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September 10, 2012
Spider's web
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

Swiss people go to the polls more often than any citizen of other countries. They vote for every decision affecting them. But, what is remarkable is that in the majority of cases, they have a personal knowledge of the person they vote for or against. Every single small village has elections. Everyone knows everyone else.          

In our society, it hardly ever happens that we “know” the candidate we vote for. We make up our minds according to the information that the news media “deigns” to share with us. The news we get in reading The NY Times is personally selected by a handful of people. They decide what they want us to know and are meticulously silent about what they “wisely” choose to keep to themselves. Every year, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, thousands of people go down to Washington to protest the legalization of abortion.

For obvious reasons, this “great” newspaper does not mention this memorable fact.

On the other hand, when they favor a particular candidate, he appears and reappears on their pages and is praised ad nauseam for his accomplishments and qualifications. It is a sort of “brain washing” which is very successful. Father Groeschel once said, “I read The Times to know those one should not vote for.” Television and the Internet are our “educators.” Every channel has its own agenda and promotes one particular person whose philosophy reflects their own. We are totally dependent upon the information they are willing to relay.

I recall the words of Chesterton, being asked whether the press should be censored; in his own spontaneous, inimitable manner, he exclaimed; “Censor the press! But we are censored by the press!” This is true. The news media choose for us ... and we follow like sheep unless we happen to be in a privileged position,  and have access to the authentic sources and have valid  information about the candidate “running” for office.

One method to “control public opinion and “dominate” the public is “omission.” If any candidate happens to have very serious flaws, moral or others,  and the public is not given this information because he is a “favorite” of the news media,  it will vote for him, and find out much later, that “ … had they known.” But it is too late.

Another  extremely successful  method is to use seductive words, which have a universal appeal. When cleverly presented, they are sure to win the assent of innumerable people.  Some the most popular ones are: democratic, change, renewal, freedom and progress.

I recall that at the end of World War II, when Stalin - one of the greatest criminals of all times - had become our “ally,” and was given half of Europe as a reward for his “heroic” fight against Nazism (not mentioning of course, that the United States had given the Communist state all airplanes, guns and  ammunition they desperately needed),  there was a “honeymoon” period between the two countries.

Harry Truman once declared, “I like Old Joe,” (who, as reported by Solzhenytsin had murdered millions of his fellow citizens). The Communists knew full well that the “trick” called for to win the sympathy of the American Public was “democracy.”  It was no easy job to convince people that an authoritarian state (if ever there was one)  was “democratic.”

A political “genius” found the solution: he coined the term “eastern democracy.” The word “democracy” was preserved, and “eastern” was added to throw sand in our eyes. We now know what “eastern democracies” were like.

Alas, innumerable people fell in the for big lie, and were sincerely convinced that in the USSR people’s freedom was respected. There is a Spanish proverb that says: La mentira y la torta gorda (Both the cake and the lie should be big). Very big lies alone have a chance of being blindly accepted.

The Communists played their hand so cleverly that in l944, when Dietrich von Hildebrand gave a talk at a Midwestern Catholic college, and warned that Soviet Russia was morally as vicious as Nazism, a nun rose in protest, and exclaimed; “How dare you compare these dirty Nazis with this gallant Communists!” He was both grieved and stunned.

Democracy is a great word if it means that all men, independently of their ethnic background and individual qualities, are metaphysically equal, being all “God’s children.”

But, if from that truth, one draws that conclusion that all men are equally just, equally intelligent, equally talented and equally beautiful, one falls into a very serious error: the dreadful error that everything is relative.

Another mistake lurking in the background is to assume that “the majority is always right.” It is quite conceivable that a very evil man is elected by a landslide. His election is “legally” valid, but to give power in the hands of an evil man inevitably leads to disastrous consequences, as history keeps telling us.

How right Plato was when he wrote that it is a grievous mistake to assume a question can be determined by number. (Laws, 16)  A majority can  condemn an innocent person; a majority can impose atheism in a country.

Let us beware of “eastern democracies” and the like. They might re appear wearing another cap, but they will inevitably be as poisonous.

Another word that wins the assent of people is understandably the word “freedom.” It is a magic word, rich in qualities that we all admire: respect for the human person, acknowledgment of his dignity and of his right to make his own decision. It implies a  radical rejection of slavery, authoritarianism,  any sort of psychological brutality. Any political or social system which strips people of their freedom is the door to the Gulags so powerfully sketched by Solzhenitsyn. It is evil.

The Devil is very clever  and knows that we are not. He knows but too well that we are attracted by pleasure,  by our personal advantage, by what flatters us,  for what is easy and effortless.  When the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case of Roe v. Wade, (which they should have thrown out of court),  those who won the majority vote felt “nobly motivated” by their respect for man’s freedom.  America prides itself to be the land of freedom: “let people make up their own mind.” It is their right, and it is certainly backed up by the Constitution.

Is it not one of the glories of democracy that the citizens can “choose” their leaders, just as it is typical of totalitarian systems, that they are deprived of this freedom?

Indeed, man is “free” in the sense that he can make his own decisions and therefore bears full responsibility for his choices. But one thing is cleverly left unmentioned: namely that the freedom to choose goes hand in hand with the  possibility to misuse this “sacred” freedom.

Of course, we are “free” to murder or not to murder, to lie or not to lie, to be honest or to cheat, to commit adultery or to be faithful to husband or wife. We are free to blaspheme or to be reverent.

All these choices are “free,” but  this very “freedom” should remind us of our responsibility to make the right choice - and by “right” I do not men what is “more pleasurable” or “more advantageous at first sight,” but what is morally right.

The greatness of man is that he can choose what he morally ought to choose. To be forced to be honest deprives a man of the virtue of honesty. Nancy Pelosi - whose formation in the “love of wisdom” is sadly defective - used a “religious” argument to defend abortion. “God had given us freedom, and therefore gives us the right to use it as we see fit.” This is a leaky argument is there ever was one: If I am given a sharp knife to cut my meat, and choose to plunge it in my neighbor’s throat, I am definitely not following the intention of the giver of the knife.

God wants us to love Him freely: what is the value of a “forced” love? But as Kierkegaard remarked this divine generosity implied the possibility of our misusing this gift. This is what happening today in our decadent society. This is why when Victor Frankl (who spent the whole war in a concentration camp) first came to New York harbor and saw the statue of Liberty at its entrance, he expressed the wish that in San Francisco another statue be erected: the Statue of Responsibility.  This is wisdom.

Alas, it is yet to be built.

Appealing words are many. One of those which have a particular attraction for American “energy” is the word “change.” Awareness of the imperfection of the world we are living in seems  to justify this attraction: “It was time for a change”, “things could  not continue on the same path”, “change was long overdue.” But the word change is loaded; for it can refer to the abolishment of things which are evil, do not function properly, are harmful. But in its authentic meaning, it neither means not guarantee “progress.”

To assume that every change means “improvement” is, at best, naïve

The word “progress” also carries the same ambiguity; we speak of the “progress” of an illness. This is not good news for the patient. In and by itself, it is  a “neutral” word which means “ to go forward.”

But one can go forward toward a better state of things: we praise a child for the progress he achieves in writing and spelling. But, it can just as well refer to “progress” toward evil and moral decadence.

“Change” was the key word used by Barack Obama seeking the American presidency. It worked like magic. The news media had pictured Bush’s presidency as such a disaster that many people were easily convinced that “any change” was desirable. We now have a taste of  what this change has brought about.

It is a serious confusion to assume that change and progress mean improvement. If we are driving toward an abyss, it would be wise  to “regress” and turn around.

St. Paul tells us that we should test all things and keep what is (morally) good. The wise Plato wrote centuries ago that we should respect “the golden cord of tradition.” For “old” can refer to things which have become useless, which no longer have a meaning, which are “exhausted.”

But it would be most unwise to assume that whatever the past has given us, should be labeled as “passe.” Indeed, our technological progress is mind- boggling … but can we say that this progress is matched by our  acquisition of “wisdom?”

Alas!

Another attractive word is the word “liberal.” It is associated with “generosity”, “open mindedness”, and opposed to “conservative” which does not appeal to most of us being associated with “stiffness” “old fashioned”, allergic to “improvement.” Aristotle praises “liberality” as a virtue. It has a “ring” which is music to many people’s ears.

Another very powerful tool used to win over people’s assent are slogans. We shall limit myself to the most fashionable today. Family planning immediately comes to mind. Malthus has succeeded in scaring innumerable people by the deadly “threat” of overpopulation. This goes so far that not long ago when I met the Belgian Ambassador to the United States, and deplored the fact that Belgians had so very few children and have to “import” Muslims in order to make up for the scarcity of Belgian workers, he exclaimed proudly: “We Belgian people, are keenly aware of the danger of overpopulation!”

Clearly he was praising the “virtuous” attitude of his fellow citizens; they were “other” concerned, as opposed to people who wildly procreate not caring for the consequences that their irresponsible behavior will have for future generations. To limit the number of children one brings into the world is now “canonized” as a social virtue.

Indeed, planning is an important word in the human vocabulary. To neglect  to plan is unwise and can lead to catastrophic consequences. It is praised in the Gospel: before waging war, a King should carefully examine his situation  and plan his defense. Planning is so “reasonable”; it is so sound. No planning is bound to lead to defeat. 

But as always, the word is hijacked by the devil: any honest person favoring “family planning” knows full well that it actually means the use of contraception. If the latter fails, it inevitably leads to the murder of a child. In fact, this is already what contraception means, except that being on a “smaller scale,” its immorality is more easily concealed. 

Most do not realize (or do not want to realize) that contraceptives produce abortion. Once again, we have the same scenario; a word which is rich in positive meaning is twisted to such an extent that instead of a reasonable and laudable plan of action, it hides its shocking immorality. When contraception fails, the escape route for an unwanted pregnancy is the murder of an innocent human being. The word “murder” is still unpopular in most people’s ears, and therefore must be avoided at all cost. How much more attractive is the word “termination of pregnancy.” In and by itself, the word “terminate” is neutral and has no moral connotation. We terminate a work that is to bring it to completion. In this case, it actually means “we prevent it from coming to its normal end, which is being born.”  But once again, this is cleverly disguised to avoid hurting “old fashioned sensitivities.”

In a free country - and we are still one - a woman should be given full freedom to “choose” whether she wants or not to become pregnant, and that when she has failed properly she has the right to choose  a road of escape: to get rid or an unwanted guest.  For an unwanted child is an intruder, a sort of thief that settles in a woman’s body without her free consent. If squatters were to invade my house, I would call the police to force  them to leave. The same applies to an unwanted baby. Moreover, people will tell you that to kill a child in the womb is more “loving” and more “charitable” than to bring it into the world, and destine him to a life of misery and crime. 

I once heard a person raise the question; can lawyers go to heaven? If the Evil one has trained them, we can only hope that at the moment of death, their eyes will open and make them repent to have used their “cleverness” to defeat justice.
 
The word “death” makes most people turn pale; indeed the prospect that this body of ours - (an essential component of our human nature to which we have been united since the moment of conception, and that most of us pamper in every possible ways to satisfy its cravings or to improve its appearance)  -will one day die, rot and disintegrate is fearful. For the body without the soul loses its identify and its “oneness.” 

Just as the union of body and soul in one human person can be called a divine invention, death is a divine punishment. God knew it when He said to Adam and Eve: “If you eat of the fruit of this tree, you shalt die” what a fearful chastisement it was meant to be. Those who spend their lives in hospitals and live in constant proximity with death are threatened by the great danger: become dehumanized.

To quote the Queen in Hamlet; “It is common for men to die.” But, this does not imply that we no longer see it as a terrible punishment. This “brutal wrenching of body and soul is awful and awesome.” Some people have an easy death; others go through agonizing pains. To witness such a sight should mark a person for life: the response is horror.

Once again, the Evil one knows that he has a trump card, and suggested to some generous “liberals” that there are types of death which are against and below man’s dignity.  They degrade him. There are agonies that should be spared human persons. “Death with Dignity” was coined by the Evil One, and as expected, was an immediate success. Which one of us would not like to have a dignified death? Which one of us would like to die like a dog in a gutter?

What is not mentioned is that to guarantee this “dignity.”

As soon as certain ominous symptoms make their appearance a “charitable” doctor or nurse will strongly recommend assisted suicide. It suffices to show patients a film of people having a terrible agony to opt for  a peaceful death which - in fact - “is an act of charity” toward those we love. By choosing a “peaceful death,” I also spare them the terrible sight of a person in fearful pains, whose organs decompose while he is still alive. Is that a life anyway? “Charity and mercy” are words which, alas, have now often hijacked by the Devil.

Always again, the Gospels remind us that we are threatened by spiritual somnolence, and fail to see dangers until we are caught in their deadly nets. Fratres, sobrii estote et vigilate (St. Peter, Second Epistle) should be on our lips every single day of our earthly life.

With the help of God’s grace, let us be alert  and detect the poison contained in “fashionable slogans.” We should, like the wise virgins, always carry oil in our lamps.

How fearful if the Bridegroom were to come when we belatedly realize that soon our lamps would be extinguished, and then hear the fearful words, “I do not know you”?

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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November 27, 2014

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