Back in 1789, Jean-Paul Marat, convicted thief, quack scientist, physician-by-purchase, and a prime mover behind the French Reign of Terror, stated his basic principle of social reconstruction: “When a man is in want of everything, he has a right to take from another the superfluity in which he is wallowing: nay, more, he has a right to cut his throat and devour his palpitating flesh.” (Jean-Paul Marat, as quoted in Warren H. Carroll’s The Guillotine and the Cross. Manassas, Virginia: Trinity Communications, 1986, 36.) As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Marat seemed to have the fundamental principle of what became known as socialism down to a T.
|Jean-Paul Marat (before Charlotte Corday cut his throat)|
In other words, Marat had a highly developed enthusiastic instinct, as Msgr. Ronald Knox called it in his magnum opus, Enthusiasm (1950). Enthusiasm or “ultrasupernaturalism” — which Knox defined as an excess of charity that causes disunity (and worse), is (possibly to oversimplify a bit) the sense that the end justifies the means.
One result of this is the fixed belief that the “ungodly” — defined as anyone who opposes you or disagrees with you, whether or not God is involved — have no rights, or at least none that need be respected when push comes to shove. This point is so important, and so crucial to understanding the “enthusiastic” mindset, that Knox opened and closed his 600-page book, the work of a lifetime, by making special note of it.
A traditional concept of proof is not needed to condemn the ungodly, and the definition of “proof” is consequently extremely flexible. At the same time, the rules of evidence are elastic and can be stretched to the point of complete invisibility; actual evidence in many cases seems to be rather difficult to see, if not completely absent.
|Msgr. Ronald A. Knox|
On examination, it is difficult to figure out exactly what the specific offense is in the case of the rich. If being rich is wrong, then even the wealthy who use their riches in approved-of ways are guilty; as Fulton Sheen liked to point out, right is still right if nobody does it, and wrong is still wrong if everybody does it. If the rich could only have gotten their wealth in criminal ways as socialists often assert, all the charity and philanthropy in the world isn’t going to change the fact that being rich is a criminal offense.
On the other hand, if it is lack of charity or philanthropy that is the crime, then anyone — rich or poor — who fails to give away wealth in approved ways is a criminal. Whether someone actually has the means to be charitable becomes completely subjective on the part of those doing the judging.
Nor are the rich the only victims of enthusiasm. The recent exoneration of Cardinal Pell in Australia after the “evidence” used to convict him was shown to be a trifle, er, flimsy, shall we say, is a graphic example of this sort of thing. Cardinal Pell was originally convicted not because he did anything wrong, but because he is unpopular with certain individuals and groups. He offended against “sound popular feeling.”
This sounds relatively innocuous, until you realize where it necessarily ends up. As George Holland Sabine (1880-1961) explained the extreme (at the time) case of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but which sounds remarkably similar to what prevails today in places around the world . . . such as Australia and the pages of certain American newspapers,
[J]udicial discretion was extended practically without limit. The law itself was made studiously vague, so that all decision became essentially subjective. The penal code was amended in 1935 to permit punishment for any act contrary to “sound popular feeling,” even though it violated no existing law. (George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, Third Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961, 918.)
To the enthusiast, then, actual guilt or innocence is completely irrelevant. What matters is what you think, feel, or believe about something. If you voice your position, the enthusiasts tend to shout, “Thought Police,” while if you don’t join them enthusiastically, you get Pelled.
One may disagree with some of Pope Francis’s positions (and you don’t even have to be Catholic or Christian to voice your — respectful — opinion), but no one should have any problem with what His Holiness said, probably in direct reference to Cardinal Pell’s ordeal:
In these days of Lent, we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent. Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.
From a Christian point of view, it is particularly appropriate that Cardinal Pell’s vindication came during “Holy Week,” when Christians (except for those still using the Julian calendar!) celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of One whom they believe to be the Son of God. For all others, it is still appropriate for it to come at this time — or any time; justice needs no special season.
Yes, the scandals in the Catholic Church — or anywhere else, for that matter — must be corrected, but that does not mean that two wrongs make a right. Injustice even — or especially — against someone or something you dislike intensely is still injustice. It is, in a sense, even more hideous an injustice as you are often tempted to take pleasure in the wrongs done to those you hate. It’s even undemocratic. Didn’t someone once remark that democracy means a system that protects you from me?
No, the end does not justify the means, even if the end sought is the socialist Kingdom of God on Earth, or the Christian Reign of Christ the King in Heaven.