The Dorothy Day Caucus began last summer with little identification beyond “social conservative” and “radical.” Unintentionally (but happily) a phrase used by namesake and patroness Dorothy Day has come to define the temper and principles of the group: Revolutionaries of the Heart.
Here people who may be described as left-wing, right-wing, centrist (and some other very interesting labels) have come together with more than civility: they have met with genuine openness towards listening to one another. Those willing to pay attention and listen to their neighbor have had their openness repaid with the joy of encountering new approaches and ideas. As this has happened, the quality of openness and commitment to hearing the word of our neighbor has shifted the identity and mission of the DDC; surely one of the most promising indications of building meaningful relationships
ASP Ohio Vice-Chair and The Kitchen Table contributor Christopher Zehnder shared a post several weeks ago discussing the danger and failure of the left-right-center dichotomy. With the awareness of how toxic that paradigm has come to be in our culture, I’d like to talk about how the Dorothy Day Caucus offers more than yet another alternative label, but a fulfillment.
Division is writ into what is most frequently seen as a left-right binary, though this occasionally branches out into graphs with axes or even evolves into a horseshoe. To embrace any of these classification systems is to fall into an “othering” process where identity dominates and living persons and ideas wither. One can try to escape the prison by bounding into the wild forests of anarchism, but that too becomes a launching ground for purity tests; woe to the anarchist who thinks they can escape the identity markers of horseshoes and binaries! From anarcho-syndacalism to anarcho-monarchism to anarcho-capitalism, all attempts to break out of power structures inevitably involve recreating power structures. What is there to do with our brave taxonomers of human beings but stand at the door with Whit Stillman and offer some variation upon: “Good luck with your Fourierism!”
Yes, there is truth to be found in these structural analyses, and many good ideas as well. But this is only because these paradigms encompass everything: swallowing, naming, and dividing us so completely that nothing is left unclaimed.
It is of little use trying to grow out of the binary and into the horseshoe. The point and problem are intrinsic to these labels. “Authoritarian, centrist, neoliberal, socialist, capitalist;” all of these describe attitudes towards the world that are not necessarily contradictory. An individual may comfortably possess a neoliberal foreign policy, a socialist domestic policy, and a libertarian morality; as long as our attention is drawn to the things of this world, the deep choices will be ignored. The Marxist accelerationist and small-business owning luddite may both, in their own way, be determined to immanentize their different visions of the eschaton.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase, “immanentize the eschaton” was used by the 20th century political philosopher and refugee from Nazism Eric Voegelin; it was subsequently popularized by William F. Buckley. It refers to the attempt to build Utopia on earth: some via the Marxist proletarian revolution, others through technological developments, still others through Francis Fukyama’s “End of History.” Those familiar with the phrase may have heard it used so often that its force has grown dull. This is a tragedy. To hear it afresh is to face the choice always before us: to pursue our own will, or to put down our will and open our eyes, ears, and hearts to God and His creation.
Binaries, axes, and horseshoes will always fail and lead to squabbling because they are rooted in our own will to self-creation. They put the identity of ourselves first and our neighbor, who is Christ to us, second. Liberalism is the governing system for managing these different identities. Define yourself in terms of this world. Commodity capitalism loves this: leave personhood behind and instead adopt an identity which can always be added onto, a fantasy with ever new tastes before us. Lost in the quest of pursuing our own Utopia, our gaze firmly upon our desires, the labels mutate and expand. How much dialogue is possible between the xenofeminist-marxist-wolfkin-accelerationist and the radical-traditionalist-neothomist-Luddite?
The definitions divide us entirely, and we’ve seen the people of the world ravaged in their name. What reconciliation is possible when the world is at stake, when the truth of your heart (as sold by Disney) is at stake? In the quest for the earthly kingdom, all people are doomed to become objects standing in the way of the expansion of their personal paradise onto all (yes, libertarians, you too.) Liberalism is all that is left to shield us from the weight of one another’s identity.
The word I’ve used most often to oppose such divisions is “radical,” which is ironic for a word that summons to mind divisiveness. It’s etymology (Latin), though, refers to roots, the origins of things. But it is too difficult to get people to drop their association with the word; rather than revisiting first principles and final ends, it often summons the image of hateful discontent (though instead of attempting to reclaim “radical,” one could switch to “radish,” which shares the “radix” root and has a certain feisty humility.) In the end, “radical” is not enough. It still defines itself by the terms of this world, even if in revolt rather than identity. It still searches for a place in this world to stand against the rest. While its uses are many and valuable, it is not the word that helps us lay down our swords or slow the fingers of keyboard warriors.
The true way, which gently speaks out dissolving all labels by calling them to raise their eyes, is more than a label. It is a way of life, it is to be a follower of Christ.
Why Christian? Why not pantheist, universalist, or agnostic? During the days of bloodshed in ancient Rome, the word “atheist” was invented as a slur for Christian. A Christian was one who did not believe in the gods of Rome, who did not kneel before the idols. Those ancient martyrs reflected the heart of what it means to be Christian: to refuse to kneel before false idols that promise to immanentize the eschaton, leading us away from God and our neighbor.
Our obsession with labels, from Myers-Brigg personality types to political spectrum quizzes, are idols. No matter how many subcategories are delineated, each one heralds the triumph of the self and the gods of this world. We focus on our desires, our diagnoses, our vision, our desires, our griefs. Liberalism, as it has guided us since the Enlightenment, possesses great talent in helping us navigate these conflicting identities. But there are yet better principles. They are found in the Gospels.
The Dorothy Day Caucus will always welcome members who feel comfortable using labels. They can be helpful signposts and there will always be times when they help clarify ideas. But our call is to transcend liberalism, to rise above the bonds of this world, to see one another as fellow children of God rather than the branded product of a label. These political labels place us in opposition to our neighbor. They capture our heart and cause us to wage war against others in pursuit of our personal Utopia. Even if this war manifests in no more than the comfortable use of violent rhetoric, the result is the same: we remain governed by our own broken hearts and desires.
A revolutionary of the heart must lay down their personal idols. They must accept they do not know all things, cannot see all things, nor can they understand all consequences. They must accept the risk of never convincing everyone to go along with their private agenda of universal prosperity. In turn, the “metanoia” of their heart (the old Greek term for repentance), can point them to true peace, true love of their neighbor.
All things are political. All things are also theological. Politics and theology begin in the heart, move to the tongue, manifest in the home, and spread to the world. True political change begins by orienting our hearts to Christ’s teachings and the message of His death and resurrection.
St. Paul, as he stood before his judges in Jerusalem, said he was on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6). Not for his hope in flying cars. Not for his dream of never suffering. Not for his wish in having his every desire or scheme granted. Not for recreating the Shire. Not for his plans of perfecting the Roman Empire and instituting global governance.
He was on trial for his hope in the resurrection of the dead. What was the manifestation of this hope? It was the love of his neighbor, his dogged pursuit of reconciling human beings to God and one another rather than to the gods of this world. St. Paul was a revolutionary of the heart. The DDC seeks to follow him, recognizing we are political and theological creatures at every moment, and our lives are our witness.
Liberalism is a theological view as much as any other religion or political philosophy; we are all theocrats of a sort. What does our religion testify to? Does it look to the geodesic dome of the futurist city? Is its highest end speed, the pursuit of a horizon of pleasure which ever recedes from our fingertips? Does it look to perfectly plan and manage our existence? Or does our religion call ourselves to break free of the shackles of our appetites, to escape the chains of the utopias of a million would-be tyrants? Our redeemer calls us beyond self-pity to encounter the suffering of our neighbor, to pay attention.
The novelist Iris Murdoch wrote: “It is in the capacity to love, that is to SEE, that the liberation of the soul from fantasy consists. The freedom which is a proper human goal is the freedom from fantasy, that is the realism of compassion. What I have called fantasy, the proliferation of blinding self-centered aims and images, is itself a powerful system of energy, and most of what is often called ‘will’ or ‘willing’ belongs to this system. What counteracts the system is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love.”
The revolutionary of the heart pays attention. They stand silently beside St. Paul, placing their hope with him in the truth of the world-shattering Resurrection they’ve opened their hearts to receive. They allow the label-makers and Utopians to rend their garments and wage war; meanwhile they professing their love of their neighbor through ceaseless devotion and commitment to a truth older, higher, and bigger than any earthly end-of-history project. They pursue the truth and do good while refusing to break other human beings in pursuit of the good. The revolutionary of the heart can see their neighbor because their vision is not clouded by a furious need to preserve one’s self-image. The revolutionary of the heart lays down the will to power.
Let idolatrous labels wither, thanking them for the good they have done and forgiving the evil, and then orient our hearts back towards their proper home. Let politics begin in the heart, kneel beside the broken-hearted, and let them end in God.