Two left-of-center writers offered unusual counsel about the Covington story. First, by way of context:
Last Friday in the wake of the March for Life event, an approximately 90-second video clip, depicting an adult man, chanting or singing while playing a ceremonial drum, standing inches from the face of a high school boy at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, went "viral." The putative newsworthiness of the clip was that, because the high school boy was "smirking" (as opposed to what is not said), and because he was standing still (as opposed to what is not said), the boy therefore was engaged in some form of harassment or wrongdoing against the man.
It is not clear whether the boy's wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat was an element of his alleged wrongdoing, but it is clear at least it was an aggravating factor. It is also not yet clear whether his being Catholic was an element of his alleged wrongdoing, but it is clear at least it was an aggravating factor. From his Catholicism, it was apparently supposed the boy is heterosexual and "cis," supplying another element, or at least an aggravating factor -- to his alleged wrongdoing. (It has also been alleged he is "rich," another alleged fact of as yet undetermined probative value.) It is also not yet clear whether the adult man's being a person of color is an element of the boy's alleged wrongdoing, but that too at the minimum was another aggravating factor.
The ultimate fact apparently drawn is that the boy harbors impure beliefs, and he has apparently refused to recant them.
With this evidence in hand, and without awaiting further evidence, multiple journalists and professors, it has been reported, called for the "doxxing" of the high school boy, his friends, and their families. This doxxing -- the release of their personal information and addresses -- was for the stated purpose that they might suffer harassment and embarrassment, and perhaps even physical harm or even death, in satisfaction of justice for the boy's alleged wrongdoing and impurity.
Exculpatory evidence subsequently developed showing the high school boy and his friends were the ones who had faced harassment, and that the adult man had approached the boy, not the other way round. Many journalists who had called for the doxxing have apologized; at least one journalist who called for the death of the boy and his friends has been fired. But many other prominent journalists maintain the allegations of the boy's impurity and/or wrongdoing.
In this context, left-liberal Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum
maintained this is all a non-event:
L'Affaire Covington is, at bottom, about a bunch of teenage boys. No matter who's right, it ranks about #1000 on my list of things to worry about. I hope it doesn't turn into a hill for everyone to die on.
This might have been true when L'Affaire Covington was still just L'Incident Covington. That is, before people in places of power publicly complained of the boy's moral offense and demanded summary punishment, even unto death. But it is too late for that. The "this does not rate" take is not available to us any longer. L'Affaires of this nature, for better or worse, have L'Implications.
So said Rod Dreher (author, The Benedict Option
; ed., The American Conservative blog), who responded
: "Awfully easy to say if it’s not YOUR teenage boy. K[evin] D[rum] would never say this about any boys but white heterosexual boys."
Damon Linker interjected on the side of ruining-lives-if-it's-just-a-bunch-of-teenage-boys-is-nothing-to-bother-about. Linker writes at The Week
, but is well known among among religious political thinkers as being the former editor First Things
while believing Fr. Neuhaus had violated the "liberal bargain" that "religious believers are required to leave their theological passions and certainties out of public life...." This story, involving passions and certainties that would make a theologian blush, ought to have moved Linker's needle. But Linker cast his lot with Drum
that this was all ho-hum:
Aw come on. KD is right. Any event that effects a particular person is really important to that person. That doesn’t mean it should matter very much to our culture or country.
Linker is an influential journalist about the intersection between faith and politics (the truncated version of what we used to think of as culture
, and what we used to think of as country
). Linker is one of our public intellectuals. Linker has his foot in both worlds: he has written in conservative religious publications in the past, and he now writes for a secular publication. All to the good, one should think.
Sadly, however, Linker missed the big political-religious implication of this story. In fact, not only did he miss the political-religious implications, he missed that it might even be a place to look for political-religious implications. The story, Linker agreed, is only about "a bunch of teenage boys," and therefore nothing that should "matter very much to our culture or country." The religious conscience of an individual
, Linker believes,
has nothing to say about our public life: how much less the conscience of "a bunch of teenage boys"?
Linker, if he still reads his former magazine, might have at least a passing acquaintance with what Robert Bolt had to say about the relationship between mere "particular persons" and "really important events." But perhaps he overlooked it. Bolt's famous play, A Man for All Seasons
, is about the futility of looking for any easy bargain, and Linker apparently overlooked that: Linker, demurring to Bolt's More, claims to have found the "liberal bargain" between the authority and conscience, between politics and theology, between man's law and God's law. The bargain is simply: stay out -- there's a clear line -- a "wall" -- between politics and theology.
But had Linker alighted upon this piece on Bolt's More
, from his own former magazine, he might have reconsidered: when a person is caught "between two authorities," with "the commands of both being clear, [the question] was which authority was superior. At this extremity, God was no longer too subtle for him." Liberal bargain or no, More, great respecter of the state and greatly respected as a statesman, "obeyed God’s law and went to his death."
The state drives a hard bargain. The Covington boys and their families are learning that the state -- or the Fourth Estate in this case -- still does. Surely this implicates Linker's thesis?
But Linker apparently thinks high-minded, historic, "really important" events cannot be produced by mere "particular persons" like high school boys. To that Bolt also had something to say, in his preface to A Man for All Seasons
. For while a story might or might not be "really important," it surely cannot be judged one way or the other by identifying the players as "particularly persons" (as opposed, one wants to know, to what?). One cannot conclude, that is, that nothing "should matter very much to our culture or country," that there is no "hill for everyone to die on," simply because it involves a mere morality play whose principal actors are merely "particular persons." For if this were the case, Bolt's play would have had no purchase on our imaginations. As Bolt wrote in the preface to A Man for All Seasons
, a mere bunch of "particular persons" -- a particular person called Henry, who wanted a divorce from a particular person called Catherine, and to marry instead a particular person called Anne, with the sanction of a particular person called Cranmer, but wanting the sanction of a particular person called More -- depicting an event that mattered very much to our culture and our country (both England and, later, America), leading that particular individual More, a man of conscience, to a hill he was made to die on.
Here is how Bolt put it:
The economy was very progressive, the religion was very reactionary. We say therefore that the collision was inevitable, setting Henry aside as a colourful accident. With Henry presumably we set aside as accidents Catherine and Wolsey and Anne and More and Cranmer and Cromwell and the Lord Mayor of London and the man who cleaned his windows; setting indeed everyone aside as an accident, we say that the collision was inevitable. But that, on reflection, seems only to repeat that it happened. What is of interest is the way it happened, the way it was lived. For lived such collisions are. ‘Religion’ and ‘economy’ are abstractions which describe the way men live. Because men work we may speak of an economy, not the other way round. Because men worship we may speak of a religion, not the other way round. And when an economy collides with a religion it is living men who collide, nothing else (they collide with one another and within themselves).
Perhaps few people would disagree with that, put like that, and in theory. But in practice our theoreticians seem more and more to work the other way round, to derive the worker from his economy, the thinker from his culture, and we to derive even ourselves from our society and our location in it. When we ask ourselves ‘What am I?’ we may answer ‘I am a Man’ but are conscious that it’s a silly answer because we don’t know what kind of thing that might be; and feeling the answer silly we feel it’s probably a silly question. We can’t help asking it, however, for natural curiosity makes us ask it all the time of everyone else, and it would seem artificial to make ourselves the sole exception, would indeed envelop the mental image of our self in a unique silence and thus raise the question in a particularly disturbing way. So we answer of ourselves as we should of any other: ‘This man here is a qualified surveyor, employed but with a view to partnership; this car he is driving has six cylinders and is almost new; he’s doing all right; his opinions … ‘and so on, describing ourselves to ourselves in terms more appropriate to somebody seen through a window. We think of ourselves in the Third Person.
To put it another way, more briefly; we no longer have, as past societies have had, any picture of individual Man (Stoic Philosopher, Christian Religious, Rational Gentleman) by which to recognise ourselves and against which to measure ourselves; we are anything. But if anything, then nothing, and it is not everyone who can live with that, though it is our true present position. Hence our willingness to locate ourselves from something that is certainly larger than ourselves, the society that contains us.
Bolt goes on to remark, presciently, I think, and significantly, something about the "liberal bargain":
But I am not a Catholic nor even in the meaningful sense of the word a Christian. So by what right do I appropriate a Christian Saint to my purposes? Or to put it the other way, why do I take as my hero a man who brings about his own death because he can’t put his hand on an old black book and tell an ordinary lie?
For this reason: A man takes an oath only when he wants to commit himself quite exceptionally to the statement, when he wants to make an identity between the truth of it and his own virtue; he offers himself as a guarantee. And it works. There is a special kind of shrug for a perjurer; we feel that the man has no self to commit, no guarantee to offer. Of course it’s much less effective now that for most of us the actual words of the oath are not much more than impressive mumbo-jumbo than it was when they made obvious sense; we would prefer most men to guarantee their statements with, say, cash rather than with themselves. We feel – we know – the self to be an equivocal commodity. There are fewer and fewer things which, as they say, we ‘cannot bring ourselves’ to do. We can find almost no limits for ourselves other than the physical, which being physical are not optional. Perhaps this is why we have fallen back so widely on physical torture as a means of bringing pressure to bear on one another.
Linker, and Drum, should reconsider L'Affaire Covington. Or more accurately, since they have deemed L'Affaire unworthy of consideration, they should reconsider their nonconsideration. If Linker continues to insist there is a bargain to be had, why are so many refusing to take it? When the counsel is always "let's not make this a hill to die on," perhaps it is wise to ask our counselors if there is any way out of the hill country. For the only flat surfaces man has yet found have been the gallows.