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Back Home on a Visit by Charles A. Coulombe

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Back Home on a Visit

The Musso and Frank Grill has been a Hollywood fixture since 1919.

As I write these words I am sitting in my own home in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, six thousand miles away from the little Austrian village where I have dwelt for four years, shall return to in a week and a half, and will remain for the next year. It has been a year since my last visit, of which more anon. The Hollywood my family and I came to in the mid-60s is long gone; even the apartment house we shared with an unusual bunch, including owner and TV psychic Criswell and a changing cast of curious co-tenants, has been transformed into the administrative building of a college. But in such havens as Musso and Frank Grill, the Tam O’Shanter Inn, and the mercifully unchanged Blessed Sacrament Church, this wanderer can feel himself back in his far-off childhood. Indeed, in any city, eateries such as the Grill and the Inn—which boast red leather, dark wood, neon signage, and menus heavy with steaks, seafood, and cocktails—and churches once wealthy enough to build beautifully, but then too poor to destroy that beauty after Vatican II, offer refuge from the horrors of the present, and a taste of the timelessness of Heaven.

But this trip is to a different nation, state, and city than the one I left after my Summer Vacation last year. This last Fourth of July was the first I have been able to celebrate untroubled by the notion that, unbeknownst to themselves, the draughters of the United States Constitution had secretly presumed a right to Infanticide in that august text. 

On the first Independence Day after the Supreme Court made this extraordinary discovery in 1973, my twelve-year old self was happily ensconced at the Boy Scout National Jamboree in Farragut State Park, Idaho. Bob Hope entertained and emceed, and the fireworks were utterly spectacular. But even then, I felt a distinct unease at celebrating in the face of this horror. In later years, when I would take the oath to defend that murder-infected Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” I had to make the sort of mental reservations formerly done by Anglo-Catholic seminarians preparing to swear allegiance to the Thirty-Nine Articles at their ordinations. 

THIS Fourth, however, the current Court has relieved me of decades of that sort of thing by seeing Roe v. Wade for what it was: ludicrously bad law that should never have been issued in the first place.

But these United States are a very different place than they were in 1973. Then, the vast majority of Americans believed not merely that abortion was murder, but that there were two complementary sexes, for whose domestic union the word “marriage” was exclusively reserved. Although the Supreme Court had already initiated their version of Sherman’s March to the Sea through the nation’s accepted morality with Griswold vs. Connecticut, they still had a long trek ahead of them—a trek that seemed unstoppable until this year. In the meantime, media and the education industry continually pumped forth as much propaganda as possible into the collective mental bloodstream of all the Western nations, transforming them into the collection of vapid bordellos we are today. All the while, much of the Catholic hierarchy and the various Protestant State or “Mainline” churches competed to see how quickly they could appear relevant by sanctifying these developments, tacitly or otherwise. In this country, two of the casualties of this horror were the moral consensus that underlay Society, and the American civic religion, which for us played the role of an established faith.

So it is that Roe’s departure reveals a morally and mentally devastated nation, where at least half the populace believe that infants may be murdered up to (or even after) birth. But this, of course, is only one sign of our decay. If education of the next generation’s brightest and best is key for leadership purposes, we are in a bad way. Harvard University’s Classics department website explains its raison d’etre thusly: “The wider worlds of ancient Greece and Rome—whether textual or material, conceptual or tangible—are worthy of study in their own right, demanding careful analysis and criticism. More than that, if we are to understand the world in which we live, a deep familiarity with our Classical legacy is vital. Today, the engagement of the Classics matters more than ever, as the Humanities everywhere rally to extend our knowledge and our values—the building blocks of human civilization—to curate our future as fellow occupants of a rapidly degrading planet.” Regardless of what one thinks of the climactic threat implied in the last few words of the last sentence, “curating our future” surely must be eligible for some sort of fatuity in language award.

Not even military education is exempt from the insanity. According to a document entitled Declaration of Betrayal of West Point and the Long Gray Line issued by the “Concerned Graduates of West Point” on May 24, 2022, Wokery has invaded the United States Military Academy in force. Among other things, the Graduates cite the USMA’s own website’s claim that 50% of all Honour Code violators are pardoned; if true, anyone with a knowledge of how such institutions work will be horrified. But beyond that, the Graduates attack the teaching of Critical Race Theory at the USMA and in the military general: 

The purveyors of Critical Race Theory intend to demolish the United States of America as the founders established our Republic. By mandating the instruction of Critical Race Theory to every citizen serving in the military, they establish Critical Race Theory as the fundamental principles upon which Socialists demand soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, midshipmen, and cadets serve. The military indoctrination in Critical Race Theory is considered necessary to prevent internal opposition to an attempted coup from within the ranks of the military (white extremism). Critical Race Theory brands the founders as evil, the Constitution as illegitimate, and the Republic as systemically racist. It abolishes the Declaration of Independence that declares all men are created equal. It brands the population as racist, privileged, and unfit to enjoy the rights of citizenship. It is a call to overthrow the government we served to preserve freedom and government by, for and of the people.

In 2021, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley responded to a Congressman’s query regarding such mandatory teaching in the military with a cheery, “I want to understand white rage.” Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, issued a professional reading list featuring a tome entitled How to Be an Antiracist, offering such helpful nostra as “capitalism is essentially racist” or “[w]hen I see racial disparities, I see racism.” In the light of these lads’ activities, the fulminations of the Graduates seem mild.

But wherever one looks to-day—whether to our venerable National Parks Service, guardian of so much of our built and natural heritage, and now intent on commemorating “Queer History;” the Boy Scouts of America, which having admitted first self-described LBGT boys and then adult leaders, now admits girls as well; or any number of learned, scientific, and environmental societies and institutions who now denounce their founders for crimes against Wokeness—there is a sickness of self-hatred abroad in the land to-day, fanned by the pitiful folk that pass for her elite. This self-hatred demonises in particular young white men, a few of the more unstable of whom manage to live down to their detractor’s jibes through mass shootings and the like.

In truth, President Reagan seemed to understand the dangers ahead in his 1989 farewell speech, at the end of his administration. He said,

Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.

He went on, “But now, we’re about to enter the nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.” His response was relatively simple: 

If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.

Obviously, the opposite has happened since then—not merely with regard to America, but to reality itself.

What all this seems to presage is increasing division, ranging in scale from Weimar-era street unrest to perhaps even some sort of civil war between the two sides. The latter would pave the way for some sort of Cromwellian strong man, and yet another chapter in our strange history. Then again, the forces of sanity may triumph; should the Democrats lose control of both houses of Congress in November, the party might resolve to purge its insane leadership and re-engage in meaningful discussion of America’s past, present, and future. I would not bet the farm on this, but it could occur.

Whether it does or does not, however, the moral consensus and the civic religion of our country are gone, and they do need to be replaced. For that, even a strong man’s fiat will not be sufficient. Nor will President Reagan’s prescription for a “return to civic ritual” help—derided even as some of it was preserved by the Supreme Court as meaningless “civic deism.” 

To this writer it seems that we need two things, one in the immediate, the other in the longer term. The first is the construction of a patriotism based not upon the governmental institutions of these United States but upon what these States truly are: on the lore and legends of our Native tribes; our rich colonial heritage of Spanish, French, British, Dutch, Swedish, and the rest; our immigrant population that stems from every nation in Europe and most nations around the globe; the folklore and customs these peoples brought or forged here; and the incomparable natural wonders and built heritage which surrounds us. Rather than loving America as “the shining city on a hill” or “the last best hope of mankind” or any of the other titles, we should give her our hearts and hands for a very different reason. We should love America because she is the country in which God decided we would be born, or to which we would come; the land in which our fathers prospered, and for which many of them died; in a word, she is our motherland, and needs no other justification for us to love, and if necessary, to die for her. 

But ultimately, such a renewed patriotism is not enough in itself. The moral consensus we spoke of earlier was a last remnant of Catholic Tradition, still upheld by the adherents of the various Protestant bodies, who together made up the majority of the American population. But, unanchored by positive religious dogma, this consensus was doomed to crumble. Despite never having the religious unity that characterised pre-Reformation Europe, we have nevertheless benefited from it. Many European Conservative writers and thinkers have declared that Europe must regain her Catholic and Christian soul; ultimately, if our country is to survive she must acquire a soul from that same source.

Charles A. Coulombe is a columnist for the Catholic Herald. His most recent book is Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy (TAN Books, 2020). It was reviewed in our Winter 2020/2021 print edition. He is also a Contributing Editor to The European Conservative.