American History

The Politics of Guilt: or, How to Win a Culture War

Here’s me at The Catholic Herald, reflecting on last week’s Democratic sit-in for the policy people like to call “gun control”:

One side of the culture war has been successful in linking all its opinions to the most contentious and guilt-ridden periods in American history. Anyone opposing the sit-in, then, is cast in the symbolic role of Bull Connor.

One might scoff at all of this, but bringing guilt and shame by continually invoking the lowest points in a nation’s history does affect people — see “Germany” — and often makes people assent to things not on their merits but on their emotional repercussions. I’ll always defend the Enlightenment, but it cemented in many Western minds a false idea of how humans actually think and make decisions. We have been trained since school age to believe that if we use facts, logic, and reason to make a case, we can persuade others to our side; if we apply this process to governance, the thinking goes, we can preserve our rights and liberty through superior argumentation.

In Memory of Arnaud de Borchgrave

In my first piece for The American Interest, I write about the amazing career of the late Arnaud de Borchgrave, whom I had the privilege of meeting about a year before his death. Arnaud was one of the last practitioners of a dead age of journalism we desperately need back:

When he talked, he peered at you, his head cocked down slightly so that his eyes, set behind wire-rimmed spectacles, seemed fixed behind rather than on you. It was not a creepy or uncomfortable stare; it was simply the confident gaze of a man born and cultivated in a very different era. I suspect Arnaud was always aware, and always proud, that he was becoming more of an anachronism as the years wore on.

Read the whole thing here.

Rest in peace, Arnaud. Thanks for returning my e-mail.

Why Have So Many C.I.A. Directors Been Roman Catholics?

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In the May 6 issue of The Catholic Herald, I analyze the history of Roman Catholics in the Central Intelligence Agency:

The United States is a country in which – with the recent exception of the Supreme Court – Catholics have never dominated the highest offices. Only one out of 44 US Presidents has been Catholic. The first and only Catholic Vice President is the current one, Joe Biden. Before John Kerry, the last Catholic Secretary of State was Alexander Haig, who left the post in 1982. Catholics are a rarity in other top positions such as Secretary of Defence.

By contrast, three out of the last five CIA directors have been Catholic: Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and the current director, John Brennan. Looking back, a number of Catholics led the agency in critical periods during the Cold War. (There were no Catholic directors in the 1990s.)

I have a few theories about why this turned out so. One is that the CIA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was founded by the devout Catholic William J. Donovan and may have been something of a haven for anti-Communist Catholics:

Catholic anti-communism in the 1940s and 1950s was at its zenith. Major Catholic organisations such as the Knights of Columbus supported Senator Joseph McCarthy (himself a Catholic) in his quest to purge the US of communist influence. Were young Catholics inspired to take a more activist role in fighting the godless Soviets?

Near the middle of the 20th century, establishment Protestants still treated Catholics with suspicion. Donovan would have been attorney general in Herbert Hoover’s administration had anti-Catholic sentiment not kept him from it. Catholics were more likely to be trusted and accepted within Donovan’s OSS than in other government agencies.

The online version of the article is truncated. To read it in full, subscribe to the magazine or try out its new app.

Just as I suspected, the conspiracy theorists are already starting to appear; they are drawn to such articles like so many dogs to their own feces. Check out the comments section below my piece. One dim soul called Hugh O’Neill has wandered out of his catacomb to lecture me, “the oddly named Mr. Wargas,” on his version of events, which includes the CIA’s assassinating John F. Kennedy. I must call the Department of Justice to get them on this at once!

FDR, Warts and All

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At The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed an excellent new biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the historian Alonzo Hamby. Ultimately I admire Roosevelt but can’t get past my first impression of him as a power-hungry chief executive:

Of course, the best populists are usually elitists who possess both the means and self-regard to speak for the people. Born into a patrician New York family, FDR was convinced of his own righteousness and felt entitled to exercise it over others, displaying all the qualities of someone who recognized no limit to translating his outsized will into political power.

The review is available in the March 7 issue. Read the whole piece here.