LOPEZ: Why is John Courtney Murray important?
WEIGEL: We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition is still a seminal book for anyone wanting to think seriously about the moral and cultural foundations of the American experiment in ordered liberty — it’s also, for the uninitiated, a wonderful introduction to the very idea of an “American experiment in ordered liberty.” Beyond that, it’s a remarkably prescient book, and a very good read; Murray was, among other things, a brilliant stylist.
LOPEZ: How do we “create an America in which every child is welcomed in life and protected in law”?
WEIGEL: One conversation at a time. One woman helped through a crisis pregnancy at a time. And by being a lot smarter politically than several notable pro-life candidates were in 2012.
LOPEZ: How does a “dictatorship of relativism” lead to “open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”?
WEIGEL: It seems fairly clear. When the state uses its monopoly on coercive power to compel the citizenry to accept moral relativism (as embodied in, say, gay “marriage” or the HHS mandate), something structurally similar to what happened under hard totalitarianism is afoot. Judging from the opening gambits of the second Obama administration, however, “thinly disguised” seems likely to give way to “overt.”
LOPEZ: Did Cardinal Dolan take that a step too far when he used the t-word with regard to the (eventually successful) push by a Catholic governor for gay marriage in New York?
WEIGEL: No, and for the reasons just adduced.
LOPEZ: Why did Princess Diana make it into your book?
WEIGEL: Because the British national nervous breakdown at her death, which Tony Blair failed to recognize as such in his memoir (which is in turn the foil in my book for Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to Britain), tells us rather a lot about the state of political culture in the Mother Country. Which strikes me as something of a cautionary tale for us here in the former colonies.
LOPEZ: “St. Evelyn Waugh”? Was that a typo?
WEIGEL: No. Waugh, for all his crotchetiness, was a theologically serious Catholic convert who knew that “saints” are what we all must become in order to live with God forever. The Church recognizes some people, publicly, as “saints” by canonizing them. But sanctity is every Christian’s human and religious destiny, and it’s the ticket, if you will, to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem — which I am assured will be much superior to any luncheon thrown by Chuck Schumer.
LOPEZ: Are abortion “and related life issues” the “great civil-rights issues of our time”?
WEIGEL: Of course they are, for issues like the right to life of the unborn, the radically handicapped, and the terminally ill measure whether the community of common protection and concern, embodied in our laws, includes all of us, or only some of us.
LOPEZ: What’s your favorite essay in the book?
WEIGEL: I’m frankly partial to the essay on baseball, but I rather like the Waugh and Mencken essays, too.
LOPEZ: Why should anyone read Helena today?
WEIGEL: It’s a splendid antidote to regnant cultural Gnosticism, which Waugh smelled coming in the late 1940s. It’s also a brilliantly achieved experimental novel and, like all of Waugh’s fiction, it is “laugh out loud” funny at several points, in this case including a spectacular smackdown of Edward Gibbon.
LOPEZ: Why are you a Menckenian?
WEIGEL: I’m not, in a philosophical or political sense. But Mencken was a great writer — the first really great op-ed columnist, I daresay — and he remains immensely fun to read, especially when he’s in reminiscence mode. No one who cares about American cities should miss Happy Days, his memoir of life in the Gilded Age Baltimore of his childhood. And no one who cares about journalism (or practices it) should miss Newspaper Days, a rollicking account of HLM’s first years on the old Baltimore Herald.