Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007
How thicke can you get?

Returning, however, to Harry Potter. Some people are exercised over whether the naming of the last Minister of Magic before the death of Voldemort, "Pius Thicknesse," is a swipe at Pope Pius XII. "Hogwarts Professor" John Granger ("no relation"), though ultimately dismissing this notion, grants it much too much credibility along the way.

It's all very well for Catholics to be on the lookout for slights, especially with the "Pius wars" (originating, as Rabbi Dalin has argued, not from Jewish sources but from dissident Catholics and other opponents of the Church, and having the Church's authority per se, rather than Pius himself, as its true target). But this is just silly. Stop it.

You have to take the name Pius Thicknesse as a whole. When you do that, you immediately realize that, yes, you've certainly known some "pious thicknesses" in your life. I distinctly remember remarking once in the comment boxes at E-Pression that I have met Umbridge at various parishes, usually as DRE or music minister. Well, in any parish, wherever there's an Umbridge, there is at least one, and usually two are three, pious thicknesses.

Ministry of Magic:
a certain "thickness" is favored

Don't take my word for it, and don't make me post links to prove it: do a Google image search for "director of religious education." Numerous Umbridges will appear immediately. Not as numerous, but present too (especially as you click through the pages) are their male enablers, the pious thicknesses.

Come on, you know exactly whom I mean. He's the thin guy with the peninsular Adam's apple and the pectoral cross brushing against his pocket protector, who takes a lot of notes, especially when someone asks why we're doing things a certain way. Or, he's the great big bear of a guy, his arms crossed with his fingers caressing his opposite biceps, with a lobotomized grin and a ready laugh whenever Umbridge signals, by her own "laugh," that she wants one.

He isn't only in parishes, of course. If only. He's the guy in any setting who gets with the program and roots for the causes du jour as signalled by those in power. (Yes, those of us who support the Bush Administration's current Iraq policy need to make real sure that we are not doing so merely as pious thicknesses!) He avoids "inappropriate laughter" or any other speech code violation, and he is gravely concerned about the things the media (any media) tell him he should be gravely concerned about. A totalitarian system thrives on people like him, as they are naturally sycophants and climbers. They man the world's interrogation chambers, and it's not the least of torture's social harms that it tends to encourage and empower pious thicknesses.

Obviously the "piety" of pious thicknesses is a sham. It's the "piety" that, in another century, might consist of pressing hands together around a rosary just to impress Father; I tend to think that today it's more likely to take the form of holding hands and swaying just to impress Sister. (And what kind of piety can you see that is not a sham? That's just it: real piety isn't seen; doesn't try to be, anyway. It would rather be suspected of secrecy than be caught out as self-exhibiting.)

Pius Thicknesse hardly needed to be placed under the imperius curse. Yaxley, remember, is a rank bungler. He breaks through the fidelius charm around No.12 by luck, and even then, our heroes escape him. One wonders whether his imperius curse on Mr. Thicknesse even matters. People like Thicknesse sort of come pre-imperiused.

Want to meet a real-life Pius Thicknesse? Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident murdered in London in1978, recalled in his memoirs how one day, when the Communist regime in his country had recently taken power, a minor figure identified by the regime as a dangerous capitalist sympathizer was executed, and an aspiring apparatchik emoted to Markov that this was, thanks to that execution, the "happiest day of his life." There went a true pious thickness.

In a democracy the syndrome is less dangerous -- as long as the democracy more or less remains one. Want to meet a democratic example? They aren't all men, you know. During the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court, Elinor and I were living near, and I was working in, Washington. (Dead people are eligible for this, though normally one has to wait until 5 pm to find out who they are.) Our community was sharply divided between those families in which at least one member was a Washington commuter (and thus, as it were, "inside the Beltway") and those who were not, and who therefore might as well have been in Kansas.

One day the subject of Judge Bork came up between Elinor and a casual acquaintance who was (trust me on this) neither an inside-the-Beltway-ite, nor a lawyer, nor a CSPAN junkie, nor a public policy junkie, nor, forgive me, out-of-the-ordinary bright. Elinor and I were, of course, strong supporters of Judge Bork, both out of legal principle and personal acquaintance. Elinor's friend, however, said she was "not sure about his record on civil rights."

Something about the CBS Evening News phrasing struck Elinor as not quite ringing true, so she asked -- nicely, of course: you know Elinor! -- just what it was about Judge Bork's "record on civil rights" that gave this nice lady pause. Of course, the rest was awkward silence -- because this basically nice lady was a pious thickness. She had absorbed "nice" views from whatever news program she watched (this was 1987, remember); what might she have absorbed in some other time and place?

Obviously, it's Georgi Markov's rejoicing careerist -- or, rather, millions like him -- who is the model for Deathly Hallows's Pius Thicknesse, not Elinor's "nice" friend. But my point is: if Catholic Potter readers fasten on the first name in the un-disappointable hunt for something to get annoyed at, we will have missed something of importance in the name as a whole, as well as demonstrating that our heads are too deep into the grievance industry.

(Hat tip: Signe)