A Dictatorship of Relative Torture

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Political hacks can do a great job of taking a profound insight and turn it into the dreadfully meaningless state of a political slogan, a sound-byte, or worst of all, a talking point. Voegelin’s condemnation against immanentizing the eschaton is one of those profound ideas about the shared eschatological views of modern totalitarians and millenialist Gnostics, stripped to a slogan of “yeah let’s stick it to those liberals.”

Like many things at National Review, Rich Lowry has found a new profound talking point from President Bush, in a speech welcoming the Holy Father to the U.S. For Bush this was actually a good speech hitting many of the themes that His Holiness often espouses, like the complementarity of faith and reason and invocations of the natural law written on the heart. Whoever Bush’s speech writer was for this address, he was assuredly a well informed Catholic. The high point and extremely ironic part of the speech came when the president acknowledged:

“In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this ‘dictatorship of relativism,’ and embrace a culture of justice and truth. (Applause.)”

Well Hallelujah, let the moral revival of D.C. begin in earnest. Maybe the president will open his obtuse heart and stop the torture. “Spe salvi factus sumus.”

Anyway back to Lowry. True to the anti-intellectual form of national greatness conservatism, he has found in the “dictatorship of relativism” a new slogan to stick it to those libs and evil Europeans. In the EU, Lowry triumphantly points out that a secular relativism has become “well-advanced.” While I think Lowry is largely correct on this point, he still fails to see with the wooden beam stuck in his own eye just what Ratzinger meant by relativism and how it applies explicitly to his own thought. If European relativism is well-advanced, Lowry’s relativism is in a critical state of metastasized cancer.

Let us harken back to Ratzinger’s brilliant 2005 sermon immediately prior to his elevation to the papacy:

“[R]elativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Ratzinger has modernists like Lowry pegged. No matter that such neocons pay lip service to religion, considerations for nuking Mecca thus advocating the murder of innocents to “send a signal” and dancing around the torture issue advocating waterboarding seem to be the only ways that people like Lowry can cope with modern times. When it comes to war, murder, and torture nothing with the Rich Lowrys of the world is definite. Only in a dictatorship of relative torture are people subjected to “90 seconds of uncontrollable panic to get information that might save lives.”

Rich Lowry should look deeper into the moral theology that forms the basis of Ratzinger’s thought and stop immanentizing the eschaton.

10:33 pm on April 22, 2008