The Public Square
Among the most oft-quoted statements on American foreign policy is that of John Quincy Adams in 1821: Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. At the same time, as John Lewis Gaddis underscores in his recent book Surprise, Security, and the American Experience , the same John Quincy Adams laid the foundation for a lasting policy of unapologetic unilateralism, including preemptive military action, when American interests are at stake. Defenders of the Bush administration’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq point out that these were not instances of going abroad seeking monsters to destroy. On September 11, the monsters came to us, making no secret of their desire to destroy us. No matter who had been President, the response to September 11 would have been dramatic and probably would have included military action on a greater or lesser scale. But that does not settle the arguments over the justice or wisdom of what President Bush decided to do.
In these pages we have published lively”some might say harsh”exchanges on the Bush policy by Rowan Williams, Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Griffiths, and Jean Bethke Elshtain. George Weigel, writing chiefly in defense of the just war tradition, was also supportive of the direction of administration policy. My own comments in this section, following the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, were critical of religious leaders who had donned the mantle of prophets in predicting a holocaust of civilian casualties and an America bogged down in another Vietnam. After the outrages of Abu Ghraib were revealed, I sharply challenged Alan Dershowitz and other writers who advocated the moral legitimation of torture. But as some readers have pointed out, either in praise or complaint, the war on terror has not been center stage in these pages. The editors, of course, are responsible for deciding what subjects have priority in a journal of religion, culture, and public life. With respect to the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts received, and in commissioning articles, we regularly ask two questions: Does this fit the distinctive purpose of First Things ? Does this advance the discussion of the issue addressed? In considering articles and reviews, we tend to shy away from subjects that are amply, and more or less adequately, addressed in other publications. Editing is an exercise in the art of discretion, and such judgment calls are eminently debatable; as, indeed, they are debated among the editors.
In relation to foreign policy, we have a most particular interest in preserving, clarifying, and refining just war doctrine. That tradition of thought, dating back at least to St. Augustine, is indispensable to avoiding the trap of being caught between various pacifisms, on the one hand, and, on the other, the amoral maxim that, in love and war, anything goes. The reasons for going to war ( ad bellum ) and conduct in war ( in bello ) must be subject to disciplined moral reflection. Here First Things has a special responsibility, for these questions are generally not addressed with systematic care in publications such as the New York Review of Books , the New Republic , or National Review . In a forthcoming issue we will have a major article on the history and development of just war thinking by James Turner Johnson, who is probably the world’s premier authority on the subject. It is objected that just war doctrine has not prevented wars, in response to which it might be observed that the Sixth Commandment has not prevented people from committing adultery. Questions of war and warfare must not be permitted to escape the orbit of moral scrutiny. Nor is it helpful to view these questions through the prism of partisan politics, which has generally been the norm since September 11.
Yet conflicting visions of America’s role in the world”visions resulting in partisan alignments and realignments”also have a powerful bearing on how we think about questions of war and peace. We are witnessing today what might be described as a conflict of internationalisms. Some writers have claimed that the conservative movement is now splitting along the old divide between isolationists and internationalists. Old-fashioned isolationism is associated with the likes of Senator Robert Taft and Charles Lindbergh (the latter being the subject of a new historical fantasy by novelist Philip Roth). Figures such as George F. Will and Pat Buchanan are cited as representing that strain of thought today. In his more intemperate jeremiads about the American republic succumbing to the lust for empire, Buchanan fits the isolationist stereotype, as do publications such as Chronicles and the Southern Partisan . George Will, on the other hand, has been critical of what he views as the overreach of Bush’s war on terrorism but understands the inevitability, for better and worse, of America’s unprecedented dominance in world affairs, and the international and transnational entanglements that dominance necessarily entails. He is an internationalist.
But that internationalism is different from the vision proposed by, for instance, the Weekly Standard or Norman Podhoretz’s recent article in the September issue of Commentary , World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have To Win. This is the assertive internationalism regularly and somewhat misleadingly attributed to those called neoconservatives. Some call it, meaning no compliment, democratic globalism. There is yet a third internationalism, represented by John Kerry and reflecting the consensus within what is described as the foreign policy establishment. I am obviously painting with broad strokes, but this third internationalism is strongly committed to international institutions, international law, and coordination with countries similarly committed, in order to ensure that U.S. policies pass the global test, to borrow a phrase Senator Kerry used in debate with President Bush. In this view, it is suggested that the war on terror is more accurately described as a defensive police action against criminal activities. The goal is to contain terrorism, if necessary by killing some terrorists, and to do so in a way that does not provoke further anger against America. One important way to do that is to make sure that America acts in concert with other nations, preferably through the United Nations, which bestows moral legitimacy on what is to be done.
Of these three internationalisms, the first two are agreed that America must remain the master of its own policies. A new book by Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell University is a great help in sorting out the contending arguments. The book is The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence (AEI Press, 255 pages,, $25
). The book is praised by both George Will and Robert Kagan, contributing editor of the Weekly Standard . Rabkin is especially astute in challenging the legitimacy, never mind the power to bestow moral legitimation, of institutions such as the International Criminal Court and the UN. International law that is not derived from or accountable to a political sovereign is doubtfully law at all, and is certainly not what the Declaration of Independence calls just government derived from the consent of the governed. Since Rabkin wrote the book, the corruption and criminal activity of the UN has become glaringly evident in, for instance, the Oil for Food program that was so skillfully manipulated for years by Saddam Hussein. Apart from corruption and crime, however, Rabkin’s argument goes to the heart of the question of how and by whom force can be responsibly used in world affairs. He makes a persuasive case that world peace and human rights are better secured by the judicious exercise of national sovereignty (and not only American sovereignty) than by institutions that speak for and are answerable to an amorphous international community.
International affairs continues to be, in the phrase of Hans Morgenthau, politics among nations. The Augustinian sensibility of a Reinhold Niebuhr is still required for deflating utopianisms and recognizing interests in conflict, and to do so with a realism that does not succumb to cynicism. Moral judgment is necessary, as is the awareness of different moralities in conflict. Politics among nations may also be politics among cultures, resulting in, as Samuel Huntington put it, a clash of civilizations. In the war on terror, we have been too reticent in acknowledging the challenge posed by Islam’s culture, morality, and very different civilizational aspirations. It is understandable that political leaders are eager not to define the conflict in terms of religious warfare, but that does not require speaking of Islam as a religion of peace that a few fanatics have hijacked for their lethal purposes. We must hope that there are Muslim thinkers of influence who will succeed in setting it right, but there is something terribly wrong with Islam in its inability to get along with the non-Muslim world. Almost everywhere we witness what Huntington calls the bloody borders of Islam. Most Muslims, like most people everywhere, may be decent and lovers of peace. But as an Egyptian newspaper, addressing recent events with refreshing candor, told its Muslim readership, Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Muslim. There is perhaps a better phrase than clash of civilizations, but we are in for a very long struggle.
Americans and those on our side of the clash should stop depicting the struggle in terms that Niebuhr described as the children of light against the children of darkness. To be sure, there is a conflict between good and evil”as in the deliberate targeting of the innocent and the publicized beheadings of hostages. But, in the larger picture of world affairs, neither good nor evil is as unmixed as we would like to think. We need to abandon the conceit that they hate us only because of how wonderful we are”how free, how productive, how powerful, how rich, and (repeat ten times) how free. No doubt there is ressentiment , but it is ressentiment with a multitude of reasons that we need to understand, if not accept. Islam was for a thousand years a civilization of triumphant conquest, until it was forced into retreat and centuries of being dominated, humiliated, and manipulated by the West, which, it is never forgotten by Muslims, is the Christian West. As for our blessed freedom, it has also brought to the world pornography, abortion, irreligion, and rampant licentiousness in the name of liberty.
On balance and considering the alternatives, America has been and is an influence for good in the world. Among the great and good things about America is our experiment in constitutional democracy that, while severely compromised, has not been ended. That experiment has been an inspiration for many others, but it is doubtful that it should be viewed as a global prescription, and certainly not a prescription we can compel others to accept. I believe that military action in removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq could be morally justified on the basis of what was known then. Some of what almost all informed people thought they knew then has turned out not to be the case. Saddam Hussein’s presumed possession of and ability to use weapons of mass destruction is the most obvious instance. What is known in retrospect has led to long second thoughts, and not only about the competence of the intelligence services. I am not persuaded that post-war policies in Iraq have been, as so many claim, an unmitigated disaster. In fact, the timetable for post-war transition that was set out more than a year ago appears to be more or less on track. Of course mistakes were made and are being made. That comes with what is aptly called the fog of war. There is no reason why generals and their political superiors should publicly catalogue their mistakes, and many reasons why they shouldn’t, not least being the morale of the troops under their command. Those who condemn the war because soldiers and innocent civilians are killed and maimed are not being serious. That is what happens in war, and is a very good reason for avoiding war. War is always, as John Paul II said on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, a failure for mankind. There ought to be better ways of resolving conflicts and containing evil. But sometimes war is justified and necessary. There is a lively and legitimate argument about whether, knowing what we know now, this war was justified and necessary. That argument should be conducted in the awareness that leaders do not have the convenience of making decisions retrospectively. Wherever one comes down in that argument, it is to be hoped that the U.S. policy in Iraq succeeds, not least because for America to fail in such a momentous undertaking, and to be seen to have failed, would have ominous consequences for the future of world peace and stability.
What does it mean to succeed? Certainly not that next year or ten years from now democracy will be securely achieved in Afghanistan or Iraq. That, I expect, will not happen. Maybe politicians feel it necessary to use the term democracy because of our impoverished vocabulary in which democracy simply means government that is more or less decent. Such usage, however, is gravely misleading. If by democracy we mean liberal, constitutional, representative government, it is a difficult and rare achievement and is not securely achieved even among us who have been at it for a very long time. Talk about establishing democracy in Iraq and then in the greater Middle East can be delusory. Maybe a hundred years from now, but that is beyond the control of today’s decision makers. Equally wrongheaded is the equation of democracy with holding elections. As we discovered in Algeria in 1992 and may yet discover in Afghanistan and Iraq, popular elections can end up putting the fanatics in power. That, for instance, would likely be the result were the royal family of Saudi Arabia to yield to popularly elected government tomorrow.
In these pages, we have adumbrated in a thousand different ways why politics is in largest part dependent upon culture, and why culture is the product of a morality and meaning most deeply grounded in religion. On all these scores, the Islamic world is grievously impoverished. That does not mean Islamic nations are not capable of democracy. It does mean democracy will require deep and difficult transformations not just in politics but, much more importantly, in culture, morality, and religion. That almost certainly will not happen in the foreseeable future, and nobody should suggest that the success of American policy depends upon its happening. Success in Iraq is, in no small part, having removed the regime of Saddam Hussein, thus ending the monstrous rule of a systematic perpetrator of crimes against humanity. Success is in demonstrating that America has the capacity and will to respond when attacked. In that connection, the final report of Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Study Group leaves little doubt in my mind that Saddam had the intention and, if America had dallied or left it to the UN, would have had the weaponry to dominate the Middle East and, in collusion with terrorist networks, inflict massive damage on America and the West. Finally, success will be if, three or thirty years from now, Afghanistan and Iraq have reasonably decent and stable governments, operating under something believably like the rule of law and generally respecting the civil rights of their citizens. If Iraq were, in time, to lead the nations of the region in bringing about a more responsible government in Palestine and making peace with Israel, that would be great success.
Internationalism of Circumstance
With few exceptions, we are all internationalists now. We have little choice in the matter. Jefferson worried whether our form of government could survive expansion on a continental scale. Now, by force of both intention and happenstance, our sphere of power and responsibility has expanded far beyond that. The liberal internationalism of diminished sovereignty is an abdication of responsibility and would be neither in our interest nor in the interest of world peace. The internationalism of global crusading for democracy is a delusion fraught with temptations to the hubris that has been the tragic undoing of men and nations throughout history. We should, rather, think of ours as an internationalism of circumstance, whose obligations we will not shirk. Our first obligation is to repair and keep in good repair our constitutional order and the cultural and moral order on which it depends. That we cannot do unless we are prepared to defend ourselves, not going abroad to seek monsters to destroy but also not fearing to resist and counter those who would destroy us.
An internationalism of circumstance, with its attendant duties, does not provide the thrilling drum rolls of the crusade or the glories of empire. Nor does it indulge dangerous dreams of escape into a new world order on the far side of national sovereignty. The world continues to be a world of politics among nations with, for better and worse, the United States as the preeminent nation for the foreseeable future. We cannot build nations, although we can at times provide encouragement and incentives for those determined to build their own. We cannot bestow democracy, but we can befriend those who aspire to democracy. We can build coalitions or act on our own for the relief of misery and the advancement of human rights, always having done the morally requisite calculation of our capacities and interests, and knowing that it is in our interest to be perceived as doing our duty. We can try to elicit, engage, and nurture constructive voices within Islam, recognizing that the Muslim future will be determined in largest part by those who seek to do what they believe to be God’s will in relation to the infidel, which will always mean us. Above all, we can strive to be a people more worthy of moral emulation, which includes, by no means incidentally, our dependability in rewarding our friends and punishing those who insist upon being our enemies. Finally, given our circumstance of preeminence and the perduring force of envy and resentment in a sinful world, we need not flaunt our power. Whenever possible, we should act in concert with other sovereign nations, and especially other democracies. Often America will have to lead, and sometimes have to act alone. When we do, we should not expect to be thanked, never mind loved. We frequently will be, as in fact we frequently are, but that is to be deemed no more than a bonus for being and doing what we should.
Our December 2001 editorial In a Time of War observed: The statement of a war aim signifies not only a purpose but also a terminal point. When will we know that it is over? President Bush has declared, It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.’ After September 11, we are or should be in a permanent state of heightened vigilance, but we must not resign ourselves to being in a permanent state of war. Not immediately, but in due course, we need a clear statement on how we will know that the war is over and a just peace is reasonably secured. There may never be, and there should never be, a return to the last decade’s delusory holiday from the vicissitudes of history, but it seems probable that a democracy cannot survive and flourish in a permanent state of emergency. That was three years ago. This is written before the outcome of the presidential election is known. John Kerry apparently believes that we are not, or at least should not be, at war. A Kerry presidency would likely move toward the internationalism of diminished sovereignty described above. If George W. Bush is reelected, we will need a new and more persuasive statement of an internationalism that is compatible with our interests and capacities, and that proposes a believable alternative to an America and a world in a permanent state of war.
Admittedly, this vision is far removed from the Christmas angels’ announcement of peace on earth and good will among men. That promise is sacramentally anticipated in the City of God journeying through time toward the temple of the New Jerusalem by whose light the nations shall walk and to which the kings of the earth shall bring their glory (Revelation 21). Meanwhile, in the lesser but also real world short of that consummation, our responsibility is to attend, in the courage of our uncertainties and with a wisdom not untouched by providential guidance, to the politics among nations”which will seldom provide us with the choices we would prefer.
The Vatican vs. Americanism
John Allen has written an exceedingly valuable book. It is titled All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks (Doubleday, 392 pages, $24.95
). Never mind that he speaks dismissively of those who write instabooks on matters Catholic, while admitting that he pulled this one together in less than a month. John Allen has a lot that is worth pulling together. Never mind that book-size length is achieved by a lot of padding from his earlier reporting from Rome, such as more than a hundred and fifty pages of chronological accounts of the sex abuse crisis and the Vatican’s response to the war in Iraq. It is very useful material to have all in one place. The book also provides a thoughtful summary of what Allen has learned about the Holy See over his years of trying to be assiduously fair while reporting for the decidedly leftist National Catholic Reporter . Had the title not been taken by a recent and less interesting volume, Allen might well have called his book Inside the Vatican .
There are analytically descriptive sections on the structure, psychology, and sociology of the Vatican, along with a treatment of myths about the Vatican. The Holy See is of course the see of Peter, and the Vatican is the city-state where Peter presides surrounded by his administrative apparatus, the Curia. Allen offers a brief account of the development of papal governance, as well as an intelligent consideration of the arguments, pro and con, for the centralization of Petrine authority. He describes the division of labor, and sometime conflicts, between the curial dicasteries”congregations, pontifical councils, and assorted subordinate offices”and is generally sympathetic toward the people who work in them. The skeptical reader may wonder how much Allen is pulling his punches, since these are the people he needs as sources in order to do his work, but I am inclined to think his expressed respect is genuine. In part because, in my much more limited experience of the Vatican, his evaluations tend to ring true.
The chief myths include the notion that the Vatican has a monolithic view on everything. Without slipping into gossip, Allen does a fine job of indicating the ways in which personalities, dispositions, alliances, and turf wars keep many viewpoints in play, all within the bounds of a shared understanding that every person and every office is in the service of the pope. Similarly, the myth of Vatican secrecy is, he suggests, much exaggerated, as his own reporting demonstrates. As with any organization, some things are confidential, and there is of course the sacramental seal, but over lunches and dinners, at diplomatic receptions and in formal interviews, the Curia sometimes seems like a perpetual talk shop. Curial officers are often depicted as grasping careerists, and no doubt some are, but Allen suggests that the norm is that of people making considerable sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to serve the Church. As for the myth of the Vatican’s wealth, he notes that it operates with a regular deficit and, while it owns artistic and other properties that are of inestimable value, none of them can be sold or used as security. In fact, being steward of these properties is a huge financial liability.
The Curial Mind
Under the psychology of the Vatican, he proposes words indicative of the operative values: Authority, bella figura , Cosmopolitanism, Loyalty, Objectivity, Populism, Realism, Rule of Law, Time, and Tradition. Most of those may seem self-evident. Objectivity, Time, and Tradition are summed up in the maxim that Rome thinks in terms of centuries. By bella figura is meant that direct confrontations are, whenever possible, avoided; losers are given a chance to save face, and the hope is that everybody comes away from a difficult decision looking good. Surprising to many readers will be Allen’s treatment of populism. Rome is the final court of appeal for people in the Church who have been treated shabbily, and is generally on the side of the underdogs, notably when they, whether clerical or lay, have suffered at the hands of arbitrary or tyrannical prelates. Moreover, the Curia is populist in the sense that Rome is serious about the faithful having a right to the faith taught and practiced faithfully. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is often called the Church’s doctrinal enforcer and depicted as the oppressor of theologians, but Allen helps the reader to understand that he may more accurately be seen as the protector of the Catholic people from the malfeasance of academic elites.
With respect to the sociology of the Vatican, Allen says that curial officials, from top to bottom, are shaped by what might be called the constructions of reality within several everyday circles of experience: the Vatican itself, the city of Rome (ecclesiastical and secular), Italy (ecclesiastical and secular), and Europe. Whether an official is from the U.S., Ukraine, Brazil, or Nigeria, he becomes, in due course, curial, Roman, Italian, and European. That formation of thought, priorities, disposition, and personality is, one gathers, pretty much inevitable; and Allen is appropriately skeptical about the success of reforms, such as those proposed by retired Archbishop John Quinn, for making the governance of the Church more representative, perhaps by having a more or less permanent synod of bishops act as a kind of parliamentary check on executive authority. The Vatican-Roman-Italian-European formation has everything to do with Rome’s response to the American sexual abuse crisis and the Iraq war, to which Allen devotes half of his book.
His chronology of the sex abuse crisis, unfortunately, stops well short of the release of the report of the National Review Board in February 2004. He does provide page upon page of what was actually said by curial officials, sundry cardinals, and other leaders. Only snippets of these texts appeared in news stories, and it is good to have them in context. The fuller documentation is frequently embarrassing, as when it is alleged that sex abuse is a distinctly American problem, or that the firestorm of publicity was motivated simply by anti-Catholicism or was orchestrated by a conspiracy of Masons working together with Jews who control the media and are repaying the Church for its pro-Palestinian sympathies. In Rome, and in Europe more generally, the frequent allusion to the Masons often puzzles Americans, for whom the Masonic Lodge is as sinister as the Rotary Club, although a good deal less influential.
It is not only the French but Europeans more generally who are inclined to think that an inveterately puritanical American culture has a hard time being sensible about sex. That more sophisticated European stance was reflected in European bemusement at the brouhaha attending President Clinton’s dalliances, and was not absent from the reaction to the media outrage in the sex abuse crisis. When will these Americans grow up? Things happen.
Roman officials were much and rightly concerned about the norms adopted by the U.S. bishops in their panicked meeting of Dallas 2002, including zero tolerance for any cleric who was at any time in his entire life accused of sex abuse”with sex abuse being defined so loosely as to make possible the conviction of almost any normal adult. The abovementioned populist dimension of curial culture came into play as Rome modified those norms to ensure that the accused got at least a measure of due process. Allen understands that it is not only the so-called Puritan factor that makes America different. Ours is a more legalistic culture. Some attribute that, too, to Puritanism or, as Francis Cardinal George of Chicago prefers, Calvinism. For most Europeans, and notably for Italians, the law is an ideal, it being understood that all mortals fall short of the ideal. For Americans, the law is there to be enforced. In addition, other countries do not have our system of tort law by which huge financial damages can be exacted from institutions. Finally, in many countries the age of sexual consent is lower”often sixteen or fourteen, and in a few places as low as twelve. In such societies, it is thought that young people bear a greater measure of responsibility for what they do, also sexually. This obviously reflects very different cultural attitudes toward children and childhood.
Early on in the crisis, curial officials learned to express the mandatory outrage at the damage done to victims of sexual abuse but, although Allen does not come out and say so, sometimes it seemed their hearts were not in it. The general attitude seemed to be this: Yes, of course the Pope was right when he said that there is no place in the Church’s ministry for anyone who might harm children. But then, in the Church as elsewhere, we are all sinners, and sometimes even priests do evil things. Surely they should be punished, and strictly so. The Church has centuries of canon law”canon law which the American bishops did not use”specifically designed to deal with such offenses. And surely those who are hurt should be helped as much as possible. But please, perspective is required, and patience, and a sympathetic appreciation of human frailty. Let there be no rush to judgment and, above all, let us not play into the hands of those who wish the Church nothing but ill. Such was and is the widespread, if not dominant, view within the Curia.
Then we come to the Vatican and the Iraq war. Allen offers his considered judgment: The only possible reading of the record is that John Paul II was strongly opposed to the Iraq war. I suggest that this is not the only possible reading, but it is the most plausible reading. John Paul never explicitly condemned the war as immoral, but many curial officials did, and John Paul did not publicly distance himself from their remarks. John Paul did say that all war, including this war, represents a failure for humanity, and supporters of the war could readily agree with that, acknowledging that only when other means of resolving conflict have failed is war necessary. Allen supplies page upon page of curial criticisms of U.S. policy from August 2002 through June 2003, some of them quite strident. Curiously, he does not include Renato Cardinal Martino’s assertion that there can be no just war today, an assertion that, so far as I know, has not been retracted. Most of the criticisms focused on predictions of massive civilian casualties (which did not happen); the incompatibility of preemptive and unilateral military action with traditional just war doctrine; the expectation that the action would precipitate religious warfare between Islam and Christianity; and the moral illegitimacy of such actions undertaken without United Nations approval. At least a couple of statements came close to suggesting that Catholics could not in good conscience support or participate in the intervention by the American-led coalition. Surprisingly”some thought scandalously”the Vatican was silent about Saddam Hussein’s mass killings and violation of human rights, perhaps because that might lend some legitimacy to the coalition action. The Vatican had previously approved of humanitarian intervention in, for instance, the case of Kosovo.
Relative to the most plausible reading of John Paul’s position, it is not known how many of these curial statements were brought to the Pope’s attention or had his approval. This touches on the very delicate question of the Holy Father’s physical debility and reduced energies. It is known that he did not publicly distance himself from the criticisms nor did he rein in the critics. Some curial officials exulted in the supposed demonstration of papal moral leadership when millions of antiwar demonstrators in Europe and elsewhere cheered John Paul as their champion. When assorted leftists, including pro-abortionists and declared enemies of the Church, take to the streets to cheer the pope, that is an instance not of papal leadership but of papal co-optation. But again, John Paul did not distance himself from, but appeared to welcome, these implausible supporters of papal moral leadership.
A great and necessary concern of the Vatican is Islamic-Christian conflict, and especially the treatment of Catholics and other Christians in predominantly Muslim countries. Vatican officials noted with satisfaction that there was no outbreak of anti-Christian hostility following regime change in Iraq, and they attributed that to the fact that the Pope, the preeminent representative of the Christian world, was perceived as being opposed to the coalition action. There is no doubt much truth to that. Beyond Islamic-Christian relations, which will be a preeminent concern for decades, very basic questions have been raised about the way the Vatican views the U.S. In a world of unipolar hegemony”or, if one prefers, empire”the Holy See may increasingly see itself as a necessary balance, if not antithesis, to the dangers of overweening American power”political, military, economic, and, above all, cultural. This is different from, say, Chirac’s France nominating itself as the center of a new multipolar world. The Vatican city-state with its 108 acres and 1,500 residents has no illusions about being a big, little, or even very tiny power among the powers of the world. Yet it must be admitted that how the Vatican really thinks is not always that different from how France and other promoters of an anti-American line think. Although curial pronouncements on the Iraq war were usually prefaced by the claim that cardinals and archbishops were speaking as moral leaders and not as politicians, most of what they had to say was little more than an echo of the dominant views in the press and political chambers of what is now called old Europe.
At the same time, John Allen is right in saying that the controversy over the Iraq war brought to the fore important issues that will have a long shelf life. Allen thinks one of those issues is the development of just war doctrine. Perhaps so, but the interventions of curial officials on just war in the run-up to the Iraq intervention were generally ad hoc, political, and matters of prudential judgment; they did not have the mark of theological and moral deliberation that one associates with a development of doctrine. At most, there is a development similar to that of John Paul’s well-known opposition to capital punishment. In both cases, the Church’s doctrine is deeply entrenched in the tradition, and the moral and theological questions entailed have not been addressed in a way that rises to the level of magisterial teaching. A preferred position of the Vatican is not the same thing as a doctrine of the Church. This applies as well to Vatican attitudes toward the United Nations, the Kyoto environmental treaty, the International Criminal Court, and international law more generally. The differences between the U.S. and most of Europe on these issues is well known, and the Curia reflects the European position. That may be regrettable, but it is not surprising. The disagreements are political and not doctrinal. In fact, if one wished to press the matter of social doctrine , it would be highly interesting to explore how the curial position on, for instance, the International Criminal Court can be squared with the teaching of the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus on the accountability of governments to their societies.
As for America . . .
Allen raises a more provocative question with respect to the general disposition of Rome to the United States. He writes:
Both the Iraq war and the sex abuse crisis suggested to Vatican observers that the ghost of John Calvin is alive and well in American culture. These reservations are well documented, from Pope Leo XIII’s 1899 apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae , condemning the supposed heresy of Americanism, to Pius XII’s opposition to Italy’s entrance into NATO based on fears that the alliance was a Trojan horse for Protestant domination of Catholic Europe. Key Vatican officials, especially Europeans from traditional Catholic cultures, have long worried about aspects of American society”its exaggerated individualism, its hyperconsumer spirit, its relegation of religion to the private sphere, its Calvinist ethos. A fortiori , they worry about a world in which America is in an unfettered position to impose this set of cultural values on everyone else.
These are interesting questions indeed, and John Allen believes they are receiving very definite answers:
At the deepest level of analysis, there is serious doubt in many quarters of the Vatican that American culture is an apt carrier for a Christian vision of the human person and therefore of the just society . . . . Though no pope and no Vatican diplomat will ever come out and say so, the bottom line is that despite great respect for the American people and their democratic traditions, the Holy See simply does not think the United States is fit to run the world . . . . Thus the Holy See’s diplomatic energy in coming years will have as a central aim the construction of a multilateral, multipolar world, which will necessarily imply a limitation on the power and influence of the United States.
On all these scores, Allen may well be right. The result would be that on the world stage the Vatican will be increasingly perceived by Americans and others as anti-American, and it will be precisely that. As documented in George Weigel’s authoritative biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope , this has been the most pro-American pontificate in history. This Pope has made numerous and unprecedented statements on the genius of the American political and social order, and that appreciation is clearly reflected in the aforementioned Centesimus Annus on the just and free society. But Allen and others counter that this positive disposition toward America was but a phase, a momentary aberration created chiefly by the cooperation of Rome and the U.S. in bringing an end to the evil empire. After the fall of Soviet communism, in this view, the Vatican has reverted to what might be called its default position, that of Leo XIII’s robust suspicion of America and Americanism.
Certainly, there are those who agree with and welcome Allen’s prognosis. He cites David Schindler, editor of the English-language edition of Communio , who has written extensively on why”anthropologically, sociologically, and in its tacit theology”the American order is incompatible with Catholic Christianity. Moreover, there are American bishops with influence in Rome and Americans highly placed in the Curia who have been quite thoroughly Europeanized in their critique of their own country. Europeanized, that is, in the image of old Europe. In Poland and other countries still newly liberated from Soviet communism, the view of America is quite different. Of course these countries may over time be subsumed into the worldview of the European Union, to which the Vatican may provide a kind of moral chaplaincy, even if the EU will not so much as acknowledge Christianity as part of its cultural heritage.
Murray the Minority
One readily admits that the United States is not a fit bearer of Christian culture in the world. No country or concert of countries is that. But then one must always ask: Compared to what? The European Union? Russia? Latin America? Africa? Or to stretch the point to absurdity, China? Strategic and tactical aspects of the war on terror aside, the argument can be made that American influence is generally on the side of the Church on the big questions: human freedom, democracy, the dignity of the human being at all points on life’s continuum, the indispensable centrality of family and marriage, the economic development of poor nations, and the practice of subsidiarity in civil society. A change in U.S. administrations would likely have a negative impact on all these, but they would nonetheless remain vibrant components of the continuing American experiment.
In contrast to Leo XIII’s judgment in 1899, John Courtney Murray published in 1960 We Hold These Truths . He made, and those who claim his legacy make, the argument that not only is Catholic faith and life compatible with the American experiment but Catholicism may be essential to preserving the experiment, even as it counters those elements of Americanism that are corrosive of the Church’s vision. Murray’s was a minority position then and, if Allen and others are right, it may become more of a minority position in the future. John Paul warmly embraced crucial aspects of the Murray argument, but on the not-so-distant horizon is another pope who will likely be shaped by, in Allen’s phrase, how the Vatican really thinks. More than in 1899 and more than in 1960, the world is being reconfigured by divergent attitudes toward America and its global hegemony, which, for better and worse, is likely to continue for a long time. It will be a very great pity if the Vatican becomes the spiritual cheerleader for those Europeans who view America with a measure of respect and even admiration mixed with a much larger measure of envy, resentment, and pitiable pretensions to moral and intellectual superiority.
In the background of that European attitude, and not very far in the background, hovers the fear of huge and restive Muslim populations in countries such as France and Germany. In a global conflict with an enemy motivated by Islamic fanaticism, these Europeans, and perhaps some in the Vatican as well, do not want to be perceived as being on the Christian side. To be sure, the Vatican has a singular responsibility to cultivate dialogue with Islam, but that dialogue will be neither credible nor fruitful if the Vatican is not clearly on the Christian side. That does not mean that in every instance the Vatican should be on the American side. A great deal of delicate diplomacy and careful thought is required. But this much is certain: in the new configuration of world power and influence, the United States is, on balance and considering the alternatives, on the Christian side.
We should all understand why President Bush refuses to speak about a clash of civilizations or to describe our circumstance as one of religio-cultural warfare. But we should all know that that is what, in fact, it is. Or, as the report of the 9/11 Commission prefers, it is an ideological conflict inescapably tied to religion. It would be an exquisite irony of history if, when war is declared on the Christian West by those inspired by a possibly perverse but undeniably Islamic ideology, the Vatican refused to take sides; thus, willy-nilly, taking the other side. The Curia’s cosmopolitanism, sophistication, devotion to dialogue, and long-term perspective shaped by centuries of diplomacy can all be assets. They can also induce a blindness to the fact that an enemy has declared war and sides must be taken. The Europeans who run the Vatican are right in believing that the Vatican must not be a chaplain to American hegemony; a critical distance is required. When that distance becomes disdain, however, the credibility of the Church’s political guidance and the defense of our common civilization are gravely weakened.
As I say, John Allen may well be right in his description of a Vatican reverting to Leo XIII’s animus toward Americanism. I am not persuaded that he is right, but it is one of the important arguments we are invited to engage by his valuable book, All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks.
From time to time a writer cuts through confusing debates and polemics to expose the fundamental form of visions in conflict. This is a service that Daniel M. Bell, Jr. attempts to render with his essay State and Civil Society in a big book of thirty-five essays, The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology , edited by Peter Scott and William T. Cavanaugh (Blackwell, 567 pages,, $124.95). The book also includes outstanding essays by Jean Bethke Elshtain on St. Augustine, Bernd Wannenwetsch on the political significance of liturgy, Robert Jenson on eschatology and the hope for the human future, and an excellent introduction for American readers to the thought of the German theological philosopher Carl Schmitt, who it is said early in the last century first used the term political theology and employed it to devious ends during the Third Reich.
But it is to Daniel Bell’s suggestive”one might say provocative”argument that I will here attend. Bell is a Methodist who teaches at Lutheran Theology Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and his subject is the dominant and emergent modes of political theology today. He locates the present writer and this magazine solidly in the dominant category, while his sympathies are strongly aligned with thinkers of the emergent mode such as Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, and Oliver O’Donovan. Both the dominant and emergent are modes of political theology, which is to say that they tell the Christian story (Bell calls it the Christian mythos ) in a way that is inescapably related to the right ordering of human society. To cut to his conclusion, the dominant mode of political theology has led to the political captivity of the Church in service to the modern state, while the emergent mode posits the Church itself as the right ordering of human society. His steps, and missteps, toward that conclusion are instructive.
We must, Bell correctly insists, go back to a time before state and civil society assumed the modern forms that we tend to take for granted or view as inevitable. He claims that the dominant mode”whether in the form of political theology proper, Latin American liberation theology, or public theology (the last is where we come in)”assumes the givenness of the modern state and civil society. The emergent or postmodern mode of political theology, on the other hand, has a keener historical memory, knowing that in medieval Christendom society was an organic whole, governed by two parallel and universal powers”the Pope and the Prince. When the state appears in political discourse in the fourteenth century, it refers not to a bounded space ruled by princes rather than popes, but rather to the state or condition of the temporal princes themselves. In the modern era, the state refers to a centralized power with a monopoly on the use of coercive force within a defined territory. According to the conventional telling of the story, the modern state emerged from the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Horrified by the excesses of armed religious fervor, Europe developed a political order whereby religion would no longer have access to the weapons with which to work its woe. Henceforth, religion was construed as a private matter and the public, political realm was to be watched over by a sovereign and secular state charged with keeping the peace.
A Public Church
That modern settlement was lucidly and very influentially defined by the German sociologist Max Weber. We inhabit, said Weber, various life spheres, each with its own laws and ethical functions, and such spheres, while distinct, interact in a complementary manner. Weber noted that religion was principally about the task of furnishing ideals, whereas politics was fundamentally about the manipulation of means in order to attain not the ultimate end or ideal, but what was pragmatically possible. Politics, Weber wrote, is about the leadership, or the influencing of the leadership, of a political association, hence today, of a state . The result is that politics is now about statecraft, the manipulation of state power. The dominant school of political theology is in basic agreement with Weber, Bell claims. The emergent school, on the other hand, points out that the wars of religion were not most importantly about religion. Catholics and Protestants frequently made alliances to fight other Catholics and Protestants. The phrase wars of religion is deeply prejudicial. The conflicts, writes Bell, were in fact the birth pangs of the modern state as it struggled to break free of the remnants of the medieval order, as it strove to subsume all other social groupings under the sovereign authority. In particular, these conflicts were about the replacement of a public Church. These are broad generalizations, which is to be expected in the kind of typology that Bell is attempting to construct. A problem begins to make its appearance in that I and some others whom he places in the dominant tradition have a very long record of opposing the monopolistic ambitions of the modern state and the privatizing of religion, and of adamantly insisting upon the public character of the Church.
Bell’s title is State and Civil Society, and the second is also crucial to his argument. We of the dominant school (allowing his term for the moment) are often great promoters of civil society as a force for, as Bell puts it, the taming of the Leviathan that is the state. We champion civil society”meaning the family, religious institutions, neighborhoods, and a host of voluntary associations”as a way of preserving spaces of freedom against the totalitarian impulses of the modern state. Peter Berger and I wrote of civil society in terms of mediating institutions in To Empower People (1976). The emergent school of political theology, writes Bell, sees these mediating institutions in a decidedly less benign light. Rather than being spaces of freedom, they are instruments of discipline in which people are trained to serve the modern state. Bell writes, Through a vast array of disciplines, learned not at the hands of government officials and bureaucrats, but voluntarily’ through the ministrations of experts, managers, and therapists, people freely’ and gently and, for the most part, willingly find their place in the dominant mythos . As such an educative or disciplinary space, civil society is but another species of the power exerted by the state in its victory over the medieval public Church. The placing of voluntarily and freely in quotes is telling. Readers of a certain age or literacy may recall Herbert Marcuse on the repressive tolerance of liberalism. In that view, parents who teach their children to be polite, work hard, and be civil to those with whom they disagree are, unwittingly, indoctrinating them into the mythos of the liberal state with its fine-tuned instruments of control.
The political theology associated with the writings of Johann Baptist Metz, Jürgen Moltmann, and Dorothee Solle, beginning in the 1960s, is forthrightly and enthusiastically a modern movement. It assumes that the modern state should be the instrument of the changes required by justice, while the Church’s political presence is reduced to that of a guardian of abstract values. The idea that the Church should provide a concrete political program is denounced as a pernicious form of political religion’ from which modernity has rightly liberated us. Likewise, Latin American liberation theologies are adamant that there can be no return to the era of Christendom, when the Church directly wielded political power . . . . They, too, recognize the modern desacralization of politics as a victory in the march of freedom through history. In short, they are good Weberians. As are those of us who espouse an alternative to political theology and liberation theology. These theologians, says Bell, derive from Christianity a public philosophy’ or public theology’ capable of underwriting the moral consensus necessary to sustain the health and vitality of Western liberal society. (Unlike, for instance, the Reformed theologian Max Stackhouse, whom Bell also criticizes, I have eschewed the term public theology, preferring public philosophy, believing that the former suggests a too easy move from revealed truth to partisan political application, and poses an unnecessary obstacle for self-consciously secular interlocutors. For much the same reason, and for the sake of the integrity of both theology and politics, I believe the phrase political theology should be used with caution.)
Thus, according to Bell, do we arrive at what he calls the political captivity of the Church. Herewith the indictment:
the perspective of the emergent tradition, the embrace of the modern mythos , with its account of politics as statecraft, by the dominant tradition is symptomatic of the political captivity of that tradition. An explanation of this charge begins with the politically reductionist nature of the dominant tradition. To suggest that the dominant tradition is politically reductionist is not to claim, as is frequently done, that political theology reduces faith to temporal, political matters and dismisses the transcendent-spiritual dimension of Christianity. Rather, the charge of political reductionism (ironically) pertains precisely to the ways the dominant tradition attempts to distance itself from the charge of reducing faith to politics. Whether it is Neuhaus’ eschatological prohibition of sanctifying any political order, Gutierrez’s condemnation of politico-religious messianism, or Metz’s and Moltmann’s abhorrence of political religion, the general or indirect role accorded the Church as a guardian of values reduces Christian political engagement to the options offered by the world, more specifically, by the regnant liberal order. This is to say, the dominant tradition conceives of Christian political engagement on the world’s terms . . . whether in its conservative or progressive modes.
In clear contrast to these Weberian theologians of politics as statecraft, Bell contends, is the emergent school of authentically Christian political theology. (Bell says that he does not use emergent to imply that they will at some point become dominant; he means only that they are emerging.) The emergent finds the political correlate of the Christian mythos, not in the secular state and civil society, but in the Church . . . . Christian politics takes form in the distinct witness of the Church to Christ’s redemption of politics as the renewal of the friendship/communion of humanity in God. The emergents, Bell argues, agree with Augustine’s City of God that human polities, being dominated by the lust for power, are but parodies of genuine community, that the true polity is the life of the Church centered in the eucharistic sacrifice of redemptive reconciliation. This does not mean a wholesale rejection of modernity. Oliver O’Donovan, for example, defends a form of early modernity in which statecraft serves the Church by enabling it to carry out its mission. Bell writes, One should note that this is an instance, not of erecting the Church within the parameters of the modern mythos as the dominant tradition does, but of positioning the early modern state within the Christian mythos , with the result that social and political space is shared by the Church and a state for the sake of the Church’s mission.
The aim of the emergent tradition, says Bell, is not simply the replacement of a sovereign state with a hegemonic Church, but a political rendering of the claim that Christ is Lord. To say that the Church is the exemplary form of human community is first and foremost a claim that the meaning of all politics and every community flows from participation in Christ. Rejecting the statecraft of the dominant tradition, the emergents favor a distinctly theological politics founded on the conviction that God is active in history now bringing about a new age, the contours of which are discernible not in Western liberalism, democratic socialism, or the Pax Americana but in Christ, in the work of Christ’s Spirit as it gathers Christ’s body, the Church. All the issues of ecclesiology, eschatology, and soteriology, writes Bell, can be summed up in one question: What is the proper political correlate of the Christian mythos ? Leviathan or the Body of Christ?
Daniel Bell’s vigorously asserted argument is a valuable contribution. I say that not because I agree with his typology of the dominant and emergent visions of political theology but because he so sharply depicts the alternatives that many believe to be on offer today. Stanley Hauerwas may not be, as Time magazine declares, America’s best theologian, but in seminaries and divinity schools, and more among Protestants than Catholics, he is perhaps the most influential. Hauerwas’ unremitting polemic against liberalism and all its works and all its pomps, including its practice in liberal democracy, has provided a generation of theology students with a way of thinking and feeling counterculturally that is respectable within the thoroughly liberal academy. His insistence upon the primacy of the community of the Church apparently does not require, for him or for others, actual membership in an ecclesial community that is in political tension or conflict with the culture of liberalism. Indeed, his countercultural posture is warmly celebrated by the culture he would presumably counter. (See Stephen H. Webb, The Very American Stanley Hauerwas, FT June/July 2002.)
To his credit, Hauerwas has sometimes acknowledged a certain ambiguity in his ecclesial placement. He speaks admiringly of the Mennonite tradition of his mentor John Howard Yoder, and also of certain communities of radical discipleship in Catholicism, but he remains personally associated with the liberal United Methodist Church while pursuing his eccentric and highly effective vocation as a theological freelancer within his primary community of engagement, the liberal academy. Hauerwas is aware of the seeming incongruity, if not incoherence, of being a tenured radical and prophet with prestige and pension plan secured by the liberal establishment against which he rails. The oddity of his position, it should be noted, does not detract from the contributions he has made to Christian ethics in areas such as medical care and the centrality of the virtues. Contra Daniel Bell, however, these contributions have not been in political theology. As is evident in exchanges with Hauerwas also in these pages, he insists upon a Christianly-mandated position of absolute pacifism while, at the same time, claiming a role as moral instructor in the exercise of what Bell calls statecraft when it comes to how the state should employ force. Despite these and other dissonances in his arguments, there is no doubt that Hauerwas is a champion of the emergent tradition described by Bell. (Remembering, as Bell specifies, that emergent does not mean that it will come to prevail.)
John Milbank’s project of radical orthodoxy has caught the imagination of some intellectuals with its pyrotechnic display of erudition and neologistic agility in smiting, hip and thigh, objectivity, neutrality, rationality, and other dragons in league with the Antichrist that is modernity. In Theology and Social Theory Milbank interestingly seeks to liberate the master discourse of theology from its sociological captivities. But one has to wonder whether he offers anything that is plausibly described as an alternative political theology. His explicitly political assertions are typically ad hoc judgments and rambling obiter dicta, usually in the mode of familiar leftisms. He draws, as many leftists do, on the aforementioned Carl Schmitt to explain why American neo-Roman imperialism needs an enemy and has therefore invented a war on terrorism to ward off challenges to its nakedly capitalist hegemony. To defend against challenges to U.S. imperialism, George W. Bush has chosen the terrifying expedient of declaring for the first time perhaps since Hitler’s announcement of the Third Reich, a kind of state of perpetual emergency. Guarding against extremism, Milbank reserves judgment on whether the U.S. had a hand in the September 11 attacks that became a convenient excuse for its desired war on terrorism.
Theocratic propensities, says Milbank, are not limited to Islam. In many ways theocratic notions are specifically modern in their positivity and formality (as Carl Schmitt indicated). Bush in a crisis