Anderson on Shea on Carter

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My good friend Jay Anderson at Pro Ecclesia often delivers some of the most insightful commentary on Saint Blog’s.  Here is commentary that he did today fisking Mark Shea’s observations of  Joe Carter’ post  at First Things, where Carter took a look at Generation X conservatives, and which may be read here.   This gave  Mark an opportunity to voice his disdain for forms of conservatism other than the paleocon version he embraces, and to go “O Tempora, O Mores”, over the coming generation of conservatives.  Jay’s commentary is priceless:

Mark Shea has commented on an excellent piece by Joe Carter at First Things, in which Joe seeks to define “Generation X” conservatives, who he labels “X-Cons”.

Mark begins:

He has been one of the few voices in the conservative movement to speak out of actual conservative values and not out of the Consequentialism that dominates the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism. So I was interested in his description of “X-Cons“, the rising generation of conservatives (so-called) who have been coming of age in the past decade. I think his description is accurate, rather depressing, and a further proof that Chesterton is right when he says that each revolutionary movement is a reaction to the last revolution–and that it typically knows what is wrong but not what is right. I appreciate Carter’s clear-eyed analysis and suspect that he, like me, is not altogether thrilled that this is the desperate pass in which the Thing that Used to be Conservatism now finds itself.

Later on, Mark continues:

X-Cons know little about history and their deepest influence is disk jockeys, who “taught us X-Cons to appreciate confirmation of our political views.” The perfectly reasonable thing to ask in light of this crushing diagnosis is, “What, precisely, is being conserved by such a ‘conservatism’?” A conservatism that knows nothing of engagement with ideas outside the Talk Radio Noise Machine (including engagement with ideas from its own intellectual history) and which has learned, as it’s primary lesson, “to appreciate confirmation of our political views” is a conservatism that is intellectually barren and open to manipulation by demagogues who flatter its adherents and teach them to remain safe in the echo chamber.

Mark goes further in his assessment of “X-Cons” as the dupes of demagogues:

When Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are your intelligentsia and Buckley is a sort of a ghostly eminence gris you no longer bother listening to, one must again ask what, exactly, is being conserved by such a conservatism. Much that bills itself as anti-elitist is just a celebration of intellectual laziness and a resentment of people who have done the hard work of thought. Yes, there are pointy headed intellectuals who pride themselves on their learning. That’s not an excuse to be a wahoo who prides himself on his ignorance.

Mark concludes his analysis of Joe’s piece lamenting Joe’s acknowledgement of the fact that “X-Cons” will soon displace the generation that came before us. Joe writes:

• X-Cons will soon be replacing the Boomers as the dominant cohort within the movement. We’ll be fielding presidential candidates in 2016 and dominating elections in 2020. We are, for better and for worse, the future of the movement. And of America.

… and Mark responds:

Bleak words indeed…

My Comments:
First, let me note that I tried to leave my thoughts in comments on Mark’s blog, but the commenting tool Mark uses rejected the comment as too voluminous. Rather than breaking it up into several comments, I decided to blog my view on the matter here.

While I commend Joe on his piece at First Things, I call B.S. on at least parts of Mark’s analysis of Joe’s piece, and ESPECIALLY on some of the commenters who have responded favorably to Mark’s analysis by blaming the so-called “X-Cons” for the commenters’ decisions to continue to support the party of abortion-on-demand.

The “X-Cons” aren’t responsible for “the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism” (hereafter, “the Thing”) – in fact, we are increasingly skeptical of “the Thing” and especially the Republican Party claiming the mantle of “the Thing”. As evidence, I submit my own blog as well as a piece today at National Catholic Register by Pat Archbold (recently described by one of Mark’s sycophants as a “Republican shill”).

No, the folks responsible for bringing us huge deficits, Wilsonian foreign policy, and consequentialism dressed up as “the Thing” were decidedly NOT members of the “X” generation, but were baby boomers and even members of the so-called “Greatest Generation”. Given that fact, Mark’s assessment as “bleak words indeed” of Joe’s acknowledgement of the rise of the “X-Cons” to replace the previous generation seems completely without merit. Surely we can’t do any worse with respect to “the Thing” than the generations that have come before us. In short, given our increasing distrust of what “the Thing” has become and the party that champions it, it is the “X-Cons” who are the antidote to “the Thing”, not the purveyors of it.

In addition, rather than criticizing the “X-Cons” for rejecting elitism and embracing what they see as middle-class authenticism, why not ask whether the elites have actually served them well and, if the answer is “HELL NO!” (which it most assuredly is), whether there are better alternatives for leadership from among the “riff-raff” who actually share the values of the “X-Cons”? Mark asks what is it that is actually being conserved? Well, if you ask me, the traditional family values of protection of life, protection of the institution of the family, hard work, integrity, loyalty, etc., etc., are being protected far more on the front porches, parish halls, and town halls of flyover country than they are in the halls of academia and, yes, even on the pages of National Review. Maybe “X-Cons” see the people Mark derides as base and demogogic as being the actual preservers of the values we hold dear (i.e. they’re the ones doing the “conserving” these days), as opposed to the new generation of Buckleys who view us as so much white trash and instead embrace The One.

Go here to read the magnificent rest.

More to explorer

Keeping a Promise

As faithful readers of this blog know, I was a very reluctant, and late, supporter of Donald Trump in 2016.  I grudgingly


  1. I remember Mark Shea (among all my loved ones living and dead) in my prayers night and day. That said, I basically disgree with everything he has ever posted.

    I can’t look at his stuff any longer. It’s painful.

  2. The obnoxious tone of Shea’s posts are just too much, it’s best if they are avoided. Even though he knows alot about Catholicism, he doesn’t seem Catholic to me.

    I happen to think Palin would make a good President, I trust her judgement and I like her toughness.

    I think you’re right T.Shaw, let’s keep Shea in our prayers.

  3. Sir, you are remarking on Mr. Anderson’s comments on Mark Shea’s (repellant) comments on Mr. Carter’s jejune column. Reminds me of a dog chasing its tail.

  4. Mark Shea, IMO, in spite of him making orthodox and conservative noises, is basically a liberal. When you read all of his material on critical subjects, it almost always has a liberal bias to it. His stand on the death penalty is classic liberalism dressed up as Catholic orthodoxy. I say dressed up, because the Scriptures, and nearly 2000 years of Church tradition never opposed the right use of it to punish those were truly guilty of murder, treason, or rape. Yet Shea, without taking the time to listen and understand the Scriptures, tradition, and the arguements of death penalty advocates, smears anyone who favors the dp as a “death penalty maxiumist”. Heck, even God would have to be included in that description, for He was the one who instituted it in the first place!

  5. Can’t wait to hear Shea’s response so that we can have Shea on Anderson on Shea on Carter. Maybe Joe will bring it all home with a post titled Carter on Shea on Anderson on Shea on Carter. All I ask is that Jay refrain from further comment because then the world will implode upon itself.

    I just hope that Jimmy Carter, the relatives of Bill Shea, and Louie Anderson decide against entering the fray.

    This will all probably end with Shea quoting Chesterton completely out of context and then banning someone or three from his comment box while utilizing one of the following phrases: rubberhose right, the thing thing that used to be call conservatism, stupid party, stupid evil party, evil stupid party, or maybe some kind of combination like the thing that stupidly used to be called the evil rubberhose right.

    Good times.

  6. “…or maybe some kind of combination like the thing that stupidly used to be called the evil rubberhose right.”

    Quick, copyright that.

  7. “Carter on Shea on Anderson on Shea on Carter”

    I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in most states. But after Lawrence v. Texas, who knows anymore where (or even if) Justice Kennedy will draw the line on his “sweet mystery of life”.

  8. >That said, I basically disgree with everything he has ever posted.
    So you support abortion, contraception and gay marriage? Because I know Shea was written stuff against those things.

    >Mark Shea, IMO, in spite of him making orthodox and conservative noises, is basically a liberal.
    Why? When did opposition to waterboarding and Glenn Back make one un-Catholic? True, I hate it when he moans about “Empire,” (much to the rejoicing of tyrants and actual empire-lovers* (such as the current Moscow and Beijing regimes)) everywhere but I wouldn’t say his opinions are necessarily heterodox.

    One thing I hate about the current political climate is the amount of tribalism (and subsequent mischaracterization) that goes on. “You Republicans are all science-hating misogynistic racists!” “Yeah, well that’s better than you, you Constitution-hating anti-Western terrorist-lover!” True, I’m mainly a conservative in my views, but just because I think liberals are wrong (even completely) in their views doesn’t mean I assume they have malicious intentions…

    *That is, if they actually read Mark’s blog, which I highly doubt they do.

  9. I can’t look at his stuff any longer. It’s painful.

    All the more because his was one of the first sites I went to after boot camp– after not reading anything but instruction material for months.

    (I didn’t even come to this post until I noticed that, for some reason, I got a half-dozen blog hits from it… must’ve been from the comment bar or blogroll.)

  10. At the risk of provoking a second Sumter, I’m going to quote Abraham Lincoln:

    “I dislike that man. I must get to know him better.”

    As a friend of Mark’s and one who has had the pleasure of meeting him on multiple occasions, it would be nice if the conversation could steer clear of speculation about personality problems and so forth.

    I’m not a fan of his “pox on everybody’s houses” approach to politics myself, but criticism is best limited to the merits and demerits of the writings themselves, as Jay has done. Psychoanalysis by DSL remains notoriously unreliable.

  11. I agree, Dale, that we should focus on the merits, or lack thereof, of Mark’s writing, rather than focusing on personalities. I happen to agree with Mark on a lot (torture included), but I also disagree with him at those times in which he paints with too broad a brush, as I believe he has done here.

    And since the issue of anti-intellectualism has surfaced in the comments at Mark’s blog, let me say, for the record, that I am not anti-intellectual by any means. In fact, I’m quite proud of the fact that I have a law degree from a top-10 law school at a university founded by, arguably, this nation’s most intellectual President.

    But, that said, I don’t believe that much “conserving” is going on these days in the halls of academia or in the pages of the sorts of publications that the hoity-toity tend to patronize.

    Sufice it to say that, if I were to hold to the views that most graduates of top-10 law schools hold, I would acutally have LESS claim to objective truth (which, in my view, is what conservatism is about) than the weekly-mass-attending guy in flyover country with only a high school diploma working an hourly 9-5 job to ensure that he can support his family of 6 and struggle to send his kids to Catholic school. I’d gladly vote for that guy to represent me over the typical graduate of a top-10 law school ANY DAY.

  12. And, since Mark alludes to Buckley in his post, let us not forget that it was the man himself who once said that he would rather entrust the government of the nation to the first 400 people in the Boston phone book than to the Harvard faculty.

  13. I can’t find any attribution of the quote “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” for Lincoln before about the 1940s; a similar quote does show up in a photographer’s magazine from 1900, though….

    You meet people, and you don’t like them at first; you say, ” I don’t like that man.” By and by you learn to know him better, and you do like him ; and usually those are the firmest friendships that begin just that way.

    It looks like one of those quotes that got twisted into something that sounded like Lincoln.

  14. Well, between us my wife and I have five degrees from top colleges and universities, and we would agree with Buckley. Our experience in life has taught us the difference between someone who is well educated and someone who is wise. Too many of the well-educated elites in our society have worked overtime the past few decades to vividly demontrate the difference.

  15. I don’t agree that X-cons are necessarily religious. I’ll grant they can be more comfortable being publicly religious than prior generations were, at least the evangelical ones. But there’s a large number of godless X-cons – Ayn Rand types, young Tea Partiers, pro-military agnostics, anti-government hacker wannabees, social Darwinists, Christian conservatives who drifted away from the faith, among others. They’re not going to hang out with the evangelicals and Catholics at a barbecue, but they’re all going to vote similarly. And I think that bridge-building instinct that someone labelled “merely Christian” is really merely conservative, allowing everyone a seat at the table (not the Communion table, but every other table).

  16. I am glad you enjoy his company, Dale.

    I do not psychoanalyze. I merely remark on how he addresses his correspondents and how he writes about others.

    I could, of course, offer a substantive critique of what he writes, but I keep in mind Mortimer Adler’s advisories: 1.) not every text merits a line-by-line reading; 2.) they tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is what the publisher wishes you to see – first. He is a wretched rhetorician, and that is what I see – first.

  17. “He is a man with personality problems grown hypertrophied with age”–is rather more than a critique of his rhetoric.

  18. Shea on McClarey on Anderson on Shea on Carter:

    “I’m afraid I haven’t been following the American Catholic so I don’t know what they’ve been saying about me. Historically, they’ve mostly been upset with me for not making a complete identification between whatever the Talking Points are from the GOP this week and Church teaching. My guess is that this still cover most of the grievances they have with me, but it’s just a guess.”

    Anderson on Shea on McClarey on Anderson on Shea on Carter:

    “I’d guess the differences have more to do with hyperbole, painting with broad brushstrokes, and the creation of strawmen that bear no resemblance to the actual object being addressed in the blog post (all of which apply to the present assessment of Generation X conservatives).”

  19. “Historically, they’ve mostly been upset with me for not making a complete identification between whatever the Talking Points are from the GOP this week and Church teaching. My guess is that this still cover most of the grievances they have with me, but it’s just a guess.”

    Well, I guess that statement is proof positive that Mark does not read The American Catholic.

  20. Oh, but Don, it’s so much easier to caricature the sort of straw version of The American Catholic that you might find on such parody sites as Vox Nova or The Catholic Fascist than to actually address the substance of the real thing.

  21. I like Shea’s work on doctrine. I own his book on Magesterial authority as well the one about the “Senses” of scripture. Both are great. However, I usually have a hard time stomaching his columns on politics. IMO, he builds up straw men that fit certain stereotypes and then goes medieval on them. Pass.

    As far as paleocons and “X-cons”, I guess I must fall into the latter group. I’m 31 and my observation about people of previous generations (conservative and liberal alike) is that they were/are not very politically astute. For the past 30 years or so people have been content to vote for the “right party”, be it R or D, and trust that they would do the right thing. Well, we can see where that’s gotten us. I am significantly more politically aware and involved than my parents and grandparents were, although they are starting to come around now. And I don’t trust the so-called elites to do the right thing because I’ve watched them promise, promise, promise and then turn around and stick it to us for my entire life. But apparently in Shea’s opinion, that makes me ignorant or something.

  22. Speaking as an X-con, who never finished her Master’s degree in Human Resources at a non-descript private, non-profit university, I neither have the pedigree nor writing skills of the commenters on this blog. I do, however, enjoy reading the thoughts of the smart ones.

    I don’t worry about my generation being the generation that could screw politics up even more than they are already. I find it annoying, however, that entire generations of people are be blamed for anything, especially before they are even given the opportunity to indeed garner said blame. I know that I see many friends of mine losing homes they bought because they are too expensive, while baby boomers continue to live in these same exact houses for years. The boomers bought these homes many years before for an affordable price that was never 10 times their annual salary. I see people of my generation worry about obtaining their all too elusive social security and medicare benefits when they retire. I know people of my generation who never played outside as a child because their mother had to work due to their parents divorce and they never saw their baby boomer father except one weekend a month. In high school, I noticed that there were many more young white kids in the classes above me, because they weren’t aborted.

    The first thing I want to do is blame baby boomers for our financial woes, our psycholocial wounds because of the legalization of abortion and easy divorce. When I think about it, however, I realize that it is because of OUR fallen nature that we sin. The baby boomers were not the first to sin (although they did a great job of it) and my generation has and will continue to sin, especially in this broken society.

    Pointing fingers up and down generational lines, however, does nothing more than offend some sinners and absolve other sinners of their culpability. Blaming is counterproductive. With Christ there is hope.

  23. Christine,

    I get your point. But it’s very hard for me not to be angry at the previous generations. I see how so many simply stuck their heads in the sand when it comes to things like SS and Medicare, always kicking the can down the road so that they can get their bennies. Now that the entitlements are going under, I see those same people complaining about how they’ve been “promised” and that we younger folks should basically just shut up and pay up (rarely put quite that harshly, but it’s always the gist).

    I have two small children. My son is 4 and my daughter is 16 months. My children and their generation are who will end up living significantly poorer lives because my parents and their parents feel they’re “owed” something. Maybe it’s uncharitable of me, but I can’t help being upset by my children’s future being squandered.

  24. Speaking as a so-called X-con, a label I like even less than Gen X I can say that we are a generation that is resistant to be defined by these labels. Although the X factor has some truth to it. We are far less homogenous than previous or subsequent generations. We are a relatively small generation sandwiched between two generations of collectivists, yet we are probably more powerful because we are nimble, intelligent rather than educated, conservative rather than Republican, creators more than consumers, religious more than spiritual, leaders more than followers.

    We did grow up knowing that we survived the most dangerous place in the world, our own mothers’ wombs only to face being burned alive by the Soviet nuclear threat. Yet most of us came of age when it was Morning in America again. Have you noticed how much happier the music of the 80s is compared to the whinny, sentimental, depressing tone of today’s so-called rock and even the corporate bubble gum pop? Our musicians for the most part played real instruments. Even the movies were better, now we can only remake 70s and 80s shows, comic books and video games. Creativity is dead.

    We experienced a sanitized Catholicism and yet more of us hear the Tridintine Mass and thinks the liberals in the Church are no threat because they’ll be dead and gone soon and Gen-X priests are true soldiers of Christ. We are the triumphant remnant of orthodoxy.

    Our politics are reactionary because the work of the 20th century to destroy America from within and merge her with the USSR, which was supposed to come to completion during WWIII in our years of coming of age DID NOT happen. The timetable moved because morning came to America and the masters of the universe where not expecting it. Although the 80s and 90s seemed prosperous, we knew that the bedrock of society had been eroded and we wanted it restored. We have to battle two large anti-American, globalist, socialist age cohorts. One that has practically destroyed this country, both the Rs and the Ds and the other which is their spawn and far more violent and nihilistic and way, way dumber and more manageable by the cult of personality.

    We are hopeful and yet totally aware that we are being screwed. If this generation cannot restore authentic conservative principles and return American to where the right is traditional and the left is libertarian and they both operate under the Christian God; and the liberals are dead, in prison or exiled, then no discussion will be necessary because America will be no more.

    Trying to fit a generation like that into a neat little box like the hippies before us and the socialists after is going to prove to difficult for anyone, even us.

    All we can say is what John McLane said – yippy kai yay. . . because we will die hard.

  25. I’m feelin’ ya, Mandy. I am just trying my best to forgive. It makes it harder when boomers start blame throwing in our direction.

    More chances for forgiveness. More chances at redemptive suffering.

  26. “One thing I hate about the current political climate is the amount of tribalism (and subsequent mischaracterization) that goes on.”

    “X-Cons know little about history and their deepest influence is disk jockeys, who ‘taught us X-Cons to appreciate confirmation of our political views.'”

    I think this exemplifies the “tribalism” and mischaracterization that frequently passes as Catholic political thought at CAEI.

  27. Thanks Jay, it is no special task that I posted that, it is what it is. I think that the so-called Gen X is a generation who wants to be who we are, who God made us to be. The Boomers before us, and the socialist Twitter Generation after us are a group-mind and they are led by the powers of this present darkness. We don’t beat to our own drum, we are truly diverse individuals who seek to obey God as a community – we beat to His drum. The generations we are sandwiched in between are not so much individuals as more of a collective hive-mind, like the Borg from Star Trek, they are guided by utility, materialism and a sense of group self-mastery without the Master.

    It may seem arrogant to boast of my generation, and naturally this does not cover all in any group, but a general trend; however, we have to acknowledge that we are the rising generation and we are tasked with the progressive restoration of tradition, orthodoxy, and the authentic conservation of principles of Truth. If we fail to do humbly do it, restoration may be impossible and the world may be plunged into a technocratic neo-feudalism, open rebellion against God and slavery to the devil.

    That is a big task for a small generation with seemingly insurmountable odds. God likes to work with the meek and humble.

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