The Syllabus of Hitchcock

Why has James Hitchcock attacked Judie Brown, Pat Buchanan, The Remnant, The Wanderer and practically the whole “Catholic right”? And why has Father Richard Neuhaus lent him a hand?

Christopher A. Ferrara

“If pro-lifers consider this a victory,

then someone should check to

see what they are putting in their coffee.”

...Pro-Life Champion, Judie Brown

(Posted 11/9/07, I am sitting in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, having completed oral arguments before the Ninth Circuit in a long-running pro-life case that rivals the Dickensian lawsuit Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce in duration, and vastly exceeds it in absurdity.  Having some time on my hands, I decided actually to read James Hitchcock’s article "Abortion and the 'Catholic Right'", which appeared in Human Life Review some months ago. The piece has caused a minor commotion since “Taki’s Top Drawer” weblog took notice of it in a very effective reply by Scott Richert, aptly entitled "Who's Infallible Here, Anyway? The Human Life Review Chooses Party Over Church."

As Richert’s title suggests, Hitchcock has provided another example of what I have called American Republican Catholicism: the fusion of an already thoroughly Americanized Catholicism with the platform of the Republican Party. Nowhere is this fusion more apparent than at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, where  Austin Ruse went so far as to gush that Bush is “the second Catholic President… and maybe the first.”  And so he is, if by “Catholic” we mean American Republican Catholic.

The Syllabus

Hitchcock’s piece sneers at a wide assortment of people and publications whose views offend him, including Judie Brown—yes, Judie Brown—Joe Sobran, Pat Buchanan, Paul Likoudis, Charles Rice, Dr. John Rao, Howard Phillips, Rupert Ederer (a Catholic economist who defends the Church’s teaching on the excesses of capitalism), William Cobbett (19th century Anglican critic of the Protestant Reformation), Father Charles Coughlin (the “radio priest” who was a thorn in FDR’s side), Paul Craig Roberts (a libertarian economist), Dr. Robert Hickson (Catholic political analyst and former Christendom College professor), left-liberal commentators Howard Zinn Francis Boyle, Gabriel Kolko and Noam Chomsky, the Society of Saint Pius X, The Nation, The Wanderer and The Remnant. I myself am the subject of an entire paragraph.

What all of these people and publications have in common is that they agree on one or more of the propositions condemned in the Syllabus of Hitchcock, whose contents can with some difficulty be discerned in the text of his meandering excursus. Whereas the Syllabus of Blessed Pius IX condemned the errors of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment liberalism that were leading the world to ruin, the Syllabus of Hitchcock condemns the “errors” of Catholics who oppose the founding principles of modern political society and the policies of George Bush and the Republican Party. Shorn of Hitchcock’s dishonest caricatures, on which I will not waste any time, the condemned propositions appear to include these:

1.  George Bush is not truly pro-life.

2.  Rick Santorum (who helped assure Arlen Specter’s reelection) is not truly pro-life.

3.  The Republican Party is not truly pro-life.

4.  Judicial appointments by Republican Presidents have not made a material difference in the regime of abortion on demand.

5.  Since the Republicans are not serious about ending legalized abortion, Catholics should focus energy on issues that present a more immediate prospect of success, including ending the war in Iraq, instead of endlessly chasing illusory “reductions” in the number of abortions.

6.  The war in Iraq was contrary to Catholic just war teaching.

7.  American support for Israel has not proven to be in America's best interests.

8.  Islamic extremists do not hate our “freedom,” they hate our meddling foreign policy.

9.  The threat of Arab terrorism on American soil is overstated, and the “war on terror” is a sham.

10. The Military Commission Act is a dangerous expansion of federal power that betokens totalitarianism.

11. Global capitalists are an unaccountable elite that exploits its relations with big government by means of “free trade” policies and other government interventions that benefit transnational corporations while harming ordinary people.

12. Government policies have ground ordinary people into the dirt.

13. Free trade, the income tax and unrestricted immigration are social evils.

14. American-style transnational capitalism is spreading billboards, shopping malls, and other commercial excesses throughout Europe.

15. America has developed a materialistic and hedonistic concept of freedom.

16. Depriving workers of just wages violates the Seventh Commandment.

17. Lying America into the Iraq war violated the Eighth Commandment.

18. A social Darwinian philosophy dominates modern life.

19. The American Revolution was largely a Protestant-Masonic affair, as even modern secular scholarship has shown.

20. The American government is becoming increasingly hostile to Catholic principles of social order, and indeed to religion in general in the public square.

21. The "American experiment" was based largely upon Enlightenment principles, as seen especially in the philosophy of John Locke.

22. The Enlightenment created the “poisoned roots” from which political orders destructive of Christian civilization have grown.

23. One can only be profoundly pessimistic about the state of our Enlightenment-bred society.

24. Western nations must recognize the Kingship of Christ in accordance with their duty to God.

As the reader will note, Hitchcock’s condemned propositions 1-18 are self-evidently true or, at worst, eminently debatable, whereas propositions 19-21 (regarding the role of the Enlightenment and Freemasonry in the age of “democratic revolution”) are undeniable historical facts.   Propositions 22-23 not only reflect historical facts, but also the teaching of the Catholic Church in a long line of anti-liberal papal pronouncements, including the Syllabus of Pius IX and the apocalyptically pessimistic diagnoses of Pius X, Pius XI and Pius XII.

Finally, proposition 24 is likewise the teaching of the Church.  Even Vatican II, despite its vexed ambiguity on the subject, reaffirmed the “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ”1—that is, the duty of men and nations to be Catholic.

In short, there is nothing condemnable in the opinions condemned in the Syllabus of Hitchcock.  Quite the contrary, it is impossible to see how any Roman Catholic in possession of his faith and a rudimentary knowledge of history and current events could fail to agree with every one of them.

Is Another History Lesson Really Necessary?

Do traditionalists really still have repeat to people like Hitchcock, a professor of history at a Catholic university, historical lessons even secular academe long ago assimilated? Is Hitchcock, for example, really not aware that “the American experiment” arose from the thought of the Enlightenment? As Gordon S. Wood observes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study The Radicalism of the American Revolution: “America became the Enlightenment fulfilled.”2 As for the role of Masonry in the Revolution, it is difficult to believe Hitchcock somehow overlooked what Wood has noticed: “It would difficult to exaggerate the importance of Freemasonry for the American Revolution…. Freemasonry was a surrogate religion for an Enlightenment suspicious of traditional Christianity.”3 Does Hitchcock really doubt the existence of “poisoned roots” in the Enlightenment? As Peter Gay observes in his magisterial study, the Enlightenment represents “the rise of modern paganism” and an attack “against Christianity itself, against Christian dogma in all its forms, Christian institutions, Christian ethics, and the Christian view of man.”4

Of course, Hitchcock knows better; he himself has taught a course that covers Americanism, Modernism and the papal critique of modernity. He can only be pretending that the opinions he caricatures are beyond the pale. Indeed, Hitchcock cannot be unaware that by any objective Catholic standard not tied to the sliding scale of secular politics, the Syllabus of Hitchcock is nothing more than demagogic pandering to the degenerate status quo of a political system whose current leaders would have been viewed as liberal savages by Democrats only fifty years ago. Hitchcock has indeed, as Richert says, placed the Party before Church.

Chaplain to the Status Quo

And so has Father Richard John Neuhaus, whose First Things magazine has become a pulpit from which to preach his sermons as a veritable chaplain to the status quo. Neuhaus praises Hitchcock’s piece on his  weblog, summarizing it thus: “In their virulent detestation of George W. Bush and their condemnation of the Iraq War, these people are… peddling an apocalyptic vision of a capitalist-neoconservative conspiracy that matches the rantings of Marxist and other leftist ideologues. And all this with more than a whiff of the anti-Semitism associated with Fr. Charles Coughlin, whom they frequently extol as a hero.”

As one would expect from a man without an argument, Neuhaus plays the “anti-Semite” card. But notice the especially underhanded manner in which he does so: Unnamed Catholics (“they”) who oppose Bush and his war think Father Coughlin (who opposed FDR) was a hero.  Since Coughlin was “associated” with anti-Semitism—notice Neuhaus does not say Coughlin was an anti-Semite—Catholics who think Coughlin was a hero are associated with his association with anti-Semitism. Guilt by association twice removed! And what does Neuhaus mean by “more than a whiff” of anti-Semitism? Evidently, something more than an odor but less than a certainty.  One would think  that a Catholic priest would not descend to this sort of thing. But Father Neuhaus is not just a Catholic priest; he is an American Republican Catholic priest, not above throwing kidney punches for the Party.

Neuhaus goes on to note that  Neo-Conned, a series of essays against the Iraq war, includes contributions by “Buchanan, Sobran, and Likoudis, along with, of all people, Noam Chomsky. The book carries one endorsement by far-left historian Howard Zinn and another by Richard Williamson of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X, better known as the Lefebvrists. This is strange bedfellowship on crack.” But how is it that Neuhaus fails to mention that the “strange bedfellowship” of opposition to the war includes Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II?  Unwaveringly loyal to the Party, Neuhaus will not even allow the possibility that the war is so blatantly immoral that even liberals can see it. Of course, not all liberals can see it. Those who can’t see it, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, happen to be in Neuhaus’s bed.  He fails to mention this, however.

Bashing Judie Brown

As Hitchcock and Neuhaus would have it,  right-thinking Catholics must vote Republican in the next Presidential election, no matter who emerges from the gaggle of divorcees leading the pack in the primaries. Should he get the nod, Catholics must even vote for the divorced public adulterer and pro-abort, Rudy Giuliani, whose own words and deeds have excommunicated him.  We must vote for whomever the Party anoints, for the Party is “pro-life.”  Can we not see this in the glorious pro-life victory achieved with the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart, upholding the Congressional ban on “partial birth” abortion? Was not this glorious victory made possible by George Bush’s appointment of Roberts and Alito?

Both Hitchcock and Neuhaus condemn Judie Brown, the great heroine of the American pro-life movement, for observing apropos Carhart that “If pro-lifers consider this a victory, then someone should check to see what they are putting in their coffee.”  By this and similar utterances to the effect that Bush and the Party are not really pro-life, Judie comes under condemned propositions 1-3 in the Syllabus of Hitchcock.  But Hitchcock and Neuhaus either have no understanding of Carhart or are hiding its import from the Catholic faithful. For the Carhart decision demonstrates that this nation is in the grip of Enlightenment-bred lunacy only a miracle of grace can cure.

The Lockean “Victory” in Carhart

In Carhart, a bare majority of the Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 against what is called a “facial” challenge by four abortionists. The abortionists argued that the Act is vague and overly broad on its face—that is, without even examining how it is applied—because it could be read to prohibit not only “partial birth” abortions, but also the far more common D & E (dilation and evacuation) in which there is no partial delivery but rather the baby is ripped limb from limb inside the womb. The abortionists argued that they could be prosecuted under the Act if, during a D & E, any part of a baby they are murdering comes out of the womb before the baby is dead.

Not so, reasoned Justice Kennedy, because the Act clearly establishes “anatomical landmarks” that distinguish a partial birth abortion from a D & E.  There can be no prosecution under the Act unless the abortionist kills the baby after “the entire fetal head is outside the [mother’s] body” or, in the case of a feet-first presentation, “the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the [mother’s] body ...” So, according to Justice Kennedy, the Act is “constitutional” because if only part of the baby’s head, or the torso before the navel, is still inside the womb, the abortionist can hack away without fear of liability.  The Act, by its “anatomical landmarks,” gives fair warning of exactly what kind of baby-killing is prohibited, and what kind is allowed.

But, the four abortionists argued, if an abortionist inadvertently causes the baby to reach one of the “anatomical landmarks” during an otherwise “constitutionally protected” D & E, he could still be prosecuted under the Act, even though he never intended a partial birth.  Not to worry, holds Justice Kennedy, for the Act requires that “the physician must have ‘deliberately and intentionally’ delivered the fetus to one of the Act’s anatomical landmarks. If a living fetus is delivered past the critical point by accident or inadvertence, the Act is inapplicable.” So, if by mistake a baby’s entire head, or its torso after the navel, slips out of the womb during a D & E, an abortionist can still rip the baby to pieces (or suck its brains out, if that would be “safer” for the mother) since he did not specifically intend to have the baby reach an “anatomical landmark.” And it is for this reason, Justice Kennedy and the majority declare, that the Act survives a “facial” challenge for vagueness.

However, the Court further holds, because the Act contains no “health of the mother” exception, a woman can always sue to invalidate the Act as applied to her, rather than mounting an across-the-board facial challenge. As Justice Kennedy observes, an as-applied challenge “is the proper manner to protect the health of the woman if it can be shown that in discrete and well-defined instances a particular condition has or is likely to occur in which the procedure prohibited by the Act must be used.” So, if a woman maintains that her particular “health” concerns require that her baby’s brains be sucked during a partial delivery, she will have standing to attack the constitutionality of the Act. Both of Bush’s “pro-life” appointees—Alito and Roberts—signed onto Kennedy’s macabre “majority opinion,” which essentially upholds the Act because it still permits babies to be ripped to pieces inside the womb during a D & E.  Justices Thomas and Scalia concurred with the opinion “because it accurately applies current jurisprudence,” while noting tepidly that “the Court’s abortion jurisprudence… has no basis in the Constitution….” The five Catholic justices of our Supreme Court rely, not on what is objectively right or wrong, but on precise legal distinctions concerning  “anatomical landmarks” on the victims of cold-blooded murder, while leaving religion, the natural law and the eternal law outside the courtroom door. They act this way because there is no place for God or God’s law in the jurisprudence of our Godless political regime. So declared Justice Scalia himself during an address and Q & A at the Gregorian in Rome:

[T]he test of good government, like the test of good tailoring, is assuredly not whether it helps you to save your soul… [T]he state does not adopt [a law] for supernatural reasons…. The state adopts it because that’s what its people want….. If the people, for example, want abortion the state should permit abortion in a democracy…. I have been appointed to apply the Constitution and the positive law. God applies the natural law.5

The decision in Carhart is a perfect demonstration of Lockean man at work in the secularized mass democracy Locke first conceived and which the Founders, guided largely by Locke’s thought, created with their Revolution—to the belated regret of most of them, once they realized what they had wrought.6 As Locke declared in his Essay Concerning Toleration: “Yet give me leave to say, however strange it may seem, that the lawmaker have nothing to do with moral virtues and vices…”7 And, as Hitchcock and Neuhaus would know if they have taken the trouble to study Locke’s thought, it was Locke himself who first opened the way to legalized abortion by denying the existence of metaphysical essences and declaring that the species we call “man” is just a name for a collection of attributes, “it having been more than once doubted, whether the foetus born of a woman were a man, even so far as that it hath been debated, whether it were or were not to be nourished and baptized…which could not be, if the abstract idea or essence to which the name man belonged were of nature’s making, and were not the uncertain and various collection of simple ideas, which the understanding put together, and then… affixed a name to it.”8

Hitchcock and Neuhaus would have us participate as dutiful voters for the Party in a terminally Lockean regime, running from election to election in pursuit of a pro-life carrot, dangling always just beyond our reach from the Party’s stick. Like the rest of their fellow ARCs, Hitchcock and Neuhaus have failed to recognize what Dietrich Von Hildebrand called “the apocalyptic decline of our time.” On their view of our situation they cannot recognize any such decline. Like all liberals who are confident that modern political societies rest on sound principles, they must exude an optimism about the political process that has no connection to its actual results, which are the production of increasingly degenerate politicians, policies and laws.

Who Are the Real Weirdoes?

Hitchcock and Neuhaus deride Judie Brown and other faithful Catholics as weirdoes merely for recognizing that the American political process is a sham, and that Bush and his Party are a sham. Neuhaus attributes Catholic opposition to the Iraq war to a mental disorder that explains the agreement of Catholic war opponents with certain liberals on this issue: “[E]xtreme alienation desperately seeks company, and any company will do. Sociologists might call it the elective affinity of extremisms. Others might call it bizarre.” But Neuhaus and Hitchcock happen to agree with other liberals that the Iraq War is righteous. If one wanted to take the cheap shot, as Neuhaus obviously likes to do, one would simply turn Neuhaus's own argument against him and Hitchcock and leave it at that. But there is a legitimate argument in favor of the proposition that it is Neuhaus and Hitchcock who have a problem with alienation and extremism. They have allowed themselves to be disoriented by the insanity they are unable to perceive in a regime whose founding principles, once accepted by Catholics, make it inevitable—make it absolutely necessary, in fact—that Catholic judges issue a decision like the one in Carhart, a decision even the likes of Diederot would read with stunned disbelief at the final outcome of his own movement to “change the general of way thinking.”  It is not the accused, then, but their shallow-minded accusers who are the real weirdoes.  They are weirdoes living without objection in the weird realm Lockean man has built for us—a realm in which even Catholic judges feel constrained to uphold a useless ban on  “partial birth” abortion based on carefully defined “anatomical landmarks” rather than the law of God, and people like Hitchcock and Neuhaus proclaim the great “pro-life” victory.

The author of the Syllabus of Hitchcock and the Chaplain to the Status Quo insist that the good Catholic is the Catholic who will consent to continue playing by the strange and uncatholic rules of a weirdly constructed realm in whose construction they see nothing weird, but only issues to be voted upon. They have forgotten the “First Things” that make them Catholics and would enable them to see the diabolical madness at the very foundations of modernity. What more can one say to these two characters?  As they follow like lemmings the Party that is helping to lead what is left of our civilization over the cliff, we can only say to them what Catholics who still believe in the Social Kingship of Christ must say: Goodbye, Dr. Hitchcock. Goodbye, Father Neuhaus.

1 Dignitatis Humanae, Art. 1

2 Wood, Radicalism of the American Revolution, p. 190-191.

3 Ibid., p. 223.

4 Gay, The Enlightenment: the Rise of Modern Paganism, p. 59.

5 Antonin Scalia, "Of Democracy, Morality and the Majority," Origins, June 27, 1996, Vol. 26, No.

6 As Gordon Wood observes: "All the major revolutionary leaders died less than happy with the results of the Revolution." Radicalism, p. 366.

7 Essay Concerning Toleration (Cambridge Edition)., p. 144.

8 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, III.3.14.