From Under the Rubble…Happy Birthday, 1913!

The Rubble often notes with a fond nostalgia the wisdom of Robert Nisbet, who was born in 1913. In that year, he once observed, the only contact that the average US citizen had with the federal government was the Post Office.

But along with the brilliant Nisbet, several evils were also born in 1913. The Sixteenth Amendment introduced the federal income tax. The Seventeenth Amendment inaugurated the direct election of the members of the U.S. Senate, sending the Tenth Amendment to oblivion. And the creation of the Federal Reserve that December was the icing on the cake.

The Post Office will wither away, but the federal government will not. Today it is the rare American who has no contact with it. After all, the value of the dollar in his pocket has fallen 99% since 1913. That certainly qualifies as an injustice, and the Catholic Church, so devoted to “Social Justice” these days, would normally address it as a moral issue.

However, Catholic bishops and the two “nuns on the bus” (financed by the anti-Catholic George Soros) lobby for more government spending, amnesty for illegals, and a host of other items from the left-wing agenda instead. Inflation seldom captures their moral gaze. That’s counter-intuitive, since inflation hurts the poor, the elderly, and the sick the most.

Why the silence? To explain this curious omission, we have to go back 100 years.

Soon after Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913, he struck up a friendship with James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore and the most influential Catholic prelate in America. This was strange in itself, since Wilson was an anti-Catholic Darwinian who worshipped the power of the state. Gibbons’ goal was simple: to demonstrate that Catholics could be good Americans. In practice, that meant that they needed to be good Democrats too.

In 1914, when the war broke out in Europe, Pope Benedict XV sought to bring it to an early end. He assigned Gibbons to the task of keeping America – and that meant President Wilson – out of it.

Gibbons had other plans. To counter anti-Catholic bigotry, he wanted to prove that Catholics could be good Americans – and that meant good soldiers. He ignored the task assigned to him by Pope Benedict, to the point that, according to the New York Times of November 10, 1917, he condemned those Catholics who were praying with Pope Benedict for peace – although he daintily added a caveat for cover: if such prayer doesn’t hamper Wilson’s war efforts, he said, well, it’s OK.

Gibbons was all in for the war, even when Wilson was running for reelection with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Once Wilson came out for war, Gibbons promised him that Catholics would fight in greater proportion than any other denomination. They did. Wilson was pleased. And after the “Great War,” the marriage of America’s Catholic bishops with the Democrat party – whose agenda, we recall, relies on inflation and deficit spending – was sealed for 100 years.

One wonders, is it time for a divorce yet?

Do Children Belong to the State?

Hatred of Catholics did indeed flourish in the nineteenth century. Gibbons’ concerns were real. Bigotry was as real then as it is now, and government was surprisingly secular.

This came to mind recently when Melissa Harris-Perry, an MSNBC contributor, received widespread acclaim from the usual suspects for her observation that children fundamentally belong to the state, not to their parents.

Normally, liberals like to think they’re on the cutting edge – the vanguard of the working class, so to speak. In that spirit, Ms. Melissa insisted that Americans “have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to their communities.” (Of course, translated, that means they belong to their community organizers.)

“Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the households,” she continued, “then we start making better investments.” (Again, translated, that means more plundering of the taxpayer by Melissa and her big-government pals.)

On the face of it, one might think that this was a daring foray into the avante-garde. In fact, however, Ms. Perry was just repeating a tired old canard that stretches back far into the 19th century.

John Swett was California State Superintendent of Public Instruction during the Civil War. A Unitarian, he had only contempt for Catholics and families – especially parents. He also hated local control of schools, so he founded what today is California’s largest teachers union.  Given his principles, it is no surprise that the union’s track record today is one of the worst in the country.

Not that it’s any better elsewhere. Public schools these days are famous for telling students to “feel good about themselves,” no matter how pathetic their academic performance. Well, a recent report from the ACT testing service contained an intriguing revelation: “eighty-nine percent of high-school instructors described the students who had completed their courses as ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for first-year, college-level work in their discipline.” Unfortunately, “only about one-quarter of college faculty members said the same thing about their incoming students.”

Apparently, in spite of their incompetence, quite a few teachers feel pretty good about themselves, too.

This is nothing new. 150 years ago, Swett encouraged his public school teachers to share in his arrogance. He brazenly opposed the right of parents to influence their children’s education. “The vulgar impression that parents have a legal right to dictate to teachers is entirely erroneous,” he insisted. Parents have no right to review the performance of teachers in their community, nor should parents intrude in the education of their children. “[T]he child should be taught to consider his instructor, in many respects, superior to the parents in point of authority,” he insisted.

And who’s going to teach him that? Certainly not his parents.

The key to understanding Swett is his anti-Catholic bigotry. One seldom hears about it, but the Ku Klux Klan was so popular for decades because it hated Catholics a lot more than it hated Blacks or Jews. And anti-Catholicism propelled the public school movement throughout the 19th century. Folks like Swett trumpeted “free education” – when in fact they taught value-free education.

Today the results are clear: government schools encourage children from Kindergarten on to celebrate sex, materialism, and government paternalism. The kids feel increasingly good about themselves, even as they learn less and less. And now Obama wants them to start at the age of three.

How will the Catholic Church react? The bishops depend on government for billions of dollars a year. Does it dare support the rights of parents, especially when confronting the American icon of free, universal education? A hundred years later, the legacy of the Gibbons-Wilson entente is as powerful as ever.  John Swett and Melissa Harris-Perry have made their case. Will the Church dare to respond?




This article, From Under the Rubble…Happy Birthday, 1913! is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

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Christopher Manion

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