Monday, February 07, 2005

He's slick as soap, he's King, he's Pope

As previously mentioned, I love my US History class this term largely because of the professor's style; he takes great pains to snarkily point out historical parallels likely to shatter the contemporary preconceptions of the class. Today's class covered immigration and socialism, from 1880-1924. At one point, he discussed the prevalence of anti-Catholicism in 19th century American politics (to the point where anti-Semitism, though also present, was rendered minimal by comparison); it was so great that a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant group, the American Protective Association, numbered some 2.5 million members by 1894 - and even spread into Canada, under the more straightforward name of the Protestant Protective Association. The class had a good laugh at the ridiculous conspiracy theories targeting Catholics during the depression of 1893-97, namely that the Papacy was secretly organizing plans to take over the country. But, Prof. Davis asked: No matter how patently silly it might seem today, why is that at all funny? The notion that Catholic Americans could only, logically, be the invasion force about to install authoritarian theocracy at the order of clergy was believable at the time; if you looked around the world in 1893, most every identifiably-Catholic nation was either a degenerate, decayed remnant of the feudal era, or some variety of tinpot dictatorship. The intelligentsia and elites of the age concluded that Catholics simply weren't capable of democracy. They were only suited to be ruled by the iron grip of strongmen, whether religious or secular. (Is this starting to sound familiar?) A moment of uncomfortable silence followed the obvious punchline, of course. It usually does. He always has a point like that to make, and most always does it well. From number of truly clueless questions about the American polity and society he gets in class, he'd have to, to not go mad.

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