Quick Hits: Lenten viewing, Feser on libertarianism, the religious roots of jazz
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD. Based on the classic novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries whose faith is tested by persecutions in feudal Japan. I can’t vouch for whatever extras may be on the DVD, but as I wrote in my spoiler-heavy review, Scorsese is a contemplative masterpiece which warns that pride goeth before a fall. Given the subject matter, it may be ideal viewing for Spy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Good Friday).
It’s been a while now since I considered myself a libertarian, but my sense that libertarianism (at least of the strict philosophical variety) is incompatible with Catholic social teaching has been more of an intuitive skepticism of libertarian “self-ownership” than something I could fully articulate. Recently I’ve been reading through several articles and blog posts by Thomist philosopher Edward Feser which detail his road from libertarianism.
What makes Feser’s work on this topic particularly useful is that unlike, say, libertarianism’s distributist critics, he understands libertarianism from the inside, having a thorough familiarity with both its philosophical and economic arguments. Feser has by no means rejected the genuine insights that some libertarian thinkers have to offer, but he does an excellent job of debunking libertarian (and especially Rothbardian) theories of self-ownership, and of providing a non-libertarian, natural law account of property rights and government. A good place to start might be the Hayek Memorial Lecture he gave in 2005 at the libertarian Mises Institute: “Social Justice Reconsidered: Austrian Economics and Catholic Social Teaching”.
There’s a certain account of jazz history that places its origins in New Orleans brothels. It would be foolish to deny that jazz piano has ever been played in a whorehouse, but there’s something irksomely sensationalistic and simplistic about this story. Early jazz, like New Orleans itself, combined a number of different influences, from church music to French opera to African and Latin music to marches to ragtime. When we consider all the various instrumental configurations in which jazz has existed from its earliest days, it is absurd on its face to imagine that this entire style of music “comes from” houses of ill repute.
This story persists because it sells, but there is another and a more edifying story to be told. In First Things, jazz historian Ted Gioia (who is a Catholic, and younger brother of poet, critic and former NEA chair Dana Gioia) redirects our attention to an influence of equal or greater importance in jazz history: religion.
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