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Trashing Old Notre Dame

May 26, 2018 Frontpage No Comments
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By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Just one year shy of a century ago, my father mustered out the Army after World War I and faced a tough decision. Should he go to New York City, and Vaudeville (he was a piano player and an “End Man”)? Or should he go to law school?
Well, he wound up going to law school at Notre Dame, paying his way by teaching history in the high school on campus that had as many students as the university did in those days. He retired in 1952 as dean of the law school, after helping hundreds of GI’s returning from the war to get their law degree.
In those days, Notre Dame undergrads were required to take a full dose of philosophy and theology. If you tried to sleep through Sunday Mass — well you wouldn’t get much sleep. Your dorm mates would drag you out of bed and haul you off to the dorm chapel.
Notre Dame changed quite a bit between 1952 and 1968, the year I graduated. After World War II, the university strived to keep its tuition low, devoting its football revenue to that end rather than building an endowment. In 1952, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, became president, and devoted his office and his life to making Notre Dame the home of “academic excellence.”
By the time I graduated, however, Fr. Ted apparently hadn’t made Notre Dame excellent enough. He recently came in for some pretty tough criticism — admittedly, from a lightweight, but the lightweight’s insult was amplified by his current position as dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame.
That’s right. Last October, Dean John McGreevy gave the keynote address at a major conference on campus, making two allegations: first, that Notre Dame today is stronger in its Catholic character than it was fifty years ago (please stop laughing — we’ll cover that in another story). Second, that the Notre Dame of my senior year suffered from a “mediocrity” which had confronted Fr. Hesburgh for years. The challenge was so great that Fr. Ted had apparently not yet overcome it by the time my class graduated.
Memo to McGreevy: Dad chaired the “athletic committee” when Knute Rockne coached the football team. One of his favorite Rockne-isms went like this: “You don’t spit on a man’s head if you’re standing on his shoulders.”

“Welcome Back, Mediocrities Of ’68! Please Send Money!”

McGreevy’s hubris probably didn’t sit very well with Notre Dame’s massive fundraising subsidiary. And it probably won’t sit very well with my classmates when they gather on campus for our fiftieth reunion on the first weekend in June. A reunion organizer was kind enough to call and encourage me to attend. While I wasn’t able to accept his invitation, I did suggest a reunion “uniform” for our class: “How about a sweatshirt, adorned in the beloved blue and gold? It should look cheap and rather sloppy, emblazoned on the front with the caption, ‘Notre Dame’s Mediocrities of ’68, Alas, Grown Old But Not So Great,’ or something along those lines.”
My suggestion, well thought-out and duly considered, was not welcomed by the organizing committee, alas.
I later learned that, apart from the constant fundraising that pervades everything Notre Dame does these days, our class will be treated to a presentation by two of our fellow graduates.
One of those speakers will be Ralph G. Neas, my fellow history major who usually sat next to me in Bernie Norling’s marvelous European history lectures (the embittered McGreevy would undoubtedly strike “marvelous,” I’m sure).
So Ralph and I were pals. After graduation, we lost touch for a few years, and in the early days of the Reagan administration, we both wound up in Washington, D.C.
And that’s where Ralph went off the rails. He won’t tell me why — should we meet again, the topic is forbidden — but before long he became the most powerful, treacherous, and effective leader of the pro-abortion movement in Washington. By 1986, he ran a well-oiled and abundantly financed coalition formed to combat the confirmation of President Reagan’s appointments to the federal bench. In June 1986, he lost when Daniel Manion (this writer’s brother) was confirmed by a margin of one vote to serve on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
A sidebar: Following the vote, when Joe Biden saw me in the underground Senate corridor, he congratulated me (I had worked on the nomination). “Chris, when it’s over, it’s over. I hope he’s a great judge,” said the senator who had led the opposition in the Judiciary Committee. My old friend Ralph, who had been walking with Biden on the way to the Capitol, couldn’t bear even to say hello: He hid behind the Coke machine.
Ralph was a determined grim reaper, and his persistence paid off. In 1987 he led the successful coalition that defeated the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. And that defeat is timely even today — because Mr. Justice Kennedy was finally confirmed to fill that seat, and he’s still there.
That’s right. Justice Kennedy is, in the memorable words of the late Tom Wolfe, a “Master of the Universe.” And he owes his job to Ralph Neas.
We recall that, in 1992, it was Kennedy who gave the nihilistic left its marching orders in his opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There he wrote that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”
Ralph has marched to that distant drum for years — in his professional work, at least. Ted Kennedy was so impressed that he called Ralph “the 101st senator.” Ralph McInerny, one of Dean McGreevy’s “mediocrities” who was the most published and cited professor in Notre Dame history, could have helped out Ralph with his metaphysics. That he didn’t is just one more “mystery of life,” I guess.

Satan’s Dirty Little Secret

In 1968 Chuck Naus, Bobby Kennedy’s campaign manager at Notre Dame, had a huge poster on his dorm room wall. It pictured a thoughtful Bobby contemplating his favorite campaign slogan: “You see things and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and ask ‘Why not?’”
Bobby had borrowed the line from George Bernard Shaw — a fact his fawning biographers generally acknowledge. What they don’t mention is its origin: It comes from Shaw’s 1921 play, Back to Methuselah. Bobby actually borrowed his beloved slogan from Shaw’s Satan, who urges Eve to reject God, His creation, and His commands. Satan promises Eve that she can create a better world all by herself, out of her own imagination — which she could continually create anew as easily as a serpent sheds his skin.
Bobby Kennedy parroted Satan’s line verbatim.
Ralph was very active in Notre Dame’s mock convention that year (he was Nelson Rockefeller’s campaign manager; I worked for Reagan). Undoubtedly he had heard that slogan — maybe even seen Chuck’s campaign poster. In his pro-abortion work in Washington, he embodied it. And in his Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion, Justice Kennedy enshrined it.
But even the socialist Shaw knew it was a blasphemous lie. The serpent was offering Eve the megalomania of Marx’s dialectic, a bloodthirsty dagger of denial aimed at the heart of Christendom, the Incarnation, and all of reality.
Socrates recognized long ago that the tyrant longs to impose his worst nightmares during his waking hours. The tyrant, then and now, owes no obedience to Jefferson’s “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” because, you see, they don’t exist. Those were Jefferson’s dreams, not Ralph’s, not Kennedy’s. That was then, and this is now. We can all be just as free as Satan! We can create our own reality, conforming perfectly to our vision of whatever Hell on Earth we want to live in.
Please recall that Satan’s temptation succeeded. It did then, and it does now.

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