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· Veterans' Day Election Reflections — John Henry Cardinal Newman Style ·

I've been thinking generally about our recent election. You know the results: on Tuesday Democrats regained control of Congress; on Wednesday President Bush appointed past CIA Director Robert Gates to succeed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and now we all await word on how we might well begin a successful withdrawal from Iraq. Surely it's a remarkable change, turning on results of millions of votes counted across America.

Ironically, this has put me in mind of someone hardly linked with most matters democratic, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Maybe it's what comes from my reflecting on Nancy Pelosi's sudden rise to power — as our first woman and first Italian-American-Catholic soon to live just two heartbeats from the presidency. Hers is a sensibility, you might agree, very different from that of the man occupying the office. In any event, I thought to share a passage apt to an understanding of a possible reason fit to that development. Though I doubt Cardinal Newman ever quite anticipated my particular take on his point, its delineation awaits some lines from his eloquently-styled sermon, "Implicit and Explicit Reason" (1887):

 · John Henry Cardinal Newman · The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation. It passes on from point to point, gaining one by some indication; another by probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back upon some received law; next seizing on some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends, how, he knows not how himself, by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another. It is not too much to say that the stepping by which great geniuses scale the mountain of truth is as unsafe and precarious to men in general as the ascent of a skillful mountaineer up a literal crag. It is a way which they alone can take; and its justification lies alone in their success. And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason — not by rule, but by an inward faculty. Reasoning, then, or the exercise of reason, is a living, spontaneous energy within us, not an art.  John Henry Cardinal Newman, Oxford University Sermons, ed. 1887, 257, as quoted by Lewis E. Gates in Apologia Pro Vita Sua, New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1968, 425-26.

The point here lies, I think, in Newman's conclusion. Though we all admire his own skillful climb up the "mountain of truth" (seeing him as the storied "genius" of the ascent), it's rather his implicit nod to all men ("gifted or not") that signals a wider aim. We may think of it as his glimpsed vision of what we might call "distributed intelligence" — those indications, probabilities, associations, received laws, instincts, and memories mostly constituting our thinking. Since they belong to men and women alike, it's reason of Newman's "implicit" kind — whether in the voting booth or on the battle field — that I think we all counted last Tuesday.

It comes to us now, of course, chiefly to act on.

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