Last Sunday I blogged about what was beginning to happen among Catholic blogs with respect to the Vatican-sponsored Blogathon in Rome in early May. I observed then that Hilary White of Orwell's Picnic was organising a counter blognic on 3 May, and I wondered whether this was a sign of a fear of the safe boredom of the mainstream (let's call it 'the karaoke theory'), or of the potential for such Vatican-sponsored events to take over and control blogging activity ('the bodysnatcher theory').
Things developed the following day when A Reluctant Sinner proposed the idea of a Catholic Bloggers Guild in the UK and found support among various bloggers including Mulier Fortis, THOC and William Oddie. Laurence England jokingly portrayed the Guild along the lines of the bodysnatcher theory, but it seems he supports it. James Preece, on the other hand, thinks its motives are admirable but fully believes in the bodysnatcher theory. Regular readers of this blog - good morning, all three of you, incidentally - will know my wariness about clubs and tribes, which is why I for one won't be a signed-up member of the GCBs, if it ever gets going. But I shall keep an interested eye on it, and wish it well of course.
Now, the story moves on ever so slightly this weekend with an extrordinary attack by Hilary White on the proposed Guild of Catholic Bloggers and, more generally, on British Catholic bloggers. Here's the key reflection:
I've noticed for a long time that it is the British Catholic bloggers who are quickest to kowtow to the Powers, the biggest nervous nellies when it comes to political incorrectness and, perhaps ironically, the most vicious pack of pirhanas in the commboxes.
Very interesting indeed. I remember when The Tablet launched its attack on bloggers, I did a post - now unfortunately awaiting recovery from the drive of my defunct Dell laptop - in which I scolded The Tablet for its sorry criticism, and surveyed some of the British blogs that most merit attention. At that time, Hilary White came clamouring in my combox for acknowledgement, insisting that she too ran a British Catholic blog (though her address of Anglocatholic had made me assume that she wasn't a Roman Catholic at all). I accorded it willingly, of course, since I was an admirer of her writing...
And now this! Hilary White sitting in judgment on British Bloggers. How times have changed!
Closer inspection of the evidence, however, reveals a few cracks. Argument 1 in her evidence against Catholic bloggers is that they kowtow to the Powers that be; there is, however, no Exhibit A to support her. Argument 2 is that the British Catholic bloggers are nervous nellies about political incorrectness; sadly, there is no Exhibit B to support this claim either. Argument 3 is that the British Catholic bloggers are vicious pirhanas in the comboxes, in support of which argument - finally - she produces Exhibit C (which is really Exhibit A): a thread of comments on William Oddie's blog. Read the thread by all means, but you will find few recognisable names listed there proving White's argument, other than Paul Priest whose own blogging, clever and incisive as it is, is rather secondary to his role of blog commenter elsewhere. Oh yeah, and one or two bloggers who post in Scotland might be on there too. Mind you, I have read White's post assuming it to be coherent. Perhaps one shouldn't draw too many conclusions from the gap between the argument and the evidence.
And then there is White's wild reference to 'English desperation to be ruled by bureaucracy'. I admit that this made me sit up. It strikes me that someone who spent such a long time in Canada would naturally think that British cooperation with bureaucracy is about a desire to be ruled. Like many English instincts, however, it is actually about a desire to be obliging. Our relationship to liberty is neither that of Hobbesian contractualism or of Lockean libertarianism, but of the classic British muddling tolerance.
Of course there is an instinct among many Catholics in England to be 'ruled'. But that is something quite different, and probably related to the injection of Irish immigrants into the English Catholic Church during its revival in this country. The Irish, having lost their own aristocracy to British pikes or British bribes, were the unconscious feeders of this grand clericalist monster. It is illustrative that one of the most libertarian of bishops in England - a man who can have Paul Inwood for his liturgy grandee while approving the erection of an FSSP house in Reading - is not from this Irish line at all. All that said, communitarian instincts are thoroughly compatible with the Catholic spirit which rejects the assumption of individual alienation inscribed in libertarian trends. Maybe there is a nasty plot to gag bloggers, but does that mean there cannot be a legitimate desire on the part of British Catholic bloggers to meet in guild?
Still, if the funniest thing about this is La Pirhana herself calling other bloggers 'pirhanas', the oddest thing is her blanket condemnation of British Catholic bloggers on such, well, gratuitous grounds. And all the while desperately calling for everyone to attend her own blognic on 3 May. Had she spent more time in England, White might realise that those who rain on other people's parades while organising their own are often thought to have ulterior motives.
There is the narrowness of officialdom and then there is the narrowness of the counter-officialdom club. I'm not sure which one I would rather avoid.
British Catholic Bloggers, a free man salutes you!