orthodox Church seems to be clinging to political power and continues to be very nationalistic.  The prevailing mentality wishes to block all other religious expression (there is not a legally recognized constitutional right to change religion) and to propose the Orthodox faith through the dominance of culture thus making it the only possible option.   New churches are being constructed and old churches are being restored, but other than at a formal level, the Orthodox Church does not have a cultural presence.  In a sense, it is like the situation Giussani described in The Risk of Education where Italy in the 1950s had many people attending Mass, but few saw a place for Christ in their lives.  Faith had become a formality and was almost meaningless in individual lives.  This is the case here.  But the situation is much weaker than in Italy as only 8% of the population is faithful to the Orthodox religion.  There is a catechesis crisis as very few their faith and superstitions are abundant.  In some ways, the Church teachings seem to conform themselves to the dominant political culture rather than being faithful to the Gospel; maybe I am wrong but this is what our experience suggests.

Tomb of Apostle Matthias
The Catholic Church has endured suffering with almost all of its parishes being taken by the communist government and given to the Orthodox.  The Marxist government only allowed the Church to maintain one parish in Tbilisi and all the others were confiscated.  The Catholic cathedral in Tbilisi was appropriated by the state to use for storage.  When communism ended, the government allowed the Church to re-gain the cathedral but the other parishes continued to be in the hands of the Orthodox.  Even the beautiful gothic cathedral of Batumi remains under Orthodox control.  It is strange to visit these appropriated churches because the Orthodox have maintained frescos, some of the statues (probably those that could not be removed!) and confessionals (some turned into small gift shops) that are out-of-place in  an Orthodox-style place of worship.  The architecture is classically Catholic—Latin cross plan with side naves separated by columns rather than Greek cross which is typical of the Orthodox Church—and the buildings have Latin inscriptions indicating their Catholic name.  These are parishes that have been stolen by the Orthodox who now do their best to block the Catholic presence in Georgia. 

The Catholic Church is not pursuing the return of its lifted parishes but trying to build new parishes to replace the ones that were stolen.  The Church has been successful in building a new beautiful parish in Batumi although it is already too small as the Sunday Mass crowds are too large for its seating capacity.  In Kutaisi, the Church is meeting in a house and cannot receive the authorization to build a new parish because the local mayor has received pressure from the Orthodox Church and will not sign the authorization permit.  The Church has invested much time in gaining approval for all the necessary components for this construction project, but although everything else has been approved, the project cannot start until the mayor signs the paper.  Ironically, the historic Catholic Church in Kutaisi, now in Orthodox hands, is named for the Immaculate Conception and the local hierarchy has built a theological college outside its doors.  After taking the only Catholic parish, they are refusing to allow the Catholic Church to replace it. 

Davit Gareja (on the border with
While the Orthodox hierarchy and religious never ‘officially’ threatened the Catholic faithful with violence, this is not true for the Georgian Orthodox faithful.  In 2002, the Catholic bishop led a pilgrimage to a monastery which houses the tomb of St Nina, the saint who brought the Christian faith to Georgia sometime around the fifth century.   When the group was approaching a city they were to pass through on their way, they were first stopped by the police who checked everyone’s id.  Next, the local Orthodox religious showed up and harassed the group.  After they left, a group of laypeople armed with baseball bats and other instruments of violence came and physically threatened the pilgrims if they stepped inside the town.  The bishop was amongst the faithful and decided to end the pilgrimage.  The Georgian Orthodox said that Catholics were not welcome even to pass through their town.  The police and Orthodox clergy were complicit in this threat which they unofficially sponsored.  The local Catholics were ashamed to be Georgian on this day.

Another instance of Orthodox antagonism to the Catholic Church happened in 2003 when the Nuncio came to Tbilisi to sign a bilateral agreement between the Georgian government and the Holy See that would protect freedom of religion and that had been in the works for a long time.  On that day, hundreds of people flooded the streets, including Orthodox priests and a bishop, protesting this signing, saying that they did not want the Catholic Church in Georgia. The Patriarch and the Orthodox hierarchy were behind these protests, which had obviously been planned in advance, but claimed that they had nothing to do with it, that it was the ‘natural’ reaction of the faithful.  The Nuncio and the Vatican were extremely disappointed about this last minute turn-face of the Georgian government.  In a later note published on the Osservatore Romano, the Nuncio publicly expressed his disappointment and accused the Orthodox Church of spreading false rumors about the Catholic Church and the proposed agreement with the Georgian government.  John Paul II suffered greatly because of this ‘betrayal’.

This animosity is still present and we have had only a slight experience of it.  Last Saturday, we hired a taxi to bring us to Kakheti, the wine region of the country, where we would visit some cities and Orthodox churches.  This was a long day as we were picked up in Tbilisi and drove around the region and returned to our apartment fourteen hours later.  The sights were beautiful and when we were at the furthest point from Tbilisi, we passed Telavi to visit the Alaverdi Cathedral, a grand picturesque church surrounded by a stone wall and the Caucasus Mountains in the background.  Our taxi driver accompanied us inside as we walked toward the church; at the main door, we were met by the two young men wearing black shirts (maybe seminarians, servers, or church volunteers) who slammed the huge door in our face and said that we were not enter.  Ironically, they knew nothing about us other than that we were not Georgian (it would not have mattered even if we were of a different orthodox faith, the thing that mattered was our nationality).  After a few moments they walked away, but waited by the entrance in the city wall surrounding the cathedral for us to leave.  In any case, this was the only time in Georgia where we were in any way threatened.             

Icon from Orthodox Church in Tblisi
After the Soviet oppression of the Church, the Catholic population is small and has yet to recover its previous numbers.  The local clergy and bishop are beautiful people who have a great humility and receive foreigners with great affection.  We have spent most of our time attending the small Catholic Cathedral in Tbilisi and have been fortunate to get to know the bishop and local priest.  The bishop asks people to call him Fr. Giuseppe rather than ‘Your Excellency’ or ‘Your Grace’ and actually has worked on the Cathedral renovation with his bare hands.  He has a difficult task in his ecumenical meetings with the Orthodox hierarchy who make life difficult for Catholics.  For example, they do not even recognize Catholic baptism and make life hard for those families where one member is Orthodox and the other Catholic.  Yes, Bishop Giuseppe has a challenging assignment but he may be the perfect person appointed to this task.  I believe that under his leadership the Church has a bright future in Georgia.

After being in Tbilisi for only six weeks, I am in no way an expert.  However, the Orthodox Church, like much of Georgian culture, is not seeking beauty and does not seem to know how to respond to the contemporary world.  It is tied up with nationalism that somehow sees Christianity as connected with the Georgian ethnicity and has a great fear of other Christians.  While this is true of the present, the future may be different.  When one goes to a daily Mass, there are frequently Orthodox visitors who sit in the back pews and are actively engaging the Church.  There are even young Orthodox clergy who attend.  Perhaps they recognize that something is wrong in the orientation of their leadership.  When this generation comes to lead the Orthodox Church, there may be a renewal in Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Socialism

“In the same way, if he had decided that God and immorality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist.  For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today.  The question of the Tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from earth but to set-up Heaven on earth.”

The Brothers Karamazov

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's a Girl! The Three Deadliest Words in the World

A must-see documentary that will be released in 2012.

This is a synopsis from the official website:
"In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.

Girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members.

The war against girls is rooted in centuries-old tradition and sustained by deeply ingrained cultural dynamics which, in combination with government policies, accelerate the elimination of girls.

Shot on location in India and China, It’s a Girl! explores the issue. It asks why this is happening, and why so little is being done to save girls and women.

The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Communion and Liberation Easter Poster

""If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14-15). The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth of the testimony that Christ is risen from the dead. If this were taken away, it would still be possible to piece together from the Christian tradition a series of interesting ideas about God and men, about man's being and his obligations, a kind of religious world view: but the Christian faith itself would be dead. Jesus would no longer be a criterion: the only criterion left would be our own judgment in selecting from His heritage what strikes us as helpful. In other words, we would be alone. Our own judgment would be in the highest instance. Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind. Then He becomes the criterion on which we can rely. For then God has truly revealed himself."
Benedict XVI

"The 'event' does not indicate merely something that happened and with which it all started, but what awakens the present, defines the present, gives content to the present. What we know or what we have becomes experience if what we know or have is something that is given to us now-there is a hand that offers it to us now, there is a face that comes forward now, there is blood that flows now, there is a resurrection that happenes now. Nothing exists outside this 'now'! Our 'I' cannot be moved, aroused, that is, changed, if not by something contemporaneous - an event. Christ is something that is happening to me. Now, in order that we know - Christ, the whole question of Christ - be an experience, there has to be a present that provokes us and arouses us. It is a presence as it was a presence for Andrew and John. Christianity, Christ, is exactly what He was for Andrew and John when they followed him. Imagine when He turned around, how they were struck! And when they went home with Him...It has been just like this up to now, up to this moment."
Luigi Giussani

Way of the Cross in the Heart of the City

As for many years, this Good Friday hundreds of people around the world will walk through the hearts of their cities commemorating our Lord's passion and death in Ways of the Cross organized by the lay Catholic Movement Communion and Liberation.
Millions of people carry their daily cross, but most of the time they are dreadfully alone: if God exists, He has nothing to do with their daily life. This is the real cross of every day, the cross of a person abandoned to himself, to his innermost need for genuine love, truth, beauty and justice. We need the presence of “God with us”, Jesus every day. And Jesus, because of the sacrifice of His cross and His resurrection, dwells among us, every day.

The Way of the Cross wants to help us follow Jesus and fix our gaze on the event of His passion in preparation for the joyous celebration of His resurrection.

In the United States, Ways of the Cross will be held in the following cities: Boston, Broomfield, CO, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Montgomery, AL, New Bedford, MA, New York City, Oklahoma City, Rochester, MN, Sacramento, Salem, OR, San Joseph, MO, San Diego, St. Louis, Washington,D.C.

For more information on locations and times visit the website

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Southern Writer: Walker Percy

Walker Percy is a Catholic novelist and philosopher who devoted his life to examining how assumptions concerning application of the scientific method have led to an increased alienation. He also saw how this reduction of reason provides the foundations for the modern culture of death. In the Thanatos Syndrome, he wrote "Do you know where tenderness leads? leads to the gas chamber.... More people have been killed in this century by tenderhearted souls than by cruel barbarians in all other centuries put together." This statement is very similar to Flannery O'Connor's "When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and the fumes of the gas chamber." These two Southern writers published almost identical observations independently of each other. Percy is very different from O'Connor and he did not publish his first novel until he was in his forties. He was a medical doctor educated at Columbia and came from a family with a rich Southern heritage. His work is valuable as Percy saw the dangers that were created by the modern cultural transformation: the reduction of what it means to be a person. We were less able to recognize the uniqueness and unrepeatability of each person and the consequence was alienation. Percy's strength was that he spent years considering the cultural change that led to our current reality. As a novelist, his work is worthy of attention.

Here is a very brief collection of four interviews with Percy available online, a lecture he gave, and a lecture about one of his works.

(Self-interview) From "Questions They Never Asked Me" by Walker Percy
Q: Do you regard yourself as a Catholic novelist?
A: Since I am a Catholic and a novelist, it would seem to follow that I am a Catholic novelist.
Q: What kind of Catholic are you?
A: Bad.
Q: No, I mean are you liberal or conservative?
A: I no longer know what those words mean.
Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
A: I don't know what that means, either. Do you mean, do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?
Q: Yes.
A: Yes.
Q. How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
A: What else is there?
Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
A: That's what I mean.
Q: To say nothing of Judaism and Protestantism.
A: Well, I would include them along with the Catholic Church in the whole peculiar Jewish-Christian thing.
Q: I don't understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
A: Yes.
Q: Why?
A: It's not good enough.
Q: Why not?
A: This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer "Scientific Humanism." That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e. God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q: Grabbed aholt?
A: Louisiana expression.

(Thanks, Fr Carucci for showing me this interview)

C-SPAN has Percy's lecture "The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind" which was given May 3, 1989 is available online in its entirety.

Four Interviews with Percy:

1 Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 97, Walker Percy "Probably the fear of seeing America, with all its great strength and beauty and freedom—“Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A.,” and so on—gradually subside into decay through default and be defeated, not by the communist movement, demonstrably a bankrupt system, but from within by weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed, and in the end helplessness before its great problems."

The Modern Prognosis: An Interview with Walker Percy "The trouble is the sciences for the last two hundred years have been spectacularly successful in dealing with subhuman reality, subhuman creatures, chemistry and physics of matter, and with extraordinary progress in learning about the cosmos; but also an extraordinary lack of success in dealing with man as man, man qua man. I think it's very curious--here the scientists know a tremendous amount about everything except what he or she is. Despite the extraordinary successes of science, we do not presently have even the rudiments of a coherent science of man."

Doubletake Interview "Also: writers are the "Protestants" of art, with nothing but their Scripto pencils and Blue-Horse tablets; painters are the "Catholics," with concrete intermediaries, clay, paint, models, fruit, landscape, etc. This is why writers drink more and painters live longer."

4 Orthodoxy Today Interview "The nihilism of some scientists in the name of ideology or sentimentality and the consequent devaluation of individual human life lead straight to the gas chamber."

Friday, March 4, 2011

The King's Speech

The Italian weekly newsletter ClanDestino Zoom, published a very good commentary on the recent Academy Award Winner Picture The King's Speech.

Below is a translation in English:

W Colin Firth who, in a wonderful movie, make us love the father of Queen Elizabeth and with him an important piece of European History.

The duke of York, second son of George V, King of the United Kingdom, unsucessfully consults many specialists for the stammer that has been affecting him since childhood, until he meets Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist. The relationship between the two is not easy and immediate. "Stammer is not a physical problem, " sustains Lionel, pressing the duke to know its causes. Despite this and with great fear, after the death of his father and the abdication of his older brother, he becomes King George VI. He cannot refrain from talking to the people and radio has become the most effice means of communication. "Forget everything else, just say it to me, a friend." These are the words Lionel tells the King before the beginning of the speech in which he announces to the English people that England has declared war to nazi Germany.

What makes it possible to face everything, the impossible, the scary, the bitter delusions, the rightful fears, the anguish, the weaknesses, limits, and anxieties? King George encountered and chose, first with rebelliousness but then with tenaciousness, a friend, someone who showed him that behind the huge microphone of the 1930s there wasn't an enemy from which to run away.

You can find the Italian text by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Aesop: The Wolf and the Shepherd

Aesop and a Parable for Today

A WOLF followed a flock of sheep for a long time and did not attempt to injure one of them. The Shepherd at first stood on his guard against him, as against an enemy, and kept a strict watch over his movements. But when the Wolf, day after day, kept in the company of the sheep and did not make the slightest effort to seize them, the Shepherd began to look upon him as a guardian of his flock rather than as a plotter of evil against it; and when occasion called him one day into the city, he left the sheep entirely in his charge. The Wolf, now that he had the opportunity, fell upon the sheep, and destroyed the greater part of the flock. When the Shepherd returned to find his flock destroyed, he exclaimed: "I have been rightly served; why did I trust my sheep to a Wolf?"

(Aesop's Fables are public domain and available free online)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Lapsed Agnostic

It is rare to find a book that presents a personal account describing the misunderstanding and suffering caused by the Irish Church's failure to understand today's cultural reality. John Waters, a columnist with The Irish Times, describes a journey that originated in a Catholic childhood, following the promise of freedom in the pop culture that led to his rejection of the faith, and his long and difficult return to the Church. Waters offers Lapsed Agnostic as a long voyage that addresses the cultural reality in Ireland where the Church leadership failed to respond to the challenges modernity presented and reduced the Christian message to morality and political dominance. The Irish Church never developed a coherent response to the Enlightenment and after independence was satisfied merely preserving external political realities. The local church dominated society in a way similar to the British colonial experience where it sought legal positions and moralistic behavior and was unable to show how Christ mattered to daily life. The dualistic tendencies that weakened the entire West were particularly destructive in Ireland and the life proposed by the Church was unattractive compared to the freedom promised by rock musicians and the wider pop culture. Waters followed the road where he thought he would find happiness and left the faith to embrace a life of 'freedom,' but this promise failed and ultimately led him to alcohol as a means to survive. He lived through the destruction of traditional culture and had nothing but superficial ideas to replace what was lost. His human needs were present but unfulfilled and he drowned his heart in drunkenness. Eventually he found his way to AA and rediscovered his faith through a long and difficult process that required him re-think his relationship with Christ and re-enter the Church. This process was particularly painful as it required him to discover where the Irish Church had reduced the faith and had failed to propose Christ. The cultural problems are still present in Ireland and Waters tells how he has difficulty talking to people who ask him questions about what he believes because they normally come from ideological positions that are unable to comprehend his responses.
This is a beautiful work where the author places before us the reality of his childhood and the consequences of a faith that is unable to generate a culture. “The Irish Church has not yet woken up to the scale of the anthropological and existential crisis that besets Irish society precisely because of the particular nature of its historical faith experience and its recent rejection of this.” The outcome was the people leaving the Church and embracing a shallow culture that left them unable to deal with the problems of life. Yet, the answer for Ireland remains Christ and Waters own experience shows why this return is the only response that corresponds with the human heart. Ireland has suffered a loss of its tradition and is hungry for something that can address our reality now. This can only come from an encounter with a Presence that is able to generate a culture.

John Water's recent column in The Irish Times: Freedom at Last to Think for Yourself

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Handmade with Love: support local craftspeople!

As my husband and I are trying to avoid buying things made in China whenever possible (and it's becoming harder and harder but we are doing our best!!) we are discovering a universe of people, mostly stay-home moms, who love to use their artistic talents to make personalized and one-of-a-kind gifts. These gifts might be more expensive than what you find in the stores, but they are so much better and much more beautiful than any mass produced item that is sold all over America (and the world). It's absolutely worth it! We are happy to spend some extra money, get a wonderful gift, and support an individual family. In this way, we allow mothers to make some money while staying home with their children, something that in our society today seems very hard to do because one income is often not enough.

My husband and I were looking for a special gift for our goddaughter's first birthday and I thought about a friend of mine from college, a stay-home mother of two who paints, sews, and does many other wonderful crafts. We ended up commissioning her an icon of our goddaughter's patron saint. It was the best gift ever! You can see this and other works on her blog "Santi Amici" (Saints friends).

Another crafts-mother I recently got to know and appreciate makes the cutest girls' dresses from adult t-shirts bought at thrift stores. You can see some of her creations at Kristi Bee.

I suggest that you look around, ask your friends, and do some internet searches and see what people around you (or faraway as my friend in Italy) are doing, you will be surprised! Please support local craftspeople and their families!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Polish Composer: Henryk Gorecki

The Polish contribution to Western culture and civilization is underestimated and little known. Few know the story of the the Lublin University school of philosophy where an ontological critique of Marxism originated that provided a tool to discredit communism at the cultural level. The human encounter with repressive socialist ideology led to many artistic works that point to something deeper that could not be explained with the dominant materialist ideology. Poland’s thought is valuable today because our culture is adopting a new form of materialism that has a more subtle and comprehensive grasp on our culture.

This is the first of several posts that will examine the cultural contribution of Poland that can help us address the reality we face in the West today.

Henryk Gorecki was a Polish composer that provided a response to the oppressive ideology by provided musical works that pointed toward another reality. His second symphony was commissioned by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and he dedicated two works to Pope John Paul II: Beautis Vir (Opus 38 ) and Totus Tuus (Op 60). He also quit his university teaching post in 1979 to protest the government’s refusal to allow Pope John Paul II to visit. His most famous work is his third symphony, the Symphony of the Sorrowful Songs (Op 36).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Liberal Fascism: A Brief Review

A short time ago, I had a discussion with my department head who was thoroughly depressed that the republicans were going to win the midterm elections and stifle Obama's plans for the country. Since he is a liberal, he was frustrated that his hopes for political change were going to be unrealized. His ultimate complaint was that the American system was itself to blame and the solution was to give the president full governmental power and dissolve the legislative branch. His argument was based Robert Kaplan and Fareed Zakaria's observations that authoritarian capitalist states are outperforming democratic states and, to stay competitive economically, we needed a smart president who would have unlimited power to create policies that would address our country's weaknesses. Ironically, my department head teaches American National Government and believes himself to be a progressive who is willing to destroy democracy to make the U.S. competitive internationally. He would never desire this transformation if there were a republican president; he believes that an intelligent liberal should be empowered to save our country.

I was surprised at this encounter, but this suggestion is consistent with the patterns in U.S. and world history. My department head wanted a liberal authoritarian leader who would dissolve our government and gain power to create a new system where one person is empowered to make all decisions for our state. The transition to an authoritarian government would be guided by ideology and use liberal, progressive principles to justify it. Every time a fascist regime has emerged in the past, it has come from the political left and, conveniently, the right has received the historical blame. Conservatives have no historical legacy in Europe of destroying democratic governments and establishing authoritarian or fascist ones.

One common misunderstanding is that fascism arose through right-wing political groups, but anyone examining the historical record would see that fascist regimes emerge from the left in the name of progress. Jonah Goldberg published Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (2008) to examine this historical record and show that fascism emerged from left-wing political groups that sought to modernize and de-Christianize society in the name of progress. Goldberg traces the emergence of these authoritarian governments and shows that the first fascist regime did not emerge in Europe but in the United States under the Wilson administration. The Espionage and Sedition Laws of 1917-8 curtailed free speech and made it a crime to oppose the administration and this justified the arrest of thousands, the expulsion of aliens without due process, and gave scores of local brown shirts the legal protection to beat up and intimidate anyone who apposed the government. The idea that links Wilson to the Italian and German manifestation was the tie to pragmatic transformation and a shared political understanding of the world. In fact, it was Wilson who created the first propaganda ministry. Ironically, Mussolini learned much from Wilson and made several gestures to acknowledge that he was continuing the progressive policies he inherited from the United States. This movement lasted only through WWI in the United States as the public was much less tolerant of fascist policies during peace time. There was a brief re-emergence under FDR, but again this was a temporary curtailment of political liberty during a major war. The U.S. public seems to recover and defend their freedom after a war ends.

A secondary strength of Goldberg's book is the examination of policies endorsed by fascist regimes. The policies seek to expand governmental power in all areas of public life and to further secularize or move towards paganism as the state assumes responsibilities that require businesses, families, and religious communities to defer to the favored ideological program. Fascist regimes move governmental structures in ways favored by the political left and these changes are clear evidence for Goldberg's thesis that fascism is a leftist phenomenon. In its attempt to help children, these regimes destroy families. As fascist regimes seek to establish tolerance, Christianity is silenced and then attempts are made to destroy faith in everything but the state and its ideology. Fascists adopt a progressive ideology that re-makes society but destroys its most vital elements: the Church, the family, and businesses. These policy programs are inherently linked to the left and it is a mistake to identify fascist regimes with conservatives.

Jonah Goldberg provides a convincing historical account of the rise of fascist regimes in Europe and North America but he fails to explain the authoritarian right-wing regimes that emerged in Latin America in the 1980s. While the political positions of these repressive regimes cannot be linked to the progressive ideology, there is an institutional connection between fascist regimes of Spain, Italy, and Germany and authoritarian governments of Latin America. The University of Chicago actually sent economists to Chile to advise the military government on its policies toward businesses and unions. These regimes did not emerge in Europe, but it is difficult to dismiss them as unimportant in the literature of fascism. Unfortunately, authoritarian governments evolve and can take elements from the right or left. In either case, state power grows and the end result is more governmental intervention in citizens' daily lives.

Liberal Fascism does not explain the policies of the Bush administration after September 11th where freedom of speech declined and governmental power grew. Hannah Arendt has observed in The Origins of Totalitarianism that foreign military engagements, such as the intervention in Iraq, eventually result in a changed political reality in the invading country. Although the Iraq War has spanned republican and democratic administrations, one constant component is the decreasing freedom we see domestically in the United States. If Arendt is correct, the Iraq War would increase governmental power regardless of which party is in control. To suggest that the growth of governmental power took place at a time of leftist governments in the past does not preclude the possibility of equally repressive regimes originating at the hands of the political right. One confounding element was that the United States had democratic presidents during WWI and WWII, but does this mean that republican presidents would have been less willing to deepen state power? As one examines the Bush administration policies, it is difficult to imagine that the right would have been much different. Although Wilson and FDR were progressive, it was a great war that gave them the ability to remove political power. A Republican president would likely have acted in a similar manner, but may have justified his action through different language. In other words, the reality Goldberg describes is historically accurate but ultimately rests on evidence that occurred at a specific moment in history. I believe that his warning about fascism as a historically leftist movement is correct, but this position does not adequately describe the equal threat to liberty originating at the hands of the political right.

Liberalism’s Greatest Failure? - By Jonah Goldberg - The Corner - National Review Online