I was impressed by George Weigels provocative article, Moral Clarity in a Time of War (January), which applies the Catholic doctrine of just warfare”when it is to be engaged in and how it is to be conducted”to a possible preemptive war by the United States and whatever allies it can muster against Saddam Husseins Iraqi regime. I was surprised to find the doctrine, as he interprets it, to such a large degree supportive of the present Administrations justifications for taking that course of action in the future should all other means of disarming Saddams regime fail.
There are several parts of Mr. Weigels argument that I cannot agree with. In the law of war, as understood by most Western states since 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia which terminated the Thirty Years War, preemptive warfare is generally frowned upon, because it is so difficult to distinguish from wars of aggression, unless the party first attacked was itself planning an imminent first strike on the party that acts preemptively. This was probably the situation that confronted Israel in 1967 and that justified its preemptive initiation of hostilities against its Arab neighbors. However, the imminence of Husseins attack with weapons of mass destruction against Iraqs neighbors”or the United States, for that matter”is far less apparent, at least on the basis of what our government has seen fit to reveal up to now. Even Iraqs immediate neighbors do not seem overly concerned about this threat”Israel excepted, of course. It might be more prudent on our part to watch and wait until the threat becomes more urgent, not only to ourselves, but to our friends and allies in the region.
Second, under the heading of just cause, Mr. Weigel seems to argue that a war of aggression against a sufficiently evilly disposed opponent might be justified in order to establish the tranquility of order. I dont think there is presently any moral justification for such a slippery concept or practice. The U.S. may be a superpower militarily, economically, and technologically, but it is not so great a superpower that it can establish a worldwide Pax Americana under its protective aegis. Attempting such a goal would be a case of overreach and would undoubtedly stir up such a hornets nest of opposition that it would set a major part of the worlds population against us.
Barton L. Ingraham
Santa Fe, New Mexico
A war with Iraq, in George Weigels opinion, fits his definition of a just war”but not Pope John Paul IIs. In his Christmas message, the Pope called for people to extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict which, with the joint effort of all, can be avoided.
Vatican officials have spoken more bluntly. Archbishop Renato Martino, the prefect for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recently told reporters that a preventive war was a war of aggression, and, therefore, not a just war.
The Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, cautioned that a strike against Iraq would aggravate ill will toward Christians in the Muslim world: a type of anti-Christian, anti-Western crusade could be incited.
World opinion is now heavily critical of the United States. To President Bushs credit, he overruled his war hawk advisors and did participate with the UN Security Council in developing a weapons inspection plan for Iraq. Out of that should come a path to peace, giving us all an opportunity to work constructively with our neighbors to the south, the Muslim world, and Africa. Lets take the leadership role in development around the world. Lets earn a reputation, not as a military power, but as a leader in promoting prosperity and democracy.
Bronx, New York
I did not find that George Weigels article contributed to moral clarity, but instead provoked more questions. How can this devoted follower of John Paul II ignore the Popes ever more explicit condemnations of U.S. plans for a preemptive strike in Iraq? When the Pope says No to war and states that war is always a defeat for humanity, what does Mr. Weigel reply?
Mr. Weigel already discounts the statement of our U.S. bishops, a strategy that seems at odds with his general defense of hierarchical authority in other intrachurch disputes. He considers religious statements on the war to be symptomatic of clericalism. After all, he claims, religious leaders are not responsible for statecraft, and are not as informed as political leaders about the relevant facts. But can governance be separated from the moral responsibility of religious citizens to act critically?
I am also worried about Mr. Weigels implication that Father John Courtney Murray would agree with Machiavellis dictum that the end justifies the means, or that the Sermon on the Mount can be bypassed in moral analysis. What does Mr. Weigel make of Christs teachings and the ethics of the New Testament?
If Mr. Weigel wants to convince us that the just war approach is Christworthy, he must connect and more fully ground his arguments with central theological beliefs. I know that Mr. Weigel and his supporters are sincere, very smart, very energetic, and devoted to the Church, but are they faithful to the Christian gospel?
McKeever Chair of Moral Theology
St. Johns University
Ardsley-on-Hudson, New York
In Moral Clarity in a Time of War George Weigel makes a strong case for the public relevance of the just war tradition to public statecraft. But when he turns to the criterion of last resort, the case becomes less convincing. Mr. Weigel defines the satisfaction of the last resort criterion in those cases when a rogue state has made plain, by its conduct, that it holds international law in contempt and that no diplomatic solution to the threat it poses is likely, and when it can be demonstrated that the threat the rogue state poses is intensifying.
Despite intensive efforts by the Bush Administration and Blair Government, and despite Saddams continued roguish character, it is not clear that the second and third conditions”the impossibility of a diplomatic solution and the intensification of the threat”are currently accurate descriptions of Iraq. Backed by force, UN inspections efforts seem to be working. Nor is it clear, to the public at least, that the Iraqi threat has grown.
The Sermon on the Mount may not be identical with morality, but for George Weigel it apparently has no bearing on it whatsoever. In defending the just war tradition, Mr. Weigel never mentions Jesus Christ, discusses charity once, and makes scant reference to God. Without serious theological analysis, he distorts the history of the just war tradition, and ignores Pope John Paul IIs important contributions to moral theology. In the Summa Theologiae , Thomas Aquinas discusses warfare in the context of charity, devoting more than twenty articles to analyzing charitys nature and demands. Paul Ramsey eloquently demonstrates how charity requires us to defend the innocent in conflict situations. Mr. Weigel mentions these discussions, but they are an afterthought, and he makes no attempt to relate charity to the ad bellum part of the tradition.
Astonishingly, he also claims that peace is not a matter of the individuals relationship to God, which by definition has nothing to do with politics. How can any Christian so radically separate his or her interior development from political life? For years, Pope John Paul II has rejected this kind of absurd divorce between political morality and individual moral growth. To take just one example, in Veritatis Splendor he analyzes the story of Jesus and the rich man, unambiguously grounding moral norms in our relationship to God. The Pope has made this message one of the hallmarks of his defense of the persons dignity. Unfortunately, Mr. Weigel blithely ignores it, giving us a just war tradition without God and Christian love. In a time of war, this is muddled thinking, not moral clarity.
Derek S. Jeffreys
Assistant Professor of Humanistic Studies And Religion
University of Wisconsin
Green Bay, Wisconsin
George Weigel goes wrong in his attempt to amend or adapt the just war tradition to make it compatible with the neoconservative ideology of American military interventionism and nation building. Most problematic is his belief that the United States is justified in taking preemptive action against any country determined to be a rogue state, if that rogue state appears to have (to use that increasingly tiresome phrase) weapons of mass destruction.
Who gets to decide what constitutes a rogue state? From the looks of his article, Mr. Weigel would probably argue, the U.S. But why? Since when did God delegate this kind of authority to the government of a single nation, or any human institution? Entrusting this responsibility”that is, the responsibility to topple regimes and prop up new ones at will all over the world”to our elected officials seems pretty dangerous. Does Mr. Weigel think it even remotely possible that assigning rogue nation status to a particular country may at times spring more from self-serving political expediency on the part of the assigner than an earnest and objective appraisal of the alleged roguery committed by the country under scrutiny?
Mr. Weigel clearly wants to set up a double standard among nations: some are entitled to possession of nukes (namely, we and our allies), and some arent (namely, any nation we dont like or that doesnt like us). Moreover, he gives us permission to invade countries we dont like under the pretext of their supposed rogue nation status, and to install regimes more amenable to our interests once we have overthrown the rogues. Naturally, these unfortunate other nations dont have the same prerogative to invade us and change our government if they determine us to be guilty of roguery.
Thus in the Weigelian perspective, state sovereignty applies to no one except the United States, which, being the only world power and apparently having some innate goodness other nations lack, gets unlimited jurisdiction across the globe to change things for the better as it sees fit. It is hard to understand how what he suggests is anything other than a blueprint for U.S. world domination, which in turn is certain to provoke more acts of terror from those who already resent our constant meddling and frequent self-righteous posturing.
George Weigel replies:
Moral Clarity in a Time of War was intended to address the moral/theological challenges posed to the just war tradition by the new realities of international public life, including the international terror networks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable and aggressive regimes, the possibility that such weapons could be transmitted to terrorist organizations, and the inability of international institutions to address these threats to the very possibility of the peace-of-order in international affairs. While some of my correspondents take up various of these theological challenges, others decline to deal with questions of theology at all, preferring to inveigh against the policies of the Bush Administration. As the Administration is quite capable of defending its policies and its judgments, let me focus here on several of the theological and ecclesiastical questions raised.
After reviewing the traditional just war criteria, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good (§2309). The meaning of this seems plain. The duty of religious leaders is to teach the principles of the tradition and urge that they be brought into public and governmental deliberation about the possible use of armed force in the service of peace, justice, and freedom; but it is not the duty of religious leaders to make the call as to whether those criteria have been satisfied in a particular case. That is the prerogative and the duty of those who have taken responsibility for the common good”public officials. This duty includes evaluating when the criterion of last resort has been satisfied.
In his address to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See on January 13, Pope John Paul II said the following: War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after military operations. I agree. But the determination of when the very last option has been reached is a matter for prudential judgment, not mathematical calculation.
Such a determination takes place in history, not in a vacuum. In the present instance, the relevant history goes back more than a decade. In 1991, Iraq agreed to disarm. For twelve years it has failed to do so. It impeded weapons inspections during the 1990s, and expelled the UNSCOM inspectors in 1998”not, one can only assume, out of mere pique, but to block further impediments to its ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs and to its attempts to acquire a nuclear capability. UN Resolution 1441 declared the Security Councils conviction that the time for such obstruction was past, and that the Iraqi regime must demonstrate its disarmament or be forcibly disarmed.
Dr. Hans Blix, in his January 27 report to the Security Council, made clear that Iraq was not cooperating with the inspectors, whose task was not (the world media notwithstanding) to find a smoking gun but to verify that Iraq had disarmed itself of weapons of mass destruction. The assumption of 1441 was that Iraq has had and continues to possess such weapons, not for purposes of deterrence but for aggression. This is the context in which the prudential judgment about last resort must be made”to repeat, by those who have responsibility for the common good.
A further issue has come to the fore since I wrote Moral Clarity in a Time of War, and several of my correspondents allude to it, directly or indirectly: the question of legitimate authority. Numerous religious leaders around the world have asserted that the UN, which in practice means the Security Council, is the only authority capable of legitimating the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force. The moral logic of this is not, to put it mildly, self-evident. At present, three of the veto-holding powers on the Security Council”France, Russia, and China”conduct their foreign policy according to the bluntest Realpolitik calculus (a calculus which led France and Russia to help undermine the containment of Iraq in the late 1990s for commercial reasons). How their judgment, based on those calculations of raw national interest, constitutes a moral legitimacy that trumps all others is not an easy case to make. Security Council authorization of armed force to disarm Iraq (or respond effectively to the threat posed by the terrorist networks) may be politically desirable for a variety of reasons, including support for the possibility that the UN might someday evolve into a genuine international security system. But how can such authorization possibly constitute an essential moral warrant now, given the amorality that informs the decision-making of three of the key members of the Security Council?
Ends and means are an old argument. It seems to me that my meaning in the essay was reasonably clear: a good end does not justify any means, but unless there is a morally worthy and achievable political end that informs the use of armed force, war is simply wickedness. The entire burden of the just war tradition in its two component parts”the ius ad bellum and the ius in bello ”is to link proportionate and discriminate means to morally worthy ends, even in the limit case of war. Surely this is beyond dispute.
The relationship of ones personal spiritual disposition to the pursuit of the peace of tranquillitas ordinis is addressed in the just war traditions ad bellum criterion of right intention. To recognize that the peace of a right relationship with God (which includes personal moral development) cannot be accomplished by politics is not to divorce politics from morality; it is to recognize the distinctiveness of social ethics and the limits of the political. Absent an effective international legal and political authority capable of responding to grave threats to the peace (as the UN was unable to respond in the Balkans and Rwanda, and as has been manifestly the case in the UNs record in enforcing its demands for Iraqi disarmament), it will be the responsibility of states, or coalitions of states, to prevent aggression and to respond to it when it occurs. The cause of genuine world order is not advanced by pretending that things are otherwise, or by suggesting that states willing to take up the burden of responsibility are primarily interested in world domination. A UN in which Iraq is scheduled to chair a May-June disarmament conference, a UN which elects Libya the chair of its Human Rights Commission, is a UN in desperate need of radical reform, not of protestations about its allegedly superior moral authority.
Moreover, and on a related point of moral principle, the Catholic Church has never recognized state sovereignty as absolute, and neither does international law. The Church insists on the libertas ecclesiae , and international human rights law makes it clear that states are not immune from scrutiny and sanction in matters relating to their internal affairs.
That U.S. policy in the Middle East has been less than entirely satisfactory over the past fifty years is obvious to everyone”including, I expect, the Bush Administration. But do those failures preclude more effective policy now? Fouad Ajami, in a brilliant essay in the January/February 2003 Foreign Affairs , suggests not”and surely the prudential judgment of this distinguished scholar of the Arab world, of which he is a native, carries a certain weight of credibility. Are those past failures a moral impediment to the use of armed force against an aggressor state now? In that case Stanley Baldwins and Neville Chamberlains misreadings of Hitler should have rendered Winston Churchills leadership morally suspect.
Very little clarity, moral or otherwise, is gained by the habit into which many have fallen in recent months, namely, of referring to the use of armed force against the Iraqi regime as a preventive war, or an act of preemption. As indicated above, the conflict with Iraq dates back to the Gulf War and its aftermath: a war sanctioned by the international community and followed by explicit requirements for disarmament, also sanctioned by the international community. The use of armed force against Iraq, to give effect to those requirements when other means have quite clearly failed, is an act within that continuum of events, and cannot be properly described as a preventive war or an act of preemption”terms which seem to imply that the continuum does not exist or is of no relevance to moral analysis and prudential judgment.
Finally, a word about the public statements of officials of the Holy See. The Pope speaks, as all popes speak, in a number of registers: magisterial, doctrinal-theological, pastoral, prophetic. To conflate those several papal voices into equivalent acts of the papal magisterium with equally binding authority on the consciences of Catholics is to make an elementary mistake in ecclesiology. The Pope doesnt make that mistake, and neither should those attempting to parse his statements as authoritative and binding magisterial support for their own prudential judgments about the appropriate response to the Saddam Hussein regime. Neither is it appropriate to suggest that the prudential judgments of lower officials of the Holy See (about, for example, the likely effect in Middle East politics of a U.S.-led armed intervention in Iraq to enforce its disarmament) constitute an exercise of the papal magisterium. Such statements are to be carefully considered as the prudential judgments of experienced churchmen. They are not more than that, and they cannot be more than that. As for those statements by officials of the Holy See that touch on questions of applying moral principle to immediate circumstances, they too are to be respectfully heard and considered in light of the Catechism s teaching, referenced above, on where the charism of responsibility finally rests.
To suggest, as some correspondents do, that to propose different understandings of the prudential circumstances, or different applications of the agreed-upon principles, constitutes an act of dissent is to engage in polemics, not theology. War is a terrible thing; as John Courtney Murray was wont to note, the just war tradition tries to bring reason to bear on a human activity, war, that always contains elements of the irrational”and that is, as the Pope has noted, a defeat for the forces of reason in human affairs. But there are moments when moral duty requires the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force to redress injustice, defend freedom, prevent the forces of unreason from having unfettered sway in international public life”and thereby serve the cause of peace. That duty falls on particular states at particular moments in history. It is not hubris, but Christian realism reading the signs of the times, to recognize that the United States bears a particular weight of responsibility for advancing the cause of a world no longer in thrall to forces that deliberately undermine the minimum conditions of world order.
That our nation has conducted its debate about the war against terrorism in explicitly just war categories tells us something encouraging about the people and culture of the United States. That so many religious leaders have forgotten key elements of the just war tradition, and misconceived their own role in the public debate, points out yet another arena in which the Church is in need of authentic and deep-reaching reform.
John E. Coons offers A Grammar of the Self (January) in response to a perceived challenge to traditional conceptions of the self by the materialist Rad-cons, and, moreover, to make his case intelligible to all parties, he argues for a common language within which the contending parties may discuss the issues. To say that Professor Coons project is ambitious is an understatement.
Alasdair MacIntyres After Virtue addresses both issues in depth, and offers an analysis of the Enlightenments failure to provide an enduring rational basis for ethics. With the concession that After Virtue is a book, not an article, I find MacIntyres analysis, as well as his prescription for repair, more persuasive and less strained than that offered by Prof. Coons.
Prof. Coons constructs an analysis based upon the relation between a First Good and Second Goods. The First Good is the individuals inchoate capacity to will to exercise the will in pursuit of specific goods (Second Goods), in other words, a personal commitment to submit to a rational ethical calculus. Prof. Coons analysis presumes an ethical universe that we can know personally and in the abstract and that has personal relevance for the individual. Prof. Coons indulges these presumptions further when he invokes the call of responsibility as the ground of self.
Prof. Coons thus defines the self as the capacity of a personal will to respond to the call of responsibility. This analysis is an echo of the pagan description of the self: Sin is ignorance, and to know the good is to do the good. The interval between the knowing and the doing is connected by the mystical concept of the will, which is motivated by the equally mystical concept of the call of responsibility.
Kierkegaard, a more insightful existential phenomenologist than Prof. Coons, acknowledged the interval between the knowing and the doing, and concluded that the human will is gripped in a subjectivity not amenable to objective analysis, and therefore concluded that truth is subjectivity. Unlike Prof. Coons, Kierkegaard also did not presume an ethical awareness, and therefore placed emphasis on the initial Either/Or”either one chooses to experience the world in ethical terms or one does not, the consequence of failure at this point being existential despair. Kierkegaard placed this initial choice within the realm of human freedom, while Prof. Coons casts it as an unavoidable, enduring obligation (thereby avoiding the vagaries and mysteries of human freedom).
Prof. Coons merely bypasses the watershed of the primordial Either/Or and assumes all people have an ethical awareness: The specific act that self-perfects”that secures the First Good”is the choice of the Second Good as the reason for specific behavior. This assertion is a tautology and presumes an ethical awareness. Or, alternatively, there is no self until one makes this choice: Note that the capacity of the self does not will the performance of specific behaviors. What it wills is a subordination to (or defiance of) ones sovereign obligation to seek and attempt the Second Good. This assertion presupposes not only the awareness of an ethical universe (Second Goods), but also that such an ethical universe has valid claims upon the individual. Neither of these presuppositions is self-evident. This is not Kierkegaards argument, for obvious reasons, for until one apprehends ones sovereign obligation, the Second Goods may not appear as good at all, nor may anything in the world appear as a good, for the initial distinction between good and evil has yet to enter into an individual existence with any personal relevance.
MacIntyre disputes both the inevitability of the ethical Either/Or (and, by implication, Prof. Coons very definition of a self, the sovereign obligation), and Kierkegaards assumption that an individual in the grip of the apprehension would either prefer or choose the good (thus, MacIntyre would grant that an authentic self could choose to be a Rad-con, something that Kierkegaard and Prof. Coons would not grant). MacIntyre calls Kierkegaards leap into the ethical (and Prof. Coons assumption of a sovereign obligation) a criterionless choice, a choice for which there is no good reason. There has been much debate about this characterization of Kierkegaard as an irrationalist, but Kierkegaards position (a position required by the failings of Kant, as aptly pointed out by Prof. Coons), even if irrational, seems preferable to Prof. Coons mystical approach, which requires an individual to apprehend the demands and personal claims of an ethical life before one even apprehends the world in ethical terms (or, in Prof. Coons terms, one must be a self before one makes the decision to be a self).
Prof. Coons further asserts that what is quite impossible to imagine is the self inviting itself. By this sentence he contradicts the one Christian doctrine that may be empirically verified: the Fall of Man and original sin. Moreover, Prof. Coons remarkable assertion raises the question of whether he has ever read Nietzsche, who wrote hundreds of pages asserting not only that a self may invite itself, but that it must, and in doing so must also write the terms of the invitation.
But Prof. Coons ignores Nietzsche, who apprehended the primordial choice (the invitation responsibility), but responded that, once the choice is apprehended, human reason provides no useful guidance to distinguish between good and evil (in other words, Prof. Coons Second Goods are essentially just arbitrary preferences, and hence the First Good is nothing more than a seductive illusion, for it provides nothing of any value or relevance; one is, in the end, merely thrown upon ones own devices). Thus, following Nietzsche, one can view the Rad-cons, not as sprouting from the supposedly rational behavioral or experimental sciences, as Prof. Coons does, but rather as disciples of Nietzsche who merely employ the language of science to express this underlying philosophical position.
MacIntyre sees Nietzsche as the primary challenge to Kant and the failings of an ethics based upon human reason, and brings forth Aristotle in response. Prof. Coons stands in opposition to Aristotle, claiming rather alarmingly that we may eliminate the relevance of human memory to our question, and the responsible self requires no memory at all beyond its recognition of the imperative to seek the content of correct conduct (the Second Good). At this point, Prof. Coons is attempting to outflank the Rad-cons by eviscerating their conception of the self as merely the memories of an organism as it travels through life. He assumes that a narrativeless, disconnected individual could apprehend or take an interest in Second Goods. Again, he manufactures a self out of nothing (Sartre would be proud). But this conclusion is inevitable given Prof. Coons earlier assumption that each individual fully apprehends the sovereign obligation (that is, the primordial Either/Or) and has a nicely developed human will that employs sweet reason to connect that will with desirable goods.
So, as I understand Prof. Coons, we may dispense with culture, tradition, and family, and merely invent ourselves in any given circumstance, fueled by the First Good which in turn is rationalized by the self-evident rosy prospects of Second Goods. This sounds very much like watered-down paganism (one decides to do good because the good is obvious and anything that is good is also desirable to the will), decorated with language derived from the Greeks, Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant. This analysis ignores three obvious hindrances: 1) the fact that the good is not always immediately obvious or profitable; 2) the distortion of human will and reason by sin; and 3) the enduring attraction of evil.
Both MacIntyre and Kierkegaard emphasize the importance of memory, both cultural and familial. Kierkegaard invokes the concept of repentance as crucial to taking ownership of ones self. For Kierkegaard, repentance is more than acknowledgement of ones past, of merely saying Im sorry for what I did and I wont do it again; rather, it is taking full ownership of ones past, which includes certain necessities for which one may not be responsible, including ones parents, family, geography, culture, nation, and time. Contrary to Prof. Coons, Kierkegaard (and, I assume, MacIntyre) does not believe that an amnesiac can be a fully functioning ethical being.
Even worse (at least for a Christian), Prof. Coons asserts that the self is that power . . . to commit freely to seek and . . . attempt whatever would be truly right under the circumstances. It is in the exercise of this option to seek that each of us realizes or forfeits his or her own self-perfection (First Good). Prof. Coons assumes that, once we know what is truly right under the circumstances, we have the power to commit to do it. (Do I hear St. Paul rolling in his grave?) Socrates, like any pagan, could not have said it any better. But, of course, we do not have such power, nor do we know very often what is truly right under the circumstances, and hence Christianity provides a much better description of personal reality than that offered by Prof. Coons. In his universe, both revelation and the grace of God are unnecessary.
Prof. Coons has undertaken an Olympian project. On the one hand, he has to deal with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and MacIntyre in explicating either the desirability of or the necessity for an Either/Or (his First Good, the sovereign obligation to seek Second Goods). In other words, he must make the case (beyond mere assertion) for an ethical universe subject to rational apprehension, the proposition that such an ethical universe has either abstract or personal authority, and that it has claims upon and personal relevance for any specific individual. Until he successfully negotiates that project, he has no useful definition of a self, since he defines the self as a will in relation to the ethical. And until he has a useful definition of a self, he has nothing to say in response to the perceived challenge posed by the Rad-cons, who are nothing more than Nietzscheans in modern dress, and who have already answered all of these questions in ways quite different from Prof. Coons.
Mark T. Dykstra
John E. Coons offers a congenial analysis and resolution of the often-vexing modern and postmodern commentary regarding selfhood. One yearns to embrace his view. But I wonder if Professor Coons does not in fact beg the central issue, viz., the status (veracity) of what for him is the primordial experience”responsibility (or invitation).
The status of commonsense experience is perhaps the fundamental question of our era. On this matter Prof. Coons appears more dogmatic than reasonable. Granted, he logically dismantles the reductionist accounts of the experience of responsibility offered by positivism and behaviorism. But this service falls short of establishing the veracity and authority of that experience. What is lacking is a positive demonstration, or argument. One wonders whether, to remedy this omission, Prof. Coons endorses the following statement: any attempt to question the authority of common sense (specifically, the experience of responsibility) is itself an act of responsibility; hence, any denial that the self is at heart the experience of responsibility is an instance of performative contradiction; and, therefore, the self stands as Prof. Coons describes it. If not, what alternative does he offer for his foundation?
Jon M. Fennell
Matthew F. Roses review essay on Colin McGinns intellectual autobiography is marred by a number of claims about analytical philosophy that are misleading, ill-informed, and offensive (The Disconsolate Philosopher, January). Chroniclers of the movement caution that analytical philosophy is not best identified with any specific doctrine or issue. However, Mr. Rose thinks that the basic . . . analytical question is whether the worlds ordering is just in our minds, ideal rather than real. To be sure, many analytical philosophers, like most philosophers since Kant, have treated this question. Still, it is worth noting that G. E. Moore, usually regarded as one of the founders of the analytical movement, devoted several major essays to arguing against idealism, not for it.
Mr. Rose sometimes talks as if we would do better not to argue or even entertain such questions, which he thinks simply could not have occurred to early Christians (what does Mr. Rose make, one wonders, of the philosophical skepticism that enthralled the young Augustine?), but, more sensibly if not consistently, he also endorses what he calls the Lets-Not-Be-Crazy objection to idealism. To be sure, that last is good advice, but why think the early analysts disagreed?
Similarly, Mr. Rose imagines that analytical philosophers belie[ve] that ideas do not . . . really exist, at least [not as we] . . . think. Again, some analytical philosophers did deny ideas existence. (Think of mid-twentieth-century reductionist behaviorists and late-century eliminative materialists.) Nevertheless, most analytical philosophers were roughly within the empiricist camp (W. V. O. Quines criticism of what he called empiricist dogmas were meant to reform the movement, not repudiate it), and if we call the contents of experience ideas (as many still do), it makes little sense to endorse empiricism while disowning ideas.
Mr. Roses own claims could profit from analytical rigor. He claims, for example, that, pace the analytical philosophers, to be meaningful language needs to be intrinsically christic, . . . liturgical, and doxological. Maybe he can make good on these aperçus; maybe he can even understand them. To explain them to the rest of us, though, hell need the clear exposition, rigorous argument (sometimes including technical logic and syntax), narrow focus, and commitment to accuracy over edification that many take as largely definitive of the analytical philosophy Mr. Rose decries.
Mr. Rose would like the test of a philosophical position to be how it gets about . . . . Does it give you a reason to get out of bed? Can you take it places? He thinks this follows from the truism that philosophy is made for humans, and it seems to be on that basis that he sneers that it takes alchemy to make the stuff of logic and linguistics into an intellectual life well lived. However, as the subtlest medieval philosopher-theologians knew, understanding often requires narrow inquiries, some measure of patience with the unexciting, and emotional detachment. The legs a philosophical idea chiefly needs are not those Mr. Rose envisages but the ability to remain standing under careful dissection of its clearest formulations and logical argumentation. Those, of course, are the qualities and techniques best developed and most valued within the philosophy that proceeds by logical and linguistic analysis.
That philosophy is made for (and by) people no more yields Mr. Roses folksy, homespun criteria for the eligibility of philosophical beliefs than does the fact that it is people who make calculus or organic chemistry show that we should form our beliefs in those fields by seeing what places we can take their hypotheses. There is more to (intellectual) life than logic and linguistics, of course, as there is more than chemistry and calculus, and more than Patristics and divinity school. That hardly shows that a career devoted chiefly to one or another of these can only be part of an intellectual life ill lived.
Mr. Rose condescendingly allows that the analytical philosophy of religion developed by Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and others associated with the Society of Christian Philosophers has won them praise in many quarters. He prefers the narrative theology of Hans Frei and George Lindbeck. Ill leave it for others to judge the merit of these theological developments. What is obvious is that they are not competitors with analytical philosophy, not even with analytical philosophy of religion. Moreover, this is not a zero-sum game, where valuing the theologians requires disparaging the philosophers. Christian analytical philosophers are scorned by the obtuse for their abstruseness and abstraction, derided for their technical vocabulary, and accused of scholasticism. While ignorant and unjust, such charges are, in a way, fitting. For the same complaints were (and still are) leveled at all the great thinkers, not just ancient and modern, but also those in between.
Some of my friends and colleagues find insight in recent writers who have eschewed the analytic philosophers commitments. On rare occasions, I have glimpsed insights there as well, especially in Emmanuel Levinas and Edmund Husserl. Those facts notwithstanding, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that”construing analytical philosophy broadly, as demarcated by its clarity, rigor, and willingness dispassionately to elaborate dry and even technical analyses and arguments”all the best philosophical writing of the century just ended could be considered analytical. In logic and language, yes, but also on God and religious faith, and, significantly, including Jacques Maritains and Ralph McInernys most important work on Aquinas, Alexius Meinongs and Max Schelers on value and emotion, K. Anthony Appiahs on race and racism, and much else. Your readers are ill served if Mr. Rose leads them to ignore this work and, perhaps worse, to expect things to be different in the century just begun.
J. L. A. Garcia
Matthew F. Rose replies:
My concern, as any attentive reading of my review essay would reveal, was not with analytical philosophy simpliciter , but as it shaped and, I believe, distorted Colin McGinns intellectual career through philosophy of language and mind. I faulted Mr. McGinn not for being an analyst, but instead for what I believed to be a lack of proportion and humanness in a philosophical life, and for the high-handedness and insularity that can follow from an unbalanced philosophical mind. I am grateful to Professor Garcia for helping to alert us again to these dangers.
Vastly more important than Prof. Garcias defense of the analytical tradition (much of which I find unobjectionable) is his ridiculing as folksy my suggestion that Christians, as a general rule, should affirm the findings of philosophy as much as is in keeping with the basic claims and practices of Christology and doxology. My interpretation was guided by the rule of charity crafted by early exegetes such as Origen and Augustine: an interpretation of any text or philosophy that cannot lend itself to the increase of love of God and neighbor is not a true one. It is the same rule that guided Cyril in his treatment of Plato, Ambrose with Seneca, Ricci with Confucius, and will continue to serve Christians in the century to come, long after Prof. Garcia has digested Appiahs lessons on race.
That this loose, indeed gracious, philosophical rule should be so deeply unfashionable and controversial to Prof. Garcia speaks volumes, in my opinion, about the misguided nature of much contemporary Christian philosophy and apologetic. Does Prof. Garcia mean to suggest that Christian reflection must first meet non-Christian epistemological criteria before it can undertake its task? Must theology first win permission from secular standards of what counts as reasonable? (If so, I fear Prof. Garcia must be counted among the cultured despisers.) The trinitarian and ecclesial criterion of truth that Prof. Garcia mocks as homespun is nothing more than the belief that for Christians all metaphysical validation depends, in the end, on the redemption of our humanity in the community which proclaims Christ as Lord. As Augustine wrote of Christ and his Church in one of his greatest analytical flourishes: I am in all languages. Greek is mine, Syrian is mine, the languages of all people are mine; for I am the unity of all peoples.
Joshua Mitchells disparaging review of Michael Zuckerts fine book Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy (January) does a serious disservice to readers of First Things. Professor Mitchell arbitrarily dismisses the possibility that Zuckert can uncover a single, unified Lockean political philosophy, on the ground that most scholars remain unconvinced by the claim. Similarly, he rejects Zuckerts demonstration of the fundamental opposition between Lockes teaching and the biblical one because most scholars now believe that Locke was a nominal Christian of some sort. To refute a book like Zuckerts, which sets out in part to challenge a scholarly consensus, it hardly suffices to cite the mere fact of that consensus.
Nor might the unwitting reader of Prof. Mitchells review realize that Zuckert responds (in his closely reasoned essay on Locke and the Problem of Civil Religion) to Mitchells query of why else if he were not a believing Christian Locke would devote his last years to composing such books as The Reasonableness of Christianity and Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul . As Zuckert explains, Locke endeavors in these works to reinterpret Christianity so as to harmonize it with his liberal teaching, albeit at the cost (Zuckert argues) of ultimately undermining the religious attitude itself. Nor, finally, does Zuckerts suggestion of the absurdity of Lockes representing the otherwise obscure Sir Robert Filmers patriarchalism as the only alternative to consent-based government indicate baffle[ment] on Zuckerts part. Locke himself initially disparages Filmers book, and (as Zuckert demonstrates) under the guise of refuting Filmer in fact takes on the far meatier (but riskier) enterprise of challenging the biblical understanding of humanity.
Whether Zuckerts argument is correct or not, it behooves a reviewer to engage the argument rather than dismiss it on the basis of his own premises or a supposed scholarly consensus. Needless to say, Prof. Mitchell offers no evidence to support his claim that Locke”whose library itself attests to his broad learning in classical and modern philosophy”assumed that . . . the biblical historical horizon was the only justifiable point of departure for reflection on matters political. Ultimately, Prof. Mitchell takes Locke no more seriously than he does Zuckert, preferring to confine him within a range of categories and understandings that only a modern scholar like Mitchell (rather than Locke himself) is capable of grasping.
Nor would one ever realize from Prof. Mitchells account that Locke himself calls attention (e.g., in his First Treatise ) to the need to sweeten a harsh political teaching so as to accommodate the prejudices of vulgar readers. In other words, the notion that Locke might have veiled the extent of his unbelief is hardly an invention of Straussians. But for Prof. Mitchell theres no reason to believe that Locke rejected and subverted Christianity in a surreptitious manner because he never deign[ed] to announce it”which would seem to mean (contrary to his own acknowledgment that the fact of esoteric writing by some political thinkers is beyond question) that there is never a ground for attributing an esoteric teaching to any writer. (Why write esoterically if one is obliged openly to announce the point of ones esotericism?)
Launching Liberalism is a major contribution to the understanding of Locke and of the foundations of liberal modernity. Those who care about such matters should read it for themselves rather than rely on Prof. Mitchells unfortunate caricature of it.
Professor of Political Science
Holy Cross College
Joshua Mitchells review of Michael Zuckerts recent collection of essays devoted to John Locke, Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy , in my judgment unfortunately failed to do even minimal justice to this fine book and its author. In a long (by First Things standards) review, we are not nearly adequately told the full contents, the main themes and theses, much less the main evidence and arguments, of Zuckerts work. Instead we are presented a straw-man Straussian, a willful (mis)reader of Locke, who pigeonholes Locke into a preformed set of grandiose (and highly dubious) generalities concerning Judaism, Christianity, modernity, and philosophers. In order to render some justice to Zuckert and for the sake of the curious reader who otherwise might miss out on an intellectual treat, let me report a few relevant facts that Professor Mitchells review omitted.
Zuckert has been working on Locke and liberalism for well over twenty-five years. He has produced a wide-ranging, but remarkably focused and impressive body of work dealing with these matters, including two previous well-received books, Natural Rights and the New Republicanism (1994) and The Natural Rights Republic (1996). His recent book takes its place within this corpus and expressly refers to it. At the service of this scholarship, he deploys remarkable philosophical, and as need be theological, learning, sensitivity, and acumen.
In this work, the issue of Lockean hermeneutics has been a central concern. Part One of Launching Liberalism , for example, examines Lockes own discussions of kinds of discourse and ways of writing, and a wide range of Locke scholarship, both within and especially without the Straussian fold, dealing with these issues. He takes both Locke and those who purport to expound him with genuine intellectual seriousness. He comes, at the very least, to reasoned conclusions carefully drawn and put, which to my knowledge have yet to be refuted, least of all by Prof. Mitchell. Reading Prof. Mitchells review, one would have no idea of just how scrupulous Zuckert is in his scholarship. From Prof. Mitchell, we never receive even a hint of the ample and varied evidence Zuckert points to and the careful inferences he makes to come to his conclusion (not presupposition, as Mitchell would have it) that Locke wrote in a manner to conceal somewhat his deepest and fullest thought.
Locke, it is admitted on all sides, concerned himself mightily with (in the Spinozistic formulation) the theological-political problem, the great question of whether biblical faith or philosophical reason should ultimately guide mens common (and individual) lives. Now Zuckert, in addition to writing on, and as a means to understanding, Lockes scriptural exegesis (of both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament), has written extensively on Protestant scriptural politics. In his two earlier books, Zuckert carefully surveyed a great range of Protestant theological-political thinkers, from the patriarchs Luther and Calvin on the Continent to John Milton and others in England, from American Puritans to their eighteenth-century successors, the New England divines. It is simply wrong to maintain that Zuckert has generic, undifferentiated notions of the relevant Scriptures and scriptural religions, or to imply that he is ignorant of their traditional, authoritative interpreters (and the latters conflicts). Part Two of Launching Liberalism represents, admittedly inadequately, these extensive researches with three entries, one devoted to Locke and the Old Testament, another to Locke on Christianity, and, given Catholicisms relatively greater reliance on reason and natural norms in establishing political fundamentals, another to Aquinas, Hobbes, and Locke on Natural Rights.
The last confrontation takes us to the core of Zuckerts Locke-interpretation. Zuckerts Locke is a modern natural rights thinker. As such he broke, wittingly, with the premodern scriptural and Aristotelian traditions, as well as Reform theology, and he followed in the footsteps of Descartes and Hobbes. This was Leo Strauss view, but it is held by others (including informed readers in Lockes own day) and is not uniquely Straussian.
What distinguishes Zuckerts Locke is how thoroughly he thought through Cartesian-Hobbesian epistemological and anthropological principles to come to a view of man as self-owner . Modern reason does not, and cannot, find evidence in nature and history to credit the biblical account of Gods providential care for humankind. Left on his own in an indifferent, hostile universe, Zuckerts Locke thought through the character of that strange, bereft being, man. Because of his admittedly mysterious capacity of self-consciousness, he owns himself”after all, ones thoughts and volitions, ones pleasures and pains, and hopes and fears, are ones own”and he has the ability, and hence the responsibility, to create himself, to adopt rational goals and appropriate means, and to pursue them in tandem with others or by himself. Of this central Lockean teaching and Zuckerts meticulous and illuminating discussions of it, we hear not one word from Prof. Mitchell. Since it is the single most important philosophical, political, and theological position and argument pursued in Zuckerts book, it is a scandal not to have it brought to the readers consideration.
Bronx, New York
Joshua Mitchell replies:
I repeat what I said in my review: Launching Liberalism is unlikely to convince any who are not persuaded by the suppositions on which Zuckert bases his analysis. I can only thank Professor Schaefer and Mr. Seaton for making the point more forcefully than I, an outsider to the Straussian world, could have possibly made without their assistance.
A word, first, about what my review intended to accomplish and to whom it was addressed. Readers of First Things are less interested in arcane debates within the field of political philosophy than We Scholars (Nietzsches phrase) are. For such arcane debates we have any number of widely read journals. FT is a different sort of venue, whose readers are interested in broad issues of belief, citizenship, and the public forum within which such issues can be considered. The first task of a reviewer in such a venue, I assume, is to establish the intellectual tradition to which the book under consideration is indebted, assess its strengths and drawbacks, and indicate to what it is responding, etc. Since Michael Zuckert himself sought to defend”indeed, to revitalize”a trajectory of thought that has emerged out of the teaching and writing of Leo Strauss, it seemed fitting to provide readers of FT with a candid assessment of that tradition, of the historical problem it sought to address, and of the respect in which Zuckerts project accords with that tradition.
My criticism of Launching Liberalism stems from what I take to be a grave error, largely endemic to the Straussian tradition, though in varying degrees, but certainly central to Zuckerts book, viz., that of not only trying to avert the peril of historicism by recourse to authorial intent, but by asserting that authorial intent can be known through an esoteric reading of the canonical writer in question, in this case, Locke. Such an assertion, I claimed, presupposes the existence of such unities as Christianity, Judaism, etc., on the basis of which the locutional asymmetries between the authors writings about these supposed unities and the essence of these unities themselves purport to provide the key to deciphering the authors intention. My critics are in a roil about my treatment of Launching Liberalism , but take away their indignation and ask whether they have in any way addressed the central claim of my review. About this they have nothing to say. And they have nothing to say because they, too, share the presuppositions of which I am dubious.
There are other ways to address the dilemmas posed by historicism; and I am in an odd position criticizing Zuckert, and even my critics, when in many respects I share their dubiety about where we find ourselves at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But, as readers of FT will surely appreciate, I think it much more promising to attend to canonical writers with a view to understanding the reality toward which their words actually point rather than involve ourselves with textual acrobatics of the sort that concern those who are interested in parsing out authorial intention. Regardless of the ethical concerns that may animate such a project, in the final analysis Straussianism becomes just another brand of postmodern text-play if the meaning of its most important insight”namely, the difficult relationship between text and truth”is degraded to the point where the text is all that matters.
Regarding the review by Edward T. Oakes of Robert Pennocks book Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives (Briefly Noted, January), I found myself puzzled by this statement: [I]n the reconcilers camp, embarrassments abound, as in Arthur Peacockes insouciant discernment of divinity in Darwinian process.
It seems to me that Peacockes position is just such as we should expect from a science-theism reconciler. Why it might be embarrassing or insouciant, I cant fathom, unless Father Oakes dismisses the possibility of Gods immanence and continuing creative activity in the world. That the process of change should itself be the general instrument of Divine Providence offers no threat”that I can see”to belief in a Creator God. Peacocke makes clear, in Paths from Science to God (2001), that he is not making a case for pantheism: These processes are themselves Gods action [and] are unraveled and revealed by the sciences: they are not themselves God . . . but are in themselves Gods creative activity.
Edward T. Oakes replies:
When facing the challenge of Darwinian naturalism, three mistakes must be avoided. First, one should not directly challenge the fact of evolution (in the proper sense of that word, meaning descent with modification), since genetics has now verified the evolutionary hypothesis. For that reason, creation science is a total nonstarter. Second, one should not seek to refute the (admittedly improper) extrapolations of evolutionary theory in the work of such Darwinian bulldogs as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett by using the same tiresome and jejune positivism they use, for then the argument descends to fossil dating or how flagella got attached to bacteria and the like. This is the mistake of the advocates of Intelligent Design. The third and final error is to challenge such shopworn positivism using a metaphysics of wishful thinking. Such is the error that the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin blundered into when he relied on the (largely unacknowledged) Bergsonian idea of élan vital . And such too, in my opinion, is the fatal weakness of the work of Arthur Peacocke. Although his theory does not seem so reliant on Bergson as does Teilhards, the result is the same: a string of quite vapid and utterly unverifiable asseverations on the workings of some Spirit God hovering over the whole affair of evolution. (Mr. Hogans quote from the Peacocke oeuvre perfectly captures the tone of this kind of rhetorical theism.)
The only way out of this problem is a proper and irrefutable metaphysics, one thoughtfully provided by St. Thomas Aquinas with his logical axiom of posse sequitur esse , which literally means possibility follows being but which can perhaps be more usefully paraphrased as if something exists, it must be possible for it to exist. Seemingly noncontroversial, indeed tautological, the principle can refute what is false in naturalism: because Homo sapiens emerged from the process of evolution, the universe always had the potential, even from the first moment of the Big Bang, for bringing man forth. And with the additional doctrine of creation (easily defendable on other grounds, since the universe can hardly account for itself), we know that God created the world both with the potential for, and with the actuality of, human life, since we are here.
Yes, there is a Providence (Mr. Hogan has no quarrel with me there). As Jesus teaches, each hair on our heads is counted, and not a sparrow falls but that God knows it. Fortunately, Our Lord did not then go on to explain how God goes about making hair grow or sparrows fall from the sky. For those who need to know such things, they are there to be explored”and, with the right gifts of scientific training and intelligence, even to be explained. But to eschew such exploration, or to ride piggyback on later scientific explanations born out of that exploratory curiosity, by claiming that a sparrow falls because God makes it to fall is the philosophical error called occasionalism, an error that in my opinion lurks behind the airy lucubrations of Teilhard de Chardin and Arthur Peacocke.
Candace C. Crandalls overview of the failure of legalized abortion to achieve any of its goals is lucid and comprehensive (Thirty Years of Empty Promises, January). Although she mentions that the statistics for abuse against children who resulted from unplanned pregnan