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Letter from Rome: Paris and the Progressive Denial of Reality

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In his book Living the Truth, the German Thomist Josef Pieper presents the following thesis:

All obligation is based upon being. Reality is the foundation of ethics. The good is that which is in accord with reality. He who wishes to know and to do the good must turn his gaze upon the objective world of being. Not upon his own “ideas”, not upon his “conscience”, not upon “values”, not upon arbitrarily established “ideals” and “models”. He must turn away from his own act and fix his eyes upon reality.

I can think of no other passage so contrary to the spirit of our age. This spirit has been made evident in the reaction of our political and religious leaders to the November 13 ISIS terrorist attacks and the November 30-December 11 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

That these events took place in the city most representative of Western thought from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas through that of René Descartes and then of Jean-Paul Sartre shows how the West has gone from being a Christian to a modern and finally to a post-modern society. These are characterized by three distinct types of rationalism: one based on the complementarity of the Christian faith and reason, another on the scientific method and empirical observation, and the last of which is a virtual denial of reason and reality as such. It has left society without the resources necessary to defend itself from enemies domestic and foreign.

Even that basic political category, helping friends and hurting enemies, is now obsolete. The ISIS terrorists were French and Belgian citizens as well as radicalized Muslims, intent on striking “soft” targets like restaurants, bars, concert and sports venues where “decadent” Parisians were spending a Friday evening. It was an attack against the easygoing multiculturalism the West is so proud of, but it cannot bring itself to deny tolerance even to the violently intolerant. The most it can do is mourn the victims and vow never to give in to hate.

(What about the resurgence of French nationalism, with the waving of the flag, the singing of Les Marseilles and the immediate air strikes against ISIS territory in Syria? I predict these will all be short-term phenomena and the peace symbol will win out over the tri-color. See Pierre Manent’s Democracy without Nations? and Situation de la France for the profound reasons why.)

It did not take very long for American progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama to connect climate change to terrorism. For these leaders, the best way to get back at ISIS is not to defend the West on religious or political grounds but to blame the West for creating the conditions that lead to the “root causes” of terrorism. In their eyes, the West is responsible for the crimes of colonization, Christian proselytism, and most of all, industrialization and capitalism. Pope Francis takes a similar approach. Defeating ISIS therefore means cutting carbon emissions, increasing foreign aid and technology transfers, and allowing more immigration.

All of which just happens to coincide with agenda of the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Change Convention. Progressives cannot bring themselves to even say the words “radical Islam,” preferring to mouth platitudes about religious extremism and fundamentalism, as if there were no politically-significant theological differences among religions, none of which they take very seriously anyway. Instead they channel their passions towards the apocalyptic visions surrounding a 2-degree change in the earth’s temperature and demonize the things that we know actually help the poor, like property rights, the rule of law and free trade.

For all the progressives’ stated concerns about the planet, they are clearly living on another one.

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Kishore Jayabalan Kishore Jayabalan is director of Istituto Acton, the Acton Institute's Rome office. Formerly, he worked for the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. Kishore Jayabalan earned a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In college, he was executive editor of The Michigan Review and an economic policy intern for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He worked as an international economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. and then graduated with an M.A. in political science from the University of Toronto. While in Toronto, Kishore interned in the university's Newman Centre, which led to his appointment to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York. Two years later, he returned to Rome to work for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as the Holy See's lead policy analyst on sustainable development and arms control. As director of Istituto Acton, Kishore organizes the institute's educational and outreach efforts in Rome and throughout Europe.

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