John E. Coons ("Is Choice Still Choice?" August/September) writes that
polls show support for choice in education. The more sophisticated
polls, however, show that while the public strongly supports choice
within public education, it equally opposes public support for nonpublic
Furthermore, Mr. Coons makes no mention of the most significant
difference between public and nonpublic schools: the vast majority of
nonpublic schools are pervasively denominational institutions, while
public schools approach the ideal of religious neutrality required by
the Constitution and our religious pluralism.
Mr. Coons says that a voucher plan must neither increase public spending
by more than about one percent nor reduce public spending for public
schools. These goals are not reconcilable. With 10 percent of our
children in nonpublic schools, public spending would have to go up by at
least 10 percent, plus a great deal more to pay for transportation.
Aspen Hill, MD
John E. Coons replies:
Ms. Randall's "more sophisticated" polls are unknown to me. Since the
early 1970s, the Gallup poll has indicated a steady shift from majority
opposition to majority support for the choice she deplores. A 1992 poll
by Gallup asked this question: "Suppose the Supreme Court rules that it
is constitutional for state or federal governments to provide some
public financial support for parents who choose religious-affiliated
schools. Would you favor or oppose your state or federal government
providing such support?" The response: 64.2 percent favored; 32.8
percent opposed. The strongest support was found among poor and minority
respondents. These results are consistent with the many other polls I
have seen or helped to design. Unless one were to limit the sample to
very high income suburban enclaves, this would be the pattern to
anticipate. Whether a well-designed proposal would be politically
successful is, of course, a very different question. The point is that
ordinary people want choice.
As for the risk of increased cost, it should be understood that the
average private school runs on a bit more than half what is spent on
public schools. A scholarship worth, say, 60 percent of the public cost
would break even or even save money on the one assumption that a
substantial number of children would move from the expensive public
schools to the more frugal private schools. The polls suggest that
precisely this would happen.
As for the private schools being mostly "denominational," Ms. Randall
gets this right. I have been unable to locate any study suggesting that
private religious schools turn out a disproportionate number of
intolerant dimwits. Indeed, all the evidence is that their graduates
vote, pay taxes, and stay out of jail with remarkable regularity.
Tradition and Truth
In his "A Tale of Two Stanleys" (June/July), Alan Jacobs applauds
distinctions made by Alasdair MacIntyre between the relativism and
perspectivism of modernity and something called a "kind of rationality
possessed by traditions" (in MacIntyre's words).
This distinction troubles me, for I fail to see the difference. I see
that the rationality of perspectives is opposed to the rationality of
traditions, but how does the latter escape the problems of the former?
To reason from the perspective of one of several traditions is no less
relative than to reason from one of several nontraditional perspectives.
Traditions provide competing perspectives. How do they avoid relativity?
Is it because one tradition "believes in Truth with a capital T," as
Professor Jacobs contends, thereby ranking its own tradition as the
truth, others as falling short of the truth? But relativism says the
same: its appeal is that it is a truth larger than other merely
incomplete perspectives. It is the final perspective, the horizonless
My sense is that MacIntyre's solution to the problem of relativism is an
instance of intellectual sleight of hand, or purely rhetorical, or both
(i.e., postmodern). It works especially well for religious types. By
speaking of the rationality possessed by traditions from a religious
perspective, which he tends to do, MacIntyre simply moves from the
perspectives of nonreligious points of view to those of religious points
of view, and his audience, warm as it is to religion, takes comfort in
the maneuver, thinking warmly of its own religion.
Where's the philosophic advance?
Bill Johnston, Jr.
Pt. Richmond, CA
Alan Jacobs replies:
I do not understand all of Mr. Johnston's comments. For instance, I do
not know what he means by "the rationality of perspectives," or what the
word "moves" connotes in his penultimate sentence. I also suspect that
he uses the word "perspective" too loosely.
But I take the substance of his concern to lie in this sentence: "To
reason from the perspective of one of several traditions is no less
relative than to reason from one of several nontraditional
perspectives." If MacIntyre's work has accomplished anything, it is to
establish that there are no "nontraditional perspectives": every
philosophical position is a product of one "tradition of inquiry" or
another. The idea that one can escape from traditions is delusive.
Therefore, MacIntyre argues, the first necessary step toward productive
argument comes when all parties admit that none of them can occupy some
intellectual ground that is independent of tradition and thus capable of
judging traditions from the outside or from above. For MacIntyre, the
chief liability of both relativism and perspectivism is their refusal to
acknowledge that this is the case. It seems to me, then, that Mr.
Johnston is unaware of MacIntyre's use of the word "tradition," and
assumes that MacIntyre is paying a compliment when he says that a
position is "traditional."
What distinguishes MacIntyre from perspectivists and relativists is not
that he believes his position to be true, while they do not. Everyone
believes his or her position to be right: that's what it means to hold a
position, whether the relativist position or any other. MacIntyre's
distinctive belief is that philosophical inquiry does not have to be
tradition-independent in order to be rational. One can believe that
there is no extra-traditional vantage point from which to conduct an
argument, and also believe that some traditions can be shown to be
superior, in various ways, to other traditions. Insofar as MacIntyre has
demonstrated how this can be done, that's "the philosophic advance," I
Stay or Go?
Richard John Neuhaus says (Public Square, August/September) that the
comment of the Wanderer that perhaps 70 percent of the clergy and 90
percent of the laity might leave the Catholic Church is "utter fantasy."
He thinks American Catholics want to remain members of the Church.
I would like to agree with his statement; however, I have to conclude
that the vast majority of American Catholics could well leave the
Church. . . .
Most Catholics know that the Church forbids contraception; but they do
not accept the teaching, and when they practice contraception, don't
confess it. Surveys and personal experience further indicate that many
Catholics do not hold to Church teaching on (a) the virgin birth, (b)
the Real Presence, (c) abortion, and (d) punishment/reward after death.
Quite a large number hold, at least implicitly, a form of religious
indifferentism. Any serious sin against faith loses or weakens the gift
of faith. Whether the sin is material or formal, it does have
implications for the spiritual life of the individual. Many Catholics
seem to be attached to the Church not through a faith commitment to the
truth but through a cultural and emotional commitment to a comfortable
rite and religion.
The fearful question: does Fr. Neuhaus honestly expect "Catholics" who
have a difficult time following the Church's teaching on women's
ordination or birth control to stand with the Pope when offered an
alternative choice of "cultural Catholicism" in which anything goes,
both dogmatically and morally? I would hope to say yes; but I fear the
opposite to be true.
Clare J. Hendricks
U.S. Marine Corps
Cherry Point, NC
You may be right in taking a swipe at the Wanderer for
rhetorical license in its preaching of loyalty to Rome by implying
formal schism might be in the offing if the Holy Father is not
successful in averting it.
But shouldn't "While We're At It" long before this have bowed
respectfully to a publication that has for well over 100 years gone to
the mat for the magisterium-to the extent, mind you, of losing five
thousand subscriptions to a spin-off weekly rather than compromise that
loyalty? . . .
I am very proud of my long attachment to the Wanderer. It has
been a source of edification and comfort to me in my fifty-eight years
in the priesthood. I don't take it kindly, as the saying goes, that you
place it among the crazies.
Make the amends honorable and after a decent interval mention how good
it is that the Wanderer places the words of the Holy Father on its front
page every week.
(The Rev.) Thomas Regis Murphy
Richard John Neuhaus replies:
To criticize a comment is not to consign a publication to "the crazies."
With no interval at all I am pleased to go on record as saying it is
very good that the Wanderer runs John Paul II on every week's front
On Military Power
I would like to commend A. J. Bacevich ("The Illusions of Military
Power," June/July) for an outstanding essay on the relationship (or lack
thereof) between military power and the strength of the nation it
Many years ago my Ottoman history professor made the sage observation
that fish and empires always begin to rot at the head. While the
splendid military formations of the Ottoman Empire were at the gates of
Vienna, the Sultans were having the born and unborn children of rivals
slaughtered. That axiom fits very well today. We have a President devoid
of any moral bearings whatsoever, and a military establishment still
morally intact but being undermined by Administration initiatives
designed to pay off political debts to left-wing ideological groups.
And while traditional Americans may be changing their view of the
efficacy of the projection of military power, I hope they understand
that the military establishment-whatever its faults-is one of the last
reservoirs of institutional traditional values, a point made by
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen many years ago in a speech to West Point
As a member of the military for thirty years and as a civilian
instructor of military officers for the last five, I have observed a
widening chasm between the young soldiers and the moral nomads who
constitute a large part of the civilian society.
It is not a panacea, but it would be a tremendous countercultural step
in the right direction to reinstitute the draft. Just for these young
men to observe the meaning of responsibility and fidelity would be a
major revelation to a generation absorbing the mores of "Melrose Place"
and "Northern Exposure."
Norvell B. De Atkine
An objective look at the anti-Vietnam War movement would explode A. J.
Bacevich's stereotypes of those who opposed American military
intervention. I was among the hundreds of thousands of Americans who
protested the war and was part of Senator Eugene McCarthy's youth
brigade. During an antiwar march on the Pentagon our members included
housewives, nuns, veterans in uniform, blue-collar workers, students,
and other "normal" Americans. The media fixed on one small band of
scruffy, disruptive radicals carrying Viet Cong flags. Among those who
actively protested our military intervention in Vietnam were Generals
Matthew Ridgeway, James Gavin, and former Marine Corps Commandant David
Shoup. Does Mr. Bacevich believe that these generals and heroes of WW II
During the Vietnam War I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Many of us in the
service thought the war was a mistake. We believed that the Saigon
government was a corrupt leftover of French colonialism, and not worth
killing and dying for. We also rejected the domino theory. The ready
collapse of the Saigon government and the failure of communism to spread
have proven us right.
Catholics & Evangelicals (Cont.)
As I read through "Evangelicals & Catholics Together" (May), I was
amazed at the compromising attitude of the Catholic participants toward
Evangelicals. The declaration indicated no intention of the Evangelicals
involved joining the Catholic Church. We Catholics then waste our time
on them instead of going where converts are possible. As far as the two
groups working together, this has been the case ever since our country
won its freedom. They worked together to build a great America, having
like ideals of high morals and integrity.
But the general use of the word "Christian" causes much doubt in my
mind. Who is meant? Are Catholics simply to coexist with Evangelicals?
They no doubt have part of the Truth, but know nothing of the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, or other doctrines of the
Catholic Church. Why lump us together as though we were alike? The
essentials are missing in their religion. We are Catholic. Please
We are promised that the Holy Spirit will be with the Catholic Church
until the end of time, and the gates of hell will not prevail against
it. Protestants are not one with the Catholic Church. Their founders
broke away from the Catholic Church. Christ commanded us to go out and
evangelize the rest of the world, to bring non-Catholics into the One,
Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Catholic Church does not
compromise its doctrine to accommodate Protestants-or shouldn't. You
would almost think that some bishops and priests never learned their own
Catechism. . . .
Sister Winifred Bauer, C.PP.S.
The unofficial document "Evangelicals & Catholics Together," which to
many came as a bolt out of the blue, likely will prove to be helpful. It
presents us with the spiritual fruit of theological maturation by both
parties. Recognition of abiding differences is made plain. The statement
holds to those fundamental doctrines under which Catholics and
Evangelicals stand testifying to that which is believed, "everywhere,
always, and by all."
I wish to raise an appeal, however, for hard thinking about traditional
Christian views of public life by readers of this document elsewhere
around the globe. As a Southern Baptist theologian, both Protestant and
religiously disestablishmentarian, I am very conscious of the fact that
much of Roman Catholicism remains anti-Protestant and religiously
establishmentarian. For example, some papal statements on "Re-
evangelization" in Latin America at the beginning of this decade were
rather antagonistic to the evangelical movement throughout that region.
While many Evangelicals tend to respect expressions of allegiance to the
Roman Catholic Church in evangelistic encounter, they cannot help but
seek to mediate spiritual awakening to nominal adherents of any
denomination along side of the unevangelized. This intent is not well
respected by many of our Catholic brethren in Latin America, especially
among the hierarchy. The recent address by Bishop Sinealo Bohn in March
to the thirty-first National Conference of Bishops in Brazil in calling
his church to "declare a holy war" against a host of evangelical
denominations is a case in point.
Thus, acknowledging joyfully the numerous points in common presented in
this document consonant with many personal relationships, I must confess
deep reservations on behalf of my evangelical brethren in regions where
this distinctly American Christian experience is not their own.
Globally, they frequently encounter a virulent nationalistic Catholicism
that is actually quite fundamentalist in the world-religious sense. This
phenomenon, however, bears only superficial similarity to American
Protestant fundamentalism, which was a reaction to the loss of cultural
hegemony after the turn of this century. But if separatist, anti-
intellectual Protestant fundamentalism is to be checked by Christian
cooperation in America, by the same token and for perhaps more
compelling reasons establishmentarian, antidemocratic Catholic
fundamentalism is to be restrained by Christian cooperation in the rest
of the world.
Kurt A. Richardson
Wake Forest, NC
Peter J. Leithart has touched on something very fundamental in his call
for a restoration of sanctions within the various Christian communities
("The Very Modern Christian Right," May). This is true not only in what
he says about the use of corrective measures themselves, but also in
what he suggests about authorities' dedication to their vocation when
they are willing (or unwilling) to use sanctions to try to restore
This is one of those nitty-gritty issues that people like to shove under
the rug. When Pastor Leithart remarks that there will not be "an easy
way out of the political impasse," he is certainly not overstating the
situation. I have seen how, for example, suggestions for a restoration
of commonsense discipline within Catholic religious orders is greeted
with incredulity and disdain (unless it comes from lawyers trying to
protect deep pockets).
For Catholics, I think the unwillingness of authority to use the
measures suggested by Pastor Leithart-censure, rebuke, and
excommunication-has had the effect of weakening the Church's authority.
The media love to dwell on the fact, for example, that former Supreme
Court Justice William Brennan is in good standing with his bishop and
pastor. . . . Similarly, I think of the late Tip O'Neill, Speaker of the
House of Representatives; did he ever receive any correction for his
lack of support for the Right to Life cause or his support of Democratic
Party platforms that championed abortion? If he had received some public
censure, as called for, from his pastor, I would be surprised-and
pleased that the priest was doing his duty.