There has been a rush to resurrect Calvin Coolidge as the antithesis of Obama, but one should be a bit careful what one wishes for. Ted V. McAllisters review of Amity Shlaes Coolidge (A Rooted Man, August/September) pointed out that there were indeed positive aspects to Coolidges character and to his beliefs in limited government. However, like many of his era, he was a supporter of the eugenics movement, which played a role in his decision to sign the immigration quota act into law.
He had gone on the record as early as when he served as vice president that Nordics needed to be protected from being diluted by a continual influx of those who werent Nordics. We should keep in mind that that quota act was a product of the eugenics movement. It was intended to keep the unwanted and unfit out.
Surely Coolidge knew that.
Ted V. McAllister replies:
Arthur Pitz raises serious questions, along with offering cavalier and sweeping historical assertions, concerning what we might broadly call the racial views of President Coolidge. Some biographers have found him insufficiently helpful on civil rights. Most people who think of him as a racist point to a few articles he wrote as vice president”though I do not think that serious biographers have tarred him as a supporter of the eugenics movement.
The overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. In one speech, for instance, he declared that as we do not recognize any inferior races, so we do not recognize any superior races. He made similar statements throughout his career, and if one were to judge him on his rhetorical legacy, one would find little evidence for racism.
In terms of his actions, Coolidge worked, as far as his theory of limited government allowed”and much more than his predecessors”to fight racism. He not only signed legislation to censor the pro-Klan movie Birth of a Nation while he was governor of Massachusetts, but he pushed the U.S. Congress to address the lynching problem in the South while he was president. Coolidge, moreover, was against the quotas put in the immigration bill but signed the legislation to gain support in Congress for his signature initiative, the tax bill.
First Things Future
For some time now the positions of the two national political parties regarding religious and moral issues have been getting farther and farther apart. At least since the time of Rev. Jerry Falwell and his proclamation of the Moral Majority, the Republicans have been our partners in the culture war (the Christian position), and the Democrats our enemies (the secular-atheistic position).
Now it seems the resolve of First Things is also wavering (Our Challenges, August/September). Right after we lost the presidential election in November 2012, R. R. Renos editorial was critical of the Republican party. Now, in the August/September issue, he again writes that we do not want to be identified with the Republican party, that we do not want to be seen as joining the GOP.
First Things , then, is in a pickle, because the GOP has joined First Things . On issue after issue”subsidiarity, educational freedom, life issues, sexual morality, the value of religion in society, the right to religious freedom, etc.”consistently, the Republican party holds the Christian position and the Democratic party the anti-Christian one. Openly, explicitly, President Obama and his administration, with the support of the Democratic party, are the standard bearers of the forces of secularism, atheism, and immorality.
What is the sense, then, in trying to distance ourselves from the Republicans? What that would mean is that we are abandoning our allies. And the result may be that we would continue to lose, the secular-atheistic Democrats would win, and the moral standards of society would continue to deteriorate.
Luis F. Caso
R. R. Reno, George Weigel, Ephraim Radner, and Eric Cohen offer much food for thought in their assessment of the challenges that First Things and the movement it represents face today. Permit me to offer a brief reflection on behalf of the younger side (those under thirty) of that movement. While we can see firsthand some of the trajectories mentioned in these essays”for example, an increase in liturgical sobriety within Christian churches and an increased hostility toward religion outside them”the endpoints of those trajectories form the world in which we begin our engagement with public life.
This means that, in many respects, we find ourselves in the shoes of the early Christians. When we talk with our friends and colleagues, we are keenly aware that we represent a minority position. Some of our beliefs are acceptable, others unfathomable. This, in turn, has two implications.
First, like the early”and, for that matter, medieval”Christians, we must be eager to appropriate all that is good in secular culture. For example, we should discard political liberalism and the protection of human rights and the environment no more than they discarded Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy. But, like our forbears, we must be willing to redefine the terms and provide new foundations in light of the truth of God. We can speak of freedom and autonomy, but must also talk of nature and duty.
In the old comedy The Princess Bride , one character says to another, You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. We must realize that we will be saying this to our colleagues, again and again, for the rest of our lives.
Second, we must be men and women of great charity and great fidelity to the truth. We should continue refining our arguments and analysis, while remembering that right arguments can go unheard if they are presented without love. We must bear in mind Mother Teresas counsel that we are called to be faithful, not successful. We can have hope, but, to borrow Cornel Wests phrase, it will be a blues-inflected hope.
We must bear witness to the truth, day in and day out, without the necessary expectation that we will ever turn things around. This will be a source of humility, but need not discourage us. After all, the God who is truth itself is also the Lord of history. And those who served him faithfully, even if they never saw the results, turned the hostile world upside down.
The First Things symposium on secularist challenges (and David Bentley Harts No Enduring City in the same issue) envisioned grim battles over first principles. I wonder whether there is a more pragmatic and even hopeful possibility to consider. Rather than seek to overpower alien forces, might one use their strengths against them?
What if one always began by insisting, over and over, What does your position on this issue imply about the human good, beyond freedom? Surely you are aiming at some substantive good? Continue to pursue them with the implications of their views. Watch the responses die on their lips.
Unlike the debonair nihilist (Allan Blooms phrase), those who aspire to be opinion leaders are nothing if not moralizing. They can surely be challenged to offer views on what would be good, or at least better. And these can hardly escape being found within specifically Christian values, however deformed.
Jesus could be Socratic when he thought the audience only needed to face up to what they already knew, drawing saving truths out of those he met rather than pounding them in. Faith is what he was after, not proof. Others might get a hint of a natural law, or even the beauty that Augustine, Balthasar, and others think is primarily what draws one toward the Good.
Granted, this only suggests the start of a conversation, but it will shape what follows. Opening minds has now become the hardest part.
C. John Sommerville
David Bentley Harts No Enduring City offered an in-depth contribution to The Challenges We Face (was the placement intentional?)”not to the challenges First Things faces but on the impossibility of succeeding at all in the future, and indeed on the wisdom of even trying in the current culture. I realize the death of Christendom Hart relays does not equate to the end of Christianity in the public square, but it surely must relegate Christianity to an also ran among competing creeds in the new order, making the mission of First Things a more Herculean task.
Whatever course forward First Things adopts, it must begin with a sober realization of how truly heathen and hollow the prevailing culture has become. But we should not proclaim the death of Christendom too finally.
The penultimate chapter of G. K. Chestertons The Everlasting Man deals with the number of times that Christianity has been declared dead as the world order with which it was joined was passing. The order does pass; the Church does not. As Chesterton puts it: It was said truly enough that human Christianity in its recurrent weakness was sometimes too much wedded to the powers of the world; but if it was wedded, it has very often been widowed. It is a strangely immortal sort of widow.
I applaud the witness provided by Ephraim Radner in the discussion of First Things future and propose an even more refined focus (Primacy of Witness, August/September). In its admirable attempt to create a religiously informed public philosophy (as George Weigels interlocutor posited), First Things should explicitly incorporate in its social mission the teaching of Pope John Paul II in Reconciliation and Penance : The radical cause of division between persons and within societies, institutions, and structures is sin.
All personal or societal reconciliation must be founded on personal repentance and conversion . As explained by John Paul II, the originality of this proclamation is precisely that reconciliation at every level is always linked to conversion of heart.
John Paul II points out that sin always causes a twofold wound: Every sin is personal, and every sin is social. First Things often confronts social sin (for example, relationships between human communities that are not in accordance with Gods plan and for which responsibility cannot necessarily be attributed to an individual). Even when discussing social sin, however, John Paul II returns always to the individual person, who is asked to accept individual responsibility to change what can be changed.
First Things cannot fall into the trap of discussing social situations, institutions, or structures as if they are moral actors. Situations, institutions, and structures cannot be changed unless the individual persons responsible for them are converted.
In his efforts to teach in the public square, John Paul II did not”and First Things should not”flinch from this humbling but unavoidable truth. Otherwise, First Things runs the risk of being starkly and ineffectively academic, bewitched by the temptation to create independent solutions separate from Gods merciful, steadfast love.
Manhasset, New York
About a year ago, R. R. Reno used the New Yorker s cartoon figurehead, with his characteristic top hat and monocle, as a caricature of those intellectuals in the late sixties and early seventies who failed to see the significance of the cultural revolution occurring all around them. Im afraid Reno now fits that caricature.
For one, I was stunned to hear that religious liberalism is a thing of the past. While gains may have been made in the Roman Catholic Church, I hardly think religious Americans in general can rest on their laurels, much less need worry about showing magnanimity in victory. In general, Reno seems not to appreciate the oppositions tenacity and even ruthlessness. The left has an agenda that is aggressively antireligious, and they would like nothing better than for religious conservatives to reach across the aisle and accommodate their deviously concealed agenda.
Renos concluding paragraph perhaps best sums up the misguided nature of his essay. There he says he doesnt pretend to know how to respond adequately to the challenges Christians face in todays world.
And yet he is quick to denigrate those who are genuinely alarmed by the current state of affairs. Rather than attaching pejorative words and phrases such as McCarthyite mentality, hard-hearted, apocalyptic mentality, and bitter to describe those who see a danger in accommodation, perhaps Reno, in a respectful way, should consider first what animates their concerns.
As Reno sniffs, monocle or no, Rome burns.
Rev. Thomas C. Leinbach
R. R. Reno replies:
Luis Caso is mistaken. First Things is not wavering in our commitment to the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, the freedom of the Church, and the humanizing power of moral truth and the proper authority it exercises in law and society. The wavering is in Washington. Strong forces in the GOP would like to downplay the Christian position.
Thats to be expected. When First Things was founded more than twenty years ago, movement conservatism was delighted by the unexpected, vigorous, and electorally significant entry of religiously conservative Christians into the public square. The religious right sallied forth to slay the secular-humanist infidels, and GOP campaign managers consulted polls and tallied the votes smiling.
Culture-warring was a winning strategy. We were one of the three pillars of the Reagan coalition, with the other two being free-market enthusiasts and national-defense hawks.
That coalition has reached its sell-by date. The same campaign managers are consulting new polls and grimacing. Our commitments arent looking so advantageous in the great national scramble for power. Yes, yes, we continue to deliver votes. And, yes, yes, the Democratic party has become even more antipathetic. But GOP grandees now suspect that religion is an electoral liability, or at least will become one if the religious right isnt put on a short leash.
One of my most vivid memories of Richard John Neuhaus is of a fall afternoon in his office. It was 2006. Bushs popularity had plummeted. I was wringing my hands over the prospect that Republicans would lose control over the House (which they did). Neuhaus took the cigar from his mouth and waved it dismissively as he snorted, Dont get so worked up. The Republicans are going to betray us eventually anyway.
He wasnt making an argument against voting for Republicans. He was reminding me of a timeless biblical truth: Put not your trust in princes.
Nathaniel Peters may be right that we are on our way to becoming a minority that a dominant secular culture finds strange and incomprehensible. But I worry about rhetorical retreats to imagined catacombs. By my reading of the signs of the times, Christianity is being dislodged from its supereminent position in American society. One feels this quite acutely in universities and some cities on the margins of our continent.
But lets not over-interpret this fact, as Jake Bolingers evocation of Chesterton warns us. We remain a vital, powerful force. Religion moves, enlivens, and forms our souls, something secular institutions rarely do. Given this inestimable strength, all will not be defeat. There are victories to be won, and successes to be had, perhaps with methods C. John Sommerville suggests. Peters is surely correct, however, that in season and out we need both great charity and fidelity to the truth.
Joseph Valentine is right, of course, that individual conversion is necessary and that societal change begins with each one of us. But social institutions affect what individuals do by providing ideals, limits, and incentives. We can work to change them and to prevent them from being changed in the wrong ways, even with policy makers and judges who do not share our religious commitments but do share our concern for the public good.
I fear Thomas Leinbach confuses what I have to say about the politics of our churches and the politics of our society. In the churches, I do indeed see theological liberalism as a spent force that we should not waste our time punching yet again. Thus, Im opposed to theologians who advocate Gaia worship (which, for the uninitiated, means substituting feminist ideology for the apostolic tradition as the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy), but I dont think theres the remotest need to worry that theyll have any influence over the future of Christianity.
By contrast, I am indeed alarmed by the state of affairs in our society at large, where a cultural liberalism that has become ideologically secular is very powerful and may well succeed. Why Leinbach thinks Im a soft-headed dupe for this kind of liberalism, I cant fathom. Perhaps it has to do with the sharp things I have to say about contemporary American conservatism: McCarthyite, hard-hearted, apocalyptic. The fallacy here is patent: Criticizing the stupidity of your allies does not entail, require, or suggest accommodating those you oppose.
David Bentley Hart quotes two episodes that, according to him, show the highest and the lowest points reached by Christendom (No Enduring City, August/September). First, the lowest: St. Thomas Aquinas view that unrepentant heretics should suffer capital punishment. Lowest? Things are a bit more complicated. Heresies have consequences, and St. Thomas says that if someone is disseminating a wrong idea he should be stopped.
Today, the state reintroduces a series of sins which must be dealt with severely: hate speech, homophobia, etc. People may argue about capital punishment, people may argue about which list of sins should be used, but nobody argues about the right of the state to stop heretics.
In the Middle Ages, the Church was the moral guardian, and the res publica Christiana had delegated this task to her. This was not good, but this was Christendom, and every society needs some guardians. It is not the fault of St. Thomas to state the obvious, that every wrong idea can produce murder and someone must stop it. If you lament the demise of Christendom, you need the Church to ask the secular arm to stop heretics.
Second: For Hart, the highest point of civility is the decision of Bologna to free all serfs in 1256. Hart thinks that this was the result of a saturation of a culture in the language of the gospel. Sed contra , I am inclined to think that Bolognas yuppies (merchants, bankers, manufacturers, etc.) represented a totally new culture that was breaking away from the gospel. They were eager to gain access to free markets and break feudal bonds, which were a hindrance for the booming economic development of the Italian comune .
St. Paul sends the runaway slave back to Philemon no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a dearest brother. I consider this the greatest revolution, the highest point not in Christendom, but in Christianity. The goal of Jesus is not to change structures, but the heart of man: If the heart changes, the structures will follow, never vice versa.
Hart seems to be looking for an enduring city on this earth; the fascination for medieval Bologna seems a case of nostalgia for political power, nostalgia for the bells of St. Marys, nostalgia for Christendom, nostalgia for the gnostic dream of building paradise on earth. But, remember: My kingdom is not from this world.
Tommaso Maria Gras
Englewood, New Jersey
David Bentley Hart replies:
Before answering Tommaso Maria Gras argument, I have to admit that I am thrown off by the phrase the gnostic dream of building paradise on earth, which is about as total a contradiction in terms as one could imagine. I suppose Eric Voegelin is to blame for this bizarre confusion regarding what the word gnostic really implies.
I am also rather surprised to see such a desire imputed to me, given that”as the title of my article announces quite up front”that is precisely the opposite of my intentions. Of course, since Gras starts from the presupposition that Christians are called upon to preserve social order and to govern others (two things that neither Christ nor the apostles enjoined), he evidently does not grasp quite how anarchically unworldly my perspective on the matter really is.
All of which may be beside the point, because his own argument strikes me as both incoherent and immoral. It consists in two propositions, as far as I can see, both of which seem to me repugnant to Christian teachings.
First, since human society always employs violence to enforce some set of standards, Christians”whom Christ called to live out a radically different form of community, one in which it is the crucified rather than his judges who is vindicated as Gods Word”should simply take up the burden of civic order and abandon the Gospel where prudentially necessary because, you know, someone absolutely has to kill heretics, and so we should make sure the right heretics get killed.
Second, Pauls exhortation to a universal brotherhood of believers was meant not only as a recommendation of charity but also as an actual prohibition upon any attempt to give charity concrete form in acts of real social justice, because we have to change hearts before we strike off fetters.
Either proposition by itself seems deeply blasphemous to me, to be perfectly honest; taken together, they produce a logic I find positively wicked: Christians must govern society, but in doing so they must not attempt the gnostic task of creating forms of just relations among the governed; they must simply be sure to kill the right people. That may be a picture of Christendom, at least as Gras understands it, but it is a perspective entirely devoid of any trace of Christianity; and that more or less makes my point for me.
Randy Boyagoda seems not to have noticed that the writers hes tired of seeing cited by his fellow Christians did not place their faith, as he does, in anything so small as literature (Faith in Fiction, August/September). The work of his weary-making eight”Dostoevsky, Hopkins, Chesterton, Tolkien, Eliot, Lewis, Percy, OConnor”endures because they staked their lives and their art on the ultimate Reality: the triune God of Israel, Christ, and the Church.
Their tough-minded faith enabled them to make the requisite artistic and moral and theological judgments that Boyagoda rightly calls for. It enabled them to engage with both the wonder and the horror of our post-transcendent culture. Their fiction and poetry are alive and well because they produced a drastic alternative to what Boyagoda seems to call for: a literature that affirms our mortal selves and this-worldly reality as our only selves, our only reality. So long as David Shields and his fans peer into the convex mirror that stares back at them, they may be alive, but it can hardly be said that they are well.
Ralph C. Wood
The reason that Randy Boyagoda believes that there is little religious and/or morally serious fiction being written today is that he is looking in the wrong place. There is a lot in the genres of high fantasy and, to a lesser extent, science fiction.
Stephen R. Donaldsons Chronicles of Thomas Covenant have by far the most depth of anything I have read, including any of C. S. Lewis fiction. Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series draws heavily on Christian ideas, among others, and contains serious considerations of questions of duty, stewardship, and the responsibility of the strong to the weak.
Dawn Cooks First Truth and its sequels revolves around questions such as loyalty, personal freedom vs. commitment, and the moral status of manipulating others for their own good. Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth series originally dealt with questions of sacrifice, just war, and love for others, and, beginning in The Blood of the Fold , portrays enemies that can possess anyone who does not truthfully pledge allegiance to the Messiah-figure.
In science fiction, there are fewer examples, but they do exist. David Brins Brightness Reef , and to a lesser extent its sequels, deal with a religion called the Downward Path that preaches atonement through racial devolution to a non-sapient state. A Song for Lya by George R. R. Martin contains a beautiful, if somewhat twisted, Christian allegory and focuses of the importance of love (charity). Orson Scott Cards Homecoming series draws heavily on assorted Bible stories, Christian values, and religious ideas about what makes a good life, although the cosmology is more Mormon than Christian.
These stories do have more imaginative settings and more exciting plots than what is traditionally called literature. However, when done well, these add to, rather than detract from, the meanings.
For example, Stephen R. Donaldsons argument that hope must be based on faith instead of power is strengthened by being expressed by a giant. David Brins exploration of the relative importance of environmental stewardship in times of crisis is especially compelling when discussed on a planet with a damaged ecosystem during an interstellar war. Dawn Cooks use of rakus (dragons) running a covert eugenics program to prevent the birth of potentially destructive wizards gives a new and interesting perspective on the associated questions.
There are actually many books with serious religious content being written; they are just not where many people look.
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Randy Boyagoda responds:
As a longtime admirer of Ralph C. Woods work, Im disappointed at his reading of my article. He complains that Im calling for the very thing”a literature that only and exclusively affirms a mundane reality as our only reality”that I explicitly fault David Shields for calling for. In fact, Im in full agreement with Wood about the enduring strengths of the writers he and I both admire, and advocated in turn for readers and writers to look for works that point towards that Ultimate Reality he so eloquently evokes.
Richard Hamilton offers a persuasive brief on behalf of contemporary fantasy and science fiction. Select works may encourage a greater sense of belief in imagined worlds, indeed universes, governed by religious presences and dictates, but while these works tend to sustain very passionate readerships, their purchase on the broader culture and public conversation is decidedly limited.
But I was discussing, for lack of a better phrase, elite contemporary literary fiction. There, though its creators, sponsors, critics, and readers understand the very best of work as being in continuity with the best that men and women have imagined and written, the most influential works today are marked by a noticeable discontinuity in terms of the place of religion and orthodox religious experience.
I received many, many messages from readers offering counter-evidence to my complaint in the form of notable contemporary writers who do engage faith matters in their fiction, and indeed Image journal has developed a list of what it calls the Image Top 50 Contemporary Writers of Faith in response to the essay. Leaving aside the endless game of questioning why this writer versus that one, and on what terms, there are certainly some notable names on this list who werent mentioned in my initial piece”Wendell Berry, David Adams Richards, and Christian Wiman, among others.
Im skeptical that anyone would look at this list and argue that herein is a critical mass of contemporary writers that enjoy a broad and incisive and collective purchase on either professional literary culture or general reading culture today. To be sure, each of these writers commands some portion of this but, I would suggest, only in discrete terms while the broader currents in literary and reading culture in America today remain the domain of mundane-minded writers, critics, and readers.
Michael Mukaseys review of Paul Lauritzens The Ethics of Interrogation (Torture and Terror, August/September) is actively misleading in at least one respect. In the course of correcting what he calls factual errors in the book, Mukasey says that in fact there were no interrogations at Abu Ghraib and that the abuses that took place there happened for no purpose related to the gathering of intelligence.
But the 2004 Taguba Report on the Abu Ghraib abuses found that contrary to the provision of AR 190-8, and the findings found in MG Ryders Report, Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other US Government Agencys (OGA) interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses and that this request was part of what led to the abuses by the reservist MP unit at the prison.
It doesnt follow that the interrogators were responsible for the abuse, but the report indicates that the abuse was certainly connected to the conduct of interrogations and that one of the things in the abusers minds was that the interrogators wanted and approved of some abuse. I dont know whether Mukasey intended to mislead your readers, but he should certainly apologize to the author of the book under review for accusing him of factual error.
New York University School Of Law
New York, New York
The seal of the Department of Justice consists of an eagle hovering over the red, white, and blue shield of the United States. In one set of talons there is an olive branch; in the other, there are arrows. The motto on the seal reads, roughly, Who prosecutes on behalf of Lady Justice. The seal of the Justice Department is also that of the Office of the Attorney General, and judging from his review of The Ethics of Interrogation , former attorney general Michael Mukasey takes the motto seriously and believes in the efficacy of the arrows.
One of the foundational commitments motivating The Ethics of Interrogation was that robust debate among professionals is central to democratic practice, and so I welcome Mukaseys highly critical assessment of my book. I am grateful for his willingness to take seriously the work of an outsider to his profession, even if he sharply disagrees with my analysis. There are many points on which we disagree, but there is one worth highlighting, namely, our respective views of the relationship between professional responsibility and the rule of law.
It would be unfair to draw wholesale conclusions about his understanding of the moral authority that inheres in law from a book review, but he apparently holds the view that conscientious reflection on enhanced interrogation need consult neither norms of international law nor codes of professional conduct. The only question to answer in considering whether to engage in controversial practices is whether the practices violate United States domestic law.
He thus chides me for consulting professional codes of conduct in deliberating about the morality of enhanced interrogation. My way of approaching the issue of whether to facilitate, conduct, or defend enhanced interrogation, he says, is to urge that decisions about the detention and interrogation of such prisoner be made according to the codes of those professionals involved in the process . . . rather than, say, according to the law of the United States.
Later in the review, he makes this point even more strongly. I am not, Mukasey says, satisfied with the view that what has been put into law by a duly elected government should provide the standard for those who are part of a government of laws.
I do not know how Mukasey would defend this narrow focus on the mere existence of a law (or its interpretation) and not its substance, but let me say why I reject his view. The short answer is that I take seriously Thomas Aquinas view of law. In the section of the Summa Theologiae called the Treatise on Law, he asks whether human law binds man in conscience.
He writes, Laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience . . . Now laws are said to be just, both from the end, when, to wit, they are ordained to the common good”and from their author, that is to say, when the law that is made does not exceed the power of the lawgiver”and from their form, when, to wit, burdens are laid on the subjects, according to an equality of proportion and with a view to the common good.
Part of what I sought to do in The Ethics of Interrogation was to recover a social-trustee model of professionalism, according to which professionals must be fundamentally oriented to the common good and not just financial gain. Whatever the reality of professional practice today”and too frequently the reality is that professionals are merely hired guns”the root of every profession worthy of the name is service to the common good. As Aquinas so ably argued, law must serve the common good.
The same is true of professional codes of ethics. This is why I find the debates that enhanced interrogation precipitated within various professions so encouraging. These debates were largely about whether enhanced interrogation served the common good and thus whether laws permitting such interrogation were just. The fact that these debates were so intense and sustained suggests a healthy commitment to the common good and the rule of law.
An inscription on the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, where Mukasey served honorably as the eighty-first attorney general, reads: Justice is founded in the rights bestowed by nature upon man. Liberty is maintained in security of justice. His vigorous defense of liberty and justice is admirable. Nevertheless, an observation and a question are in order.
The observation is that, as the seal of the Justice Department recognizes, an olive branch as well as an arrow may safeguard the security of justice. The question is whether Mukasey would agree with Aquinas who follows Augustine in saying that an unjust law is no law at all.
John Carroll University
University Heights, Ohio
Michael Mukasey replies:
Although I think Jeremy Waldron is a bit over the top when he describes my review as actively misleading for stating, incorrectly, that there were no interrogations at Abu Ghraib, he is both correct and right to point out that there were such interrogations; insofar as his letter illustrates that factual errors undercut a criticism of someone elses factual errors, I take his point. However, I think it fair to note as well that when he states that one of the things in the abusers minds was that the interrogators wanted and approved of some abuse, that claim is based principally on what the abusers said.
Also, what occurred at Abu Ghraib was not shown to have occurred at any other facility where interrogation was conducted, and so his conclusion that the abuse was connected to the conduct of interrogations, which nowhere appears in the Taguba Report, does not follow from the available evidence. In any event, if an apology is in order for my factual mistake, I willingly give it.
Paul Lauritzens thoughtful and balanced letter points out well the nub of the difference between us. He suggests that I think the moral authority of a democratically enacted law rests on no basis other than its existence, that conscientious reflection on enhanced interrogation need consult neither the norms of international law nor codes of professional conduct, and that I maintain a narrow focus on the mere existence of a law (or its interpretation) and not its substance. He asks”rhetorically”whether I agree with Aquinas, who follows Augustine in saying that an unjust law is no law at all.
The short answer to his rhetorical question is yes, up to a point. What lies within that protected space is a persons own behavior. So we uphold conscientious objection to service in the military even in wars that are popular, and we have long acknowledged and indeed honored the moral basis for civil disobedience; I count myself comfortably in that we.
Although I dispute his apparent view that recognized”as opposed to fanciful”norms of international law or codes of professional conduct would restrict actual practice under the regimen ridiculously called enhanced interrogation, as described in the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda profligately disclosed by the current administration, I have nothing against conscientious reflection on the issue and lively discussion of it.
Where I part company with Lauritzen is where he suggests that in a democracy it is acceptable, after losing the battle to frame the law”the Senate having not once but twice rejected legislation to criminalize waterboarding as torture”to try to prevail on professional disciplinary authorities to punish those who choose, for reasons just as conscientiously held as his own, to follow a law he finds objectionable. At that point, I believe even Aquinas and Augustine would heed the plea of Oliver Cromwell: I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it is possible you may be mistaken.
R. R. Reno cites Charles Murray and Mary Douglas for the compelling proposition that the abolition of clear social rules wreaks greater havoc among the economically and educationally weak than among the strong, inter alia because the latter have more resources to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty (War on the Weak, August/September).
As a teacher for many years of comparative law, I think there is a legal and international analog here.
In the United States, Legal Realism has long taught that it is wrongheaded and impossible for judges to follow legal rules. The law is just too vague and conflicting. As a result, there has been a secular shift in our judiciary away from the rule of law toward the rule of activist, policy-making, social-engineering judges. But since our federal judiciary has tremendous informational and economic resources at its disposal, it has been able to engineer fairly solid constructions. Moreover, our society is still bound together by many ties other than just the law.
Not so in the developing world, where law alone may unite peoples of vastly different cultures and levels of economic and educational development. Yet American programs such as Fulbright have taught the worlds leading judges and law professors that Legal Realism is the only sophisticated way to think about law, with frequently disastrous results.
Just last December, in the Artavia case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced a new human right to subsidized in vitro fertilization, pushing aside arguments that IVF may be dangerous to women and to the children born thereby. It also dismissed arguments that, by intentionally or recklessly destroying human embryos, IVF violates the American Convention on Human Rights, which proclaims every human being a person and recognizes the right to life of every person from the moment of conception.
The court reasoned that the treatys drafters were actually concerned only to protect life from the moment of implantation, and that the human embryo is not a person under the American Convention because it is not a person under certain treaties elsewhere in the world. For good measure, the judges added that the right to life is not so absolute and can be overridden by other human rights.
The same Inter-American Court of Human Rights has proudly insisted that fundamental principles of law like no double jeopardy (no second trial for the same offense) and res judicata (once someone is finally acquitted, the case is closed) must be ignored for alleged human-rights offenders. And many or most Latin American judiciaries have accepted this mandated lawlessness as the wave of the future.
A few years ago, at a meeting of law professors from many nations, some leftish American professor was engaging in our commonplace trashing of the rule of law, saying that all law is and must be politics. I remarked that this sort of talk has got to be most disheartening to nations struggling to achieve what the speaker just called a myth. A Chinese professor had the courage to speak up in agreement with me, but I fear that (at least in Latin America) strong opposition to Legal Realism could harm her teaching career.
Valparaiso University School of Law
Have you forgotten about religion and public life? R. R. Renos War on the Weak identifies contemporary attacks on middle and low-income people: suicide, drugs, gambling, uninhibited sexual behavior, and divorce. The article implicitly blames the strife on the non-judgmental upper class, which is protected by its disciplined class mores. Reno goes on to say that moral inequality is more damaging than the income inequality. The elite are functional and happy; the others, dysfunctional and unhappy. This article addresses public life”but where is religion?
The purpose of life is to live with God eternally in heaven. Striving for that goal is the best weapon in the war. It is available to believers in every class. (Purposes invented by man are baseless.) First Things does not help matters when it circumvents religion in public life. It encourages living hopelessly, purposelessly, simply awaiting death”totally confused. Reno should have included the goal of human life and the importance of religious faith.
Frederick A. Costello
Oak Hill, Virginia
R. R. Reno replies:
Richard Stith makes an important point: Rule of law protects the weak from the strong. Michael McConnell made a similar point last month in his analysis of the Supreme Courts approach to affirmative action (2013 Supreme Court Roundup, October). Muddy, vague laws favor entrenched interests and deep pockets. Thats because when the law is an open-ended judgment call, whoever has access to the judgment makers gains the upper hand.
Thats also true in society more broadly. In countless ways, rich, well-educated Americans have reorganized the social rule of law to make it more flexible. Thus the perverse inequality of our era. The well-educated meritocracy harvests economic rewards and jealously reserves for itself the role of determining what counts as right and wrong. With a doctrine akin to Legal Realism, our consensus today is that all morality is and must be politics. Prime example: redefining marriage.
Frederick Costello is absolutely right to criticize my neglect of religious faith. Marx thought it an opiate that deadened the spirit of rebellion. Faith is in fact the opposite: To know ourselves beloved by God frees us from the tyranny of this world and its ruthless measures of status and success, all of which favor the strong.
Degrees of Communion
John Cavadinis criticism of George Weigels thesis in Evangelical Catholicism (Church as Sacrament, August/September) refuses to engage the book on the grounds upon which it seeks to engage. He takes umbrage with Weigels un-Catholic emphasis on friendship with Christ, arguing that the Church begins with Christs undeserved, atoning love, not a subjective experience of friendship. But wasnt the whole purpose of Christs sacrifice to bring man back into communion with him? Cavadinis argument seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what true friendship”and true religion, for that matter”is, which at its core is defined by undeserved, atoning love: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Cavadini is wrong when he essentially argues that the manner by which one lives out the faith received through baptism has no effect on whether or not one can still be considered fully Catholic. He is also wrong when he assumes that any further effort by the Church to curtail the horrendous and wide-spread scandal constantly encountered when the label Catholic is allowed to rest on public persons who oppose the Churchs teachings will inevitably result in a puritanical stifling of the mystery of Gods grace.
Any well-catechized confirmation student knows that to be called a Catholic one must not only partake in the sacraments of initiation but also follow the precepts of the Church. Without this completing element of a life of faith between sacraments, as Weigel puts it, one becomes simply an ex-Catholic, and the indelible mark on ones soul is no longer a mark of salvation but a mark of eternal shame.
Cavadini begins his closing remarks by admitting that all of his problems with Weigels work are not so much with the book itself, but with where someone might take some of his more ambiguous statements. If his greatest fear of Weigels book is that it might create another Luther”a rejection rather than a reform”so be it. Not even a book written by God himself could preclude this possibility.
T. J. and Alycia Nielsen
Greenville, South Carolina
John Cavadini replies:
My thanks to the Nielsens for these comments. I had not meant to communicate any of these points. I had intended to communicate, and I here reiterate, my general appreciation for George Weigels book, as well as my agreement with almost all of the specific suggestions made for reform.
I mentioned a worry, and I tried to state very carefully why even an appreciative reader might have this worry. While attempting to inspire a Catholicism that is more evangelical, which does not complacently rely on simple Church membership as sufficient for living a fully Catholic life, Weigel evokes an ecclesiology which is more Evangelical, in the Protestant sense, than he imagines.
He leaves out the doctrine of the Church as, in Christ, a sacrament. He replaces it with a doctrine of Christ as primordial sacrament that leaves his relation to the Church as sacrament, his own flesh and Spouse, unclear. The sacramental character of the Church is replaced by friendship with this primordial, but abstract, Christ.
Weigel also confuses ecclesiological categories (what makes the Church) with eschatological categories (who is saved), misusing a text from St. Augustine to imply that we can now, with some probability, of living persons know who is wheat and who is weed. But the visible Church on earth is mysteriously and inescapably a mixed body of wheat and weeds and is on earth no less the true Church because of it.
Perhaps I gave the impression, unintentionally, that denial of Church teaching has nothing to do with full communion. It is certainly the case that denial of truths declared by the Church to be divinely revealed or to be definitively held by faith harms ones full communion with the Church. But it is one thing to say that, and another to state that there are degrees of communion within the Church analogous to the degrees of communion that separated Christian brothers and sisters have with the Catholic Church.
To imply that as a Catholic, I can have greater communion with a separated Christian on the grounds of fuller doctrinal agreement on the few (or many) remaining doctrinal truths that unite us, relativizes the visible bonds of sacramental communion into mere juridical boundaries. It is as though the true Church were a spiritual Church, founded on zealous communion in belief in a Greater Tradition of core doctrine that transcends mere sacramental boundaries”not to mention that this Greater Tradition is itself selectively and ambiguously defined.
Weigel also implies that ones degree of communion within the Church is affected, in a constitutive way, not only by what one rejects but by the zeal and maturity of ones friendship with Christ. Without denying that the sanctity of her members builds up the whole Church, I worry that this too directly relates the will and works of the members with what actually makes or constitutes the Church, namely, the sacrifice of the Head, not the purity or righteousness, always imperfect, of his members. We are not a works righteousness Church.
Every new idea truly worth considering has inconsistencies or ambiguities that must be worked out as it develops, and it is a service to the author to suggest where they may lie. I hope that is not confused with umbrage or a lack of appreciation, especially since that would undercut, not enhance, any true attempt at the deep reform for which George Weigel and I both pray.