My senator, Ted Kennedy, passed away this morning.
I do not plan on this blog to address the vicissitudes of partisan politics in the United States, being utterly repelled by both of our two parties, the Whigs and the Bonapartists. However, Kennedy's death brings several broader cultural issues into focus. Though there is no contradiction between the two, I will address this first primarily as a monarchist, and then primarily as a Catholic.
To begin, it has often been remarked since the "Camelot" days of JFK's presidency that the Kennedys were a species of American royal family. To this day, those who know little of the policy of John or Robert Kennedy know their image, their oratory, Jackie's grace, and, of course, their tragic deaths. It may indeed be somewhat stretching it to call them royalty, fo that would imply an ecclesiastical mandate and consecration, but they were no doubt a nobility, which can be witnessed by the esteem in which John and Robert are held to this day, and even in the esteem in which Ted was held even across the Senate aisle until his death. For after all, a true aristocrat is not a ravenous ideologue, an intellectual fundamentalist who savages his opposition, but rather a magnanimous man, who has principles and stands by them, but whose opponents will nevertheless go away from a discussion or even argument with him with a much greater respect for him, a man who understands that his calling is not to favour himself or his friends unduly, but to provide service for others, for all, even those we dislike the most. In the ugly business we call law-making, Ted Kennedy had served in the United States Senate since 1962, since a more humane and genteel day, before political culture degenerated into the war dogs of the New Left and neoconservative ideologies barking at one another. The loss of Ted Kennedy is an indication that the American governmental process, as deficient as it always has been, is only going to get worse--and I say this even despite the fact that I almost always had sharp disageements with the Senator.
Now I indeed half-expect some contrary commentary from some of my co-religionists about my gall in eulogizing a man who dared support abortion (aside, another topic generally verboten on this blog; let's not congratulate ourselves for holding the right point of view, for even the Pharisees do that, and let's indeed not be tricked by various warmongers, despots, and demagogues who think abortion the key to our vote. As I said before, all their ideologies are rotten and un-Catholic.) and other radicalisms of the New Left while still calling himself Catholic. This brings into relief another important observation. Like the Kennedys I am from Massachusetts. And the Northeast is both the most strongly Catholic (by self-identification) and the most strongly Democratic part of the United States. Until the 1960s-70s, this would seem unsurprising and rather natural, as the Republicans of early century were the party of wealthy, liberal-Protestant, often eugenicist, industrialist "progressives" whereas the Democrats were the party of working-class urban Catholics and various regionalists (like the Southerners). However, the Democrats of today have become the Republicans of yesteryear, the Republicans of today have become imperialists, and the old Catholic Democrats have become politically homeless.
What has happened? That's easy to explain with but one word: assimilation. Catholics, long regarded as foreigners and scarcely even as "white," finally found themselves with a new respectability in American society at some point in mid-century, found their social, educational, etc. needs met now by FDR's New Deal state, rather than by the Church structures that had done so since they had got off the boat, and moved out of their ethnic enclaves in the cities to a ranch house with lace curtains in that surreal, cultureless place known as suburbia. Thus fell the "machines" like Tammany Hall which had characterized urban Catholic politics. Before long, Catholics saw themselves as indistinct from their non-Catholic neighbours. Then the liturgy lost its distinct qualities. Then the Catholic universities revolted and a generation joined in the radically-stoked temper tantrum of the 1960s. And they're still here today, quite comfortable with their Marty Haugen earworms and their National Catholic Reporter. And now there seem to be two flavours of American Catholicism: liberal-Protestant (John XXIII Santo subito!) and evangelical-Protestant (John Paul II Santo subito!)
But back to the Kennedys. P.J. Kennedy and John F. Fitzgerald were old hands at the old urban ward politics, and the shrewd business practices of Joseph P. Kennedy brought the family to national prominence. All were fighters, tough men who simply refused to quit. And all were pious Catholics. Joe Kennedy was quite close, I understand, to Cardinal Spellman and Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII (Santo subito!). I also noted this on Orbis Catholicvs:
"I once heard that when Cardinal Pacelli came to the USA in 1936 little four-year-old Teddy climbed up on his lap to say hello when the Cardinal paid a visit to the Kennedy family at their Bronxville, NY home and that Teddy was confirmed by the newly elected Pius XII when he went to the Vatican for the coronation of the new Pope in 1939. After the coronation he and the family were received into a private audience with the Pope. Ted was later married by Cardinal Spellman in 1958."
And so like the rest of my neighbours, the Kennedys finally made good--better than good, they became a significant national dynasty--and slacked off. Ted's crossbench work in the Senate, like so many other old icons, too will fade in the age of homogeneous barbarity we seem to be entering. May God have mercy on his soul.
+Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetuam luceat ei.