All posts by bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author, a biographer, and a prog rocker. Interests: Rush, progressive rock, cultural criticisms, the Rocky Mountains, individual liberty, history, hiking, and science fiction.

NDLS Dean G. Marcus Cole: “I am George Floyd. Except, I can breathe. And I can do something.” // News // de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture // University of Notre Dame

As an African-American man, I have had the experience of being pulled over by a police officer, with no apparent or expressed reason for the stop. I have been berated and verbally abused, without receiving a ticket or a warning. The most scarring of these events occurred in front of my two little boys, who are now grown, African-American men themselves. The police officer was intent on nothing more than humiliating and emasculating me in front of my small children, hoping to provoke me to respond. At that moment, I remember thinking that the most important thing I could do for my sons was to survive the encounter. Still, I have often thought about what lasting scars may have cut into their psyche by watching what that officer did to me that night. I often wonder what my sons think of me, as a man, and as their protector, knowing that I could not fight back.

Yes, I am alive, and George Floyd is dead. I can breathe; he cannot. But just because a police officer did not murder me or my children does not mean that he did not harm us.

Like many African-American men, my experiences are far too common. While they have never left me, these memories are all too frequently brought back to the surface by watching the videos that have become routine on American televisions and mobile telephones. The callous murders of unarmed men like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are real for me. That could have been my father. That could have been me. That could be either one of my sons. And in a very real sense, like many other African-American men, I am George Floyd. Except, I can breathe. And I can do something. I must do something.
— Read on ethicscenter.nd.edu/news/ndls-dean-g-marcus-cole-i-am-george-floyd-except-i-can-breathe-and-i-can-do-something/

Cicero’s Decaying republic

Before our own time, the customs of our ancestors produced excellent men, and eminent men preserved our ancient customs and the institutions of their forefathers.  But though the republic, when it came to us, was like a beautiful painting, whose colours, however, were already fading with age, our own time not only has neglected to freshen it by renewing the original colours, but has not even taken the trouble to preserve its configuration and, so to speak, its general outlines.  For what is now left of the ‘ancient customs’ one which he said ‘the commonwealth of Rome’ was ‘founded firm’?  They have been, as we see, so completely buried in oblivion that they are not only no longer practiced, but are already unknown.  And what shall I say of the men? For the loss of our customs is due to our lack of men, and for this great evil we must not only give an account, but must even defend ourselves in every way possible, as if we were accused of capital crime.  For it is through our own faults, not by any accident, that we retain only the form of the commonwealth, but have long since lost its substance.

–Cicero, The Republic, Book 5, Section 1.

Pieper on the 7 Virtues

How the virtues all tie together:

“First, the Christian is one who, in faith, becomes aware of the reality of the triune God.  Second: the Christian strives, in hope, for the total fulfillment of his being in eternal life.  Third: the Christian directs himself, in the divine virtue of love, to an affirmation of God and neighbor that surpasses the power of any natural love.  Fourth: the Christian is prudent; namely, he does not allow his view on reality to be controlled by the Yes or No of his will, but rather he makes this Yes or No of the will dependent upon the truth of things.  Fifth: the Christian is just; that is, he is able to live “with the other” in truth; he sees himself as a member among members of the Church, of the people, and of any community.  Sixth: the Christian is brave, that is, he is prepared to suffer injury and, if need be, death for the truth and for the realization of justice.  Seventh: the Christian is temperate; namely, he does not permit his desire to possess and his desire for pleasure to become destructive and inimical to his being.”

–Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart (San Francisco, Calif.: Ignatius, 1991), 10-11.

Bellarmine and Jefferson, Part II

[Original source: “Bellarmine and Jefferson,” Cincinnati (OH) Catholic Telegraph Register (August 31, 1945), pg. 3.]

The similarity of the ideas of government expressed in the Declaration of Independence and those found in the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine forms the subject of a long article in a recent issue of the Vatican’sOsservatore Romano. This resemblance has often been pointed out, some Catholics even going to far as to declare that the saint, an Italian Cardinal who died more than 150 years before the Declaration of Independence, was Jefferson’s chief inspiration when he wrote the historic document. While the Osservatorearticle is more restrained in its claims, it nevertheless points out several interesting parallels, not only in thought but also in expression, between the Cardinal’s writings and the Declaration of Independence.

Bellarmine wrote that ‘In a free state all men are born free and equal by nature.’ The Declaration of Independence proclaims that ‘All men are created equal.’

Bellarmine wrote, ‘It depends on the consent of the people to decide whether kings, consuls, or other magistrates shall exercise authority over them.’ Jefferson wrote, ‘Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

Bellarmine wrote, ‘The people can change a kingdom into an aristocracy, an aristocracy into a democracy.’ The Declaration of Independence says, ‘whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.’

Although the similarity between the ideas of the Cardinal and those of Jefferson is evident, the degree of the influence of the former on the latter is not clear. The American intelligentsia of the period of the War of Independence had some knowledge of the Cardinal’s teachings, but for the most part only indirectly, through the writings of non-Catholic philosophers, some of whom quoted Bellarmine only to reject his theories. Jefferson himself possessed such a book that summarized Bellarmine’s theory of government. He was also familiar with the writings of philosophers who may have been influenced by the Cardinal, and he was acquainted with the Carrolls of Maryland, a Catholic family whose sons were educated in European Catholic schools and who were probably conversant with Bellarmine’s works. But whether the American statesman read and discussed the Catholic philosopher’s ideas to any great extent before he wrote the Declaration of Independence cannot be proved, especially since Jefferson was only 33 in 1776. 

But there is no need to establish a direct connection between Jefferson and Cardinal Bellarmine to prove that fundamental American democracy is supported by Catholic teaching. Whether the founding fathers were influenced by Bellarmine or not, it is certain that the Cardinal, who died the year the Mayflower landed in New England, taught the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence a century and a half later. Nor did Bellarmine’s teachings rise full grown from an arid soil. The doctrine he taught, perhaps with more specific details than anyone before him, was a logical conclusion of the philosophical system of the medieval schoolmen, which in turn was the philosophical expression of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

did bellarmine whisper to jefferson?

[Original source: Catholic Information, “Did Bellarmine Whisper to Thomas Jefferson?” in The Brookfield (Missouri) Argus (October 17, 1947), page 3.  Reprinted in dozens of papers over the next several years.]

Nearly two centuries apart they lived—Robert Bellarmine, Catholic theologian, and Thomas Jefferson, an American patriot. Yet their pens inked out philosophies so similarly sound and God-like that we wonder, we Catholics, whether at least a whisper from the great theologian did not reach the ear of the great statesman as he pondered and wrote his historic document. Read the extracts below from the Declaration of Independence, 1776 and from Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, 1576:

“All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” (Declaration)

“All men are equal, not in wisdom or in grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind.” “Political right is from God and necessarily inherent in the nature of man.” (Bellarmine)

“To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” (Declaration)

“It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good. Men must be governed by someone lest they be willing to perish.” (Bellarmine)

“Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Declaration)

“It depends upon the consent of the multitude to constitute over itself a king, consul, or other magistrate. This power is indeed from God but vested in a particular ruler by the council and election of men.” (Bellarmine)

“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute a new government. . . . Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons.” (Declaration)

“For legitimate reasons the people can change the government to an aristocracy or a democracy or vice versa.” “The people never transfers its power to a king so completely but that it reserves to itself the right of receiving back this power.” (Bellarmine)

“Government by consent of the governed” has been Catholic teaching down the ages. The 16th century doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings” was, and is, as repellent to the Catholic as it is to the American and when one is both Catholic and American, it is just twice as repellent. So here’s to Cardinal Bellarmine and Statesman Jefferson! May their philosophies ever govern our land and may they conquer those poor lands where ‘kings still can do no wrong’ and where no man dare say them “nay”!

Time and Our Present Whirligig ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Over the past several weeks, the questions of time have been everywhere in my life. Driving with my wife and oldest son to New Mexico (from Michigan), I saw family, family grave yards, family churches, family homes, and family land. Time became centered, even in its plurality.

I also encountered a myriad cultures—such as that of the Navajo and the Pueblo—of which I have really only read. In the deserts of the Southwest are the modern peoples, all residing in a delicate balance with a desiccated landscape, and that landscape is not merely horizontal but vertical, reaching back to the nomads, the Anasazi, and the Aztecs of many, many generations ago. Every juniper tree reveals a stark contrast between the soil, in which it clings, and the deep blue sky, to which it reaches. Every building reflects hundreds and thousands of years of traditions as well as innovations. Mesas as well as historical markers populate the landscape. Should it surprise any of us that Huxley made is one anti-modernist reservation in his Brave New World, New Mexico, or that Willa Cather had her aristocrat-hero, Bishop Latour, build his cathedral in Santa Fe, or that Walter Miller placed his one point of certainty—the abbey dedicated to St. Leibovitz—in the brush country near Taos?
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/05/time-our-present-whirligig-bradley-birzer.html

Rush: Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary) | Music Review – PopMatters

Permanent Waves was an especially important album for Rush in a few ways. It came out a mere two weeks into 1980, making it one of the initial progressive rock forays into the new decade. It was their first record recorded at Le Studio in Quebec, where they would continue to create for many years. What’s more, it signified the start of the Canadian trio’s transition away from trademark stylistic components like prolonged track durations, impenetrable arrangements, and fantastical lyricism and toward more concise and accessible radio-friendly hits with relatable messages. Naturally, its follow-up, 1981’s Moving Pictures, would cement that move by becoming arguably their most popular album, jump-started by their most widely beloved tune, “Tom Sawyer”.
— Read on www.popmatters.com/rush-permanent-waves-40-aaniversary-2646071873.html

Bowfinger movie review & film summary (1999) | Roger Ebert

But it’s as Jiff that Murphy gets his biggest laughs. Here is a man so grateful to be in a film, so disbelieving that he has been singled out for stardom, that he dutifully risks his life to walk across a busy expressway. Murphy shows here, as he did in “The Nutty Professor” and on “Saturday Night Live,” a gift for creating new characters out of familiar materials. Yes, Jiff looks like Kit (that’s why he got the job as a double), but the person inside is completely fresh and new, and has his own personality and appeal. Although Murphy is not usually referred to as a great actor (and comedians are never taken as seriously as they should be), how many other actors, however distinguished, could create Jiff out of whole cloth and make him such a convincing and funny original? Martin is also at the top of his form, especially in an early scene where he pitches his project to a powerful studio executive (Robert Downey Jr.). Martin steals a suit and a car to make an impressive entrance at the restaurant where Downey is having a power lunch, but undercuts the effect a little by ripping out the car phone and trying to use it like a cell phone–staging a fake call for Downey to overhear. Downey handles this scene perfectly, right down to his subdued double-take when he sees the cord dangling from the end of the phone. His performance is based on the truth that strange and desperate pitches are lobbed at studio suits every day, some of them no more bizarre than this one. Instead of overreacting to Martin’s craziness, Downey plays the scene to humor this guy
— Read on www.rogerebert.com/reviews/bowfinger-1999

Thomas Jefferson, Polar Star of Discovery ~ The Imaginative Conservative

When the Lewis and Clark expedition returned to St. Louis after two years not just of absence, but of complete absence, the people of America were ecstatic. The two men and their fifty-some companions were treated as royalty. Yet, even in such a climate of festive joy, no one forgot why Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery had gone west. They had done so through the tenacity, the ingenuity, and the inspiration of the third president of the United States. The night the fair citizens of St. Louis held a dinner and a ball in honor of the returning expedition, eighteen official toasts were given. While each reveals something about the nature of American republicanism and could serve as a book in and of itself, it is the first toast, of course, that matters most.

To “the President of the United States—The friend of science, the Polar star of discovery, the philosopher, and the patriot.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/05/thomas-jefferson-polar-star-discovery-lewis-clark-bradley-birzer.html

How John Paul II reminded us that liberty and truth are inseparable – Acton Institute PowerBlog

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the late John Paul II’s birth, it’s worth underscoring that one theme which permeated his pontificate from its beginning to the end was that of truth.

Many remember Pope John Paul II as playing a crucial role in Eastern Europe’s liberation from Marxist tyranny. But he also insisted that liberty needed to be grounded in and guided by the truth knowable via reason and faith. If freedom and truth become separated—as they most certainly have in many people’s minds in our own time—we not only end up with an unhealthy and dangerous association of liberty with moral relativism. We also open the door to those who claim that the truth is whatever the most powerful or the loudest say it is.
— Read on blog.acton.org/archives/116144-how-john-paul-ii-reminded-us-that-liberty-and-truth-are-inseparable.html