Considering that for more than forty years there was no larger public concern than the concern about the threat of communism, one continues to be amazed at the insouciance with which most of us in the West have taken its demise. There were no parades, no dancing in the streets, few memorable speeches that marked the passing of a horror as great or greater than anything history has witnessed. People speak of the “end of the Cold War” in a casual and taken for granted way, as though it is almost a bother that now requires a change in policy, and nobody is quite sure how policy ought to be changed. There was something reassuring about the Cold War. It made sense of the geopolitical, even the moral, world. There were bad guys and good guys, wins (always ambiguous) and losses (much less ambiguous), and familiar arguments about things such as the morality of deterrence, the preparedness of NATO, and what all.
Of course the celebration of the end of a great evil was muted by the fact that many in the West, notably intellectuals, never did get around to acknowledging communism as a great evil. Remember the flood of ink expended in chiding Reagan when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. Now almost everybody is ready to say, as though it was never a matter of dispute, that of course it was an empire and of course it was evil. That’s obvious, it is said, by people who still condemn those bothersome anti-Communists who made such a fuss about it. In an interesting twist, the idea that the Soviet Union was evil, corrupt, and hopelessly incompetent has given birth to the idea that it collapsed of itself. Reagan, John Paul II, the West’s military resolve, the long, bitter struggles of those who resisted their totalitarian masters—none of that really mattered. “It could never have lasted. It’s surprising that it went on as long as it did,” remarked a Princeton professor on a recent talk show. He who had for decades been telling us that Soviet Communism was “a fact of life” and we would have to learn to live with it, meaning we would have to accommodate it.
We speak of the “collapse” of the empire. As though a spring in the works finally broke, or a fuse blew. Admittedly, it was more collapse than conquest, but the thing did not fall of itself. There were persistent external pressures, and it is true to say that a victory was won. Chiefly by the people inside who resisted the tyrants but also, as those inside will be the first to tell you, by those outside who were steadfast and helped them to sustain hope that the night would sometime end. In that connection they mention most consistently John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Little wonder that so many in the West do not want to hear the story of the end of the empire as it is told by those who lived through it.
Even for those in the West who were in a mood to celebrate what they perceived as a victory, it seemed there was hardly time. As one evil collapsed, a hundred others emerged to take its place. Bosnia is but the word we use to refer to dozens of other bloody conflicts within the former empire. Western television, perhaps gauging its viewers’ appetite for unpleasantness, focuses on one at a time. Far from being the end of history, it is the return of history for peoples who are only now free to speak and act on resentments and aspirations that were never forgotten. Vaclav Havel, the playwright who is president of the Czech Republic, observes: “It is truly astonishing to discover how, after decades of falsified history and ideological manipulation, nothing has been forgotten. Nations are now remembering their ancient achievements and their ancient suffering, their ancient suppressors and their allies, their ancient statehood and their former borders, their traditional animosities and affinities—in short, they are suddenly recalling a history that, until recently, had been carefully concealed or misrepresented.”
The history that has been recalled seems to be beyond control. Europe and the U.S. failed in Bosnia. One says that without knowing what they might have done not to fail. They are not likely even to posture as the champions of peace and justice in the many other conflicts that have broken out or will break out. The magnitude of what has happened and of the tasks that lie ahead has little touched the imagination of most Americans. Havel writes: “The fall of the Communist empire is an event on the same scale of historical importance as the fall of the Roman empire. And it is having similar consequences, both good and extremely disturbing. It means a significant change in the countenance of today’s world. The change is painful and will take a long time. To build a new world on the ruins of communism might be as extended and complex a process as the creation of a Christian Europe—after the great migration—once was.”
Havel, who is equivocal about his own Christian commitment, is driven to—some might say he “escapes” to reflections on the spiritual. “I see only one way out of this crisis: man must come to a new understanding of himself, of his limitations and his place in the world. He should grasp his responsibility in a new way, and reestablish a relationship with the things that transcend him. We must rehabilitate our sense of ourselves as active human subjects, and liberate ourselves from the captivity of a purely national perception of the world. Through this ‘subjecthood’ and the individual conscience that goes with it, we must discover a new relationship to our neighbors, and to the universe and its metaphysical order, which is the source of the moral order.”
Havel and John Paul II read one another. The 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, is an ambitious argument premised upon the concepts of the “acting person” and the “subjectivity of society.” In suppressing the human subject, communism suppressed the transcendent, and vice versa. “Realists” think such talk impossibly fuzzy, little more than another version of what the lady in the White House calls “the politics of meaning.” But it is in fact uncomfortably concrete. It is not a certain system or set of policies or constellation of sociopolitical forces that need to change; you need to change, we need to change. Yes, some systems and policies no doubt need to be changed, but nothing will avail without the spiritual renewal of the acting subject of history, man. And “man” is all of us, one by one.
It is the great designs for changing structures and policies and social forces that are fuzzy, vague, and evil in consequence, no matter how noble in concept. Communism was the greatest, the most ambitious, the most comprehensive design that human beings ever attempted to impose by force. Its defeat is cause for celebration. And for renewed determination to attend to the particularities of persons and their communities. Utopias are postponed indefinitely. Being a good and decent person in community with others, and in accord with a moral order that is not of our designing, is task enough. And that is as true for the renewal of America as it is for those countries left in the ruins of the Soviet empire.
Life and Death in “The Movement”
A speaker in search of a platform, a crusader in search of a cause, a leader in search of a following. Allard Lowenstein was all of that and, until the last decade of his life, he usually found what he was searching for. Born in 1929 and shot dead by a mad disciple in 1980, he seemed at times to be a one-man movement within the prolonged agitation that, beginning in the 1960s and lingering to this day, is called The Movement. At the University of North Carolina—an unlikely school for a rich and terribly bright Jewish kid from New York who could have gone to Harvard or Yale—Lowenstein distinguished himself in college politics, becoming the founding inspiration of the National Student Association and its crusade to enlist the students of the world on the side of democracy and against totalitarianism. In the early sixties he played a pivotal part in organizing the freedom rides in support of desegregating the South, and by 1965 he was in the forefront of protest against U.S. policies in Vietnam. Along the way, he adventurously tripped through South Africa and from that experience produced his only book, Brutal Mandate, an early and stirring call for Western opposition to apartheid.
Al Lowenstein is most remembered, to the extent that he is remembered at all, for initiating the “dump Johnson” movement that induced Senator Eugene McCarthy to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination and resulted in Johnson’s withdrawal of 1968. According to a new biography by William H. Chafe (Never Stop Running: Allard Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism, Basic Books, 592 pp., $28), it was all downhill for Lowenstein after that. In fact, in Mr. Chafe’s account—and he is none too sympathetic to his subject—the downhill slide began much earlier.
Working Within the System
Mr. Chafe gives us yet another exercise in a genre that is aptly described as pathobiography. Al Lowenstein was sick, sick, sick, and it is ironically appropriate that he was killed by someone only a little sicker than himself. Chafe does not put it quite that starkly, but that is the gist of his story. Lowenstein was sick, according to the author, not because he was a radical but because he was not radical enough. That is the significance of the subtitle: Lowenstein destroyed himself in “the struggle to save American liberalism,” and American liberalism cannot be saved. From his early student years until he died, Al Lowenstein urged young people to work for change “within the system.” As Chafe notes, back in the sixties that was the big question: whether the system was reformable, as liberals said, or whether authentic radicals had to go outside the system in order to overthrow it. Lowenstein was a liberal. Chafe leaves no doubt that he was and he is a radical, and apparently that is not at all compromised by his being a tenured professor of history at Duke University. Indeed, what more strategically useful—or more comfortable—perch could there be from which to heap radical scorn on those deluded souls who, like Lowenstein, think liberal democracy can be saved, or is worth saving?
Above all, Chafe will not forgive Lowenstein for his anticommunism. From early on, Al Lowenstein was clear-eyed about the totalitarian threat. It was one of the factors that made him William F. Buckley’s favorite interlocutor on the left. (To the consternation of his admirers, Buckley endorsed Lowenstein for Congress.) For Chafe, anticommunism was Lowenstein’s unpardonable sin. Not that he doesn’t have a lot of other problems with Lowenstein. As is the way with pathobiographies, the book delves into a putatively tortured childhood. As a conscientious do-gooder, Lowenstein felt guilty about coming from a rich family. More poignantly, he was embarrassed about his Jewishness and spent almost his entire life trying to pass himself off as a WASP. From the sources cited, it does seem that Lowenstein had a stepmother who makes the stereotypically smothering Jewish mother seem like an understatement. And there is no doubt that Lowenstein had a passion, perhaps an inordinate passion, to be accepted, to be liked. But on these scores and others, Chafe does his best, which is to say his worst, to turn problems into pathologies (e.g., “Lowenstein thrived by feeding on people”).
Never Stop Running, one regrets to say, is laced with nastiness. Particularly nasty and confused is its treatment of Lowenstein’s alleged homosexuality. There is a diary entry by the youthful Lowenstein indicating that he was sexually attracted to boys, and was worried about it. Nothing especially unusual about that. The big item is that, when he was on speaking tours and traveling with a male assistant, Lowenstein would arrange for them to stay in motel rooms with one bed. After years of assiduous research, the journalistic equivalent of sniffing bedsheets, Chafe never establishes that anything happened in those beds beyond friendly embraces and the comfort of human company. That he does not establish the point is certainly not for lack of trying. On the basis of this book, however, there is no reason to believe that Lowenstein—who was married and had several children—was “gay” in the current meaning of the term. He may have been often lonely and innerly conflicted about his sexuality, but there is no warrant for the book’s obsession with Lowenstein’s homosexuality.
The author’s obsession with homosexuality is, in addition to being distasteful, deeply confused. Most of the time, the theme of homosexuality seems to be pursued as part and parcel of the author’s indictment of his subject. The implication is that in this respect, too, Lowenstein was a hypocrite, incapable of honesty about himself and the positions that he advanced. But then, toward the end, Chafe suggests that, if Lowenstein had lived longer or had had the nerve for it, he might have again found the new crusade that he needed in the gay liberation movement—a movement that is apparently in continuity with Chafe’s understanding of being authentically radical. In this way, the reader is invited to believe, Lowenstein might have, at least partially, redeemed the life of which he had made such a shambles.
Paradigm and Friend
Why are we giving so much space to this book, especially when most readers may never have heard of Allard Lowenstein? In part, because Lowenstein was a paradigmatic figure for one stream of The Movement, and his life helps us to understand the consequences of that convulsion, which continues to the present. In part, because Al Lowenstein was a friend. We crossed paths occasionally in the sixties and got to know one another better in the early seventies. This writer, in a fit of vocational absentmindedness, ran for Congress in 1970 and, thank God, lost. In 1972 Al, who had been gerrymandered out of his Congressional district on Long Island, wanted to run from the same Brooklyn district, and we backed him (in preference to the indomitable Bella Abzug who had an interest in the district). Al, too, lost and then went on to run unsuccessfully from another district, and then another, until some of his friends became embarrassed for him.
Never Stop Running is a fine title. Especially after 1972, Al’s life assumed a hectic, fevered, erratic character. In the last years his marriage fell apart, he seemed incapable of staying with one thing for long, and at the time of his death in 1980 was doing flack work on behalf of Senator Edward Kennedy’s presidential bid. We saw one another from time to time, mainly talking about the nature of the political and why one must not let it become an idol that consumes the entirety of life. At least that is what this writer talked about, and Al seemed at times to be about half convinced. That, in our judgment, was Al’s problem. His problem was that he believed—as William Chafe makes clear that he believes—that “the personal is the political and the political is the personal.” It is a deadly formula. Al at times appeared to be open to the possibility that the formula was wrong, but he seemed to be unable to stop believing it, or at least to stop living as though it were true.
For Al (and many others), politics was movement—the student movement, the civil rights movement, finally the all-encompassing The Movement. He was extraordinarily good at what he did in the fifties and sixties. He was charismatic before the term became trivialized. Thousands of now middle-aged Americans can undoubtedly remember the time when, as students, they were carried along by Al’s exhilarating confidence that they really could make a difference, that they could change the world. Many of them, one suspects, will resent Mr. Chafe’s denigration of their hero. Life is not ordinarily graced with very many heroes, and it is understandable that people would want to hold on to the way they remember Allard Lowenstein.
The Center That Did Not Hold
But Chafe is right about things falling apart for Al in the last decade of his life. His center was The Movement, and the movement did not hold. By 1968—as exemplified by the riotous Democratic Convention in Chicago—The Movement had fragmented into discordant factions, and there was no putting the pieces back together into anything like a coherent version of radical or liberal. In his “authorial struggle to save American radicalism,” Chafe indicts Lowenstein for selling out The Movement. Al’s problem, however, was that he was all too faithful to a movement that had died. He continued to dance long after the party was over and the lights had been turned out. Because he was a liberal and not a radical, because he insisted upon working within the system, he could not become a public buffoon like the late Abby Hoffman, nor could he accept a tenured position at a prestige university in order to tell stories to the next generation about the revolution that was betrayed.
Al was a liberal. He talked on and on about those who had been his heroes and his friends, about Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, Martin Luther King. In his last years, it seemed to many that he was talking about the olden days, but for Al they were all today, and would be tomorrow. He was wrong about that. Along the way, however, he made an astonishing number of friends. Maybe, as Chafe charges, he was feeding on people, but they were also feeding on him. Put more kindly, and more accurately, they nourished one another. There is something splendid in that, even if they sometimes also nourished illusions about what politics can be.
William Buckley, along with Edward Kennedy, spoke at the funeral at Central Synagogue in Manhattan. “How did he live such a life,” Buckley asked, “so hectic with public concern, while preoccupying himself so fully with the individual human being? His rhythms were not of this world. His days, foreshortened, lived out the secular dissonances . . . . Who was it who said that Nature abhors a vacuum? Let Nature then fill this vacuum. That is the challenge which, bereft, the friends of Allard Lowenstein hurl up to Nature and Nature’s God, prayerfully, demandingly, because today, Lord, our loneliness is great.” That is the way many of us will go on thinking about Al Lowenstein, Mr. Chafe’s efforts notwithstanding.
Why Cupiditas Gets The Exciting Lines
Lust is exciting. Although it is forbidden, perhaps because it is forbidden, lust is the enticing indulgence of deepest desire. Love, on the other hand, is in the Christian reading of things the right ordering of desire. It is desire tempered by duty, and duty is something of a bore. That is a conventional interpretation of the difference between cupiditas (lust) and caritas (love). According to William S. Babcock of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, it is a wrong interpretation. It is the reason why, in thinking about life’s story, cupiditas gets so many of the exciting, passionate lines while caritas bespeaks the better but less interesting side of ourselves.
The Christian understanding of love and loves has been powerfully influenced by Saint Augustine, and Babcock contends that most of us have been getting Augustine wrong. His is one of several engaging and instructive essays in a new book, Augustine Today, published by Eerdmans ($12.99), and emerging from a conference sponsored by our institute. (Other essays are by Ernest Fortin of Boston College, Robert J. O’Connell of Fordham, and Eugene TeSelle of Vanderbilt. The book includes an extensive “Story of an Encounter”—an account of what the essayists and twenty other scholars actually said during two days of intensive exchange—written by John Muether.) Here is a taste of Babcock’s argument, an argument that we find entirely persuasive.
Augustine does not use cupiditas and caritas to distinguish lust from love; he uses them to distinguish two loves. Both count as amor. The point is critical if we are to understand Augustine properly. Cupiditas is not a yielding to blind lust. It is human love seeking fulfillment “happiness” in a sphere that does not and cannot provide fulfillment, the sphere of mortal and transitory things. Since these things are subject to loss, they leave us vulnerable to loss and our love for them unavoidably tinged with fear. The social consequence . . . is that person is set against person, each perceiving the other as a threat to self; and the personal consequence is a demeaning of the self. Augustine’s cupiditas is not mere lust. It is a rendering of the hopeless fragility and desperate outcome (both for self and for society) of love’s search for fulfillment where fulfillment cannot be found. Certainly this love is flawed, morally, as ‘the root of all evil’; but it is to be understood, all the same, as nothing less than love: love loving the wrong thing and thus love entangled in the web of unhappiness that it has spun for itself.
Caritas, too, is a rendering of love, a love no less intensely passionate than cupiditas. In this case, of course, love seeks fulfillment where it can be found. Its object is not subject to loss; and its love, therefore, is untouched by fear. What is distinctively human—the soul with its capacities to think, to reason, to know—is not demeaned, but brought out of its emotive subjection to lesser things and realized in its full value: knowing is the mode in which this love attains it object. And this love does not set person against person, but rather joins person with person in the common bond of shared love for a shared object. Thus caritas is distinguished from cupiditas as love fulfilled from love unfulfilled, not by any diminishment of passion or of pleasure. In fact, just because caritas is love seeking and attaining the object that does afford human happiness, it would be more than strange if it lacked all intensity in its seeking and all pleasure in its attainment.
“If we do not see, then, that Augustine converted the question of happiness into a question of two loves—two loves differentiated, not first in the lover, but first by the loved—we are in danger of misconstruing what he meant both by cupiditas and by caritas, and we are in danger, too, of misconstruing the cultural and theological tradition within which we still largely, if often unwittingly, delineate our own notions of human love and human happiness, for that tradition was decisively shaped by Augustine and the Augustinian view of love.”
Augustine Today is edited by your scribe, and he is confident that you will not regret giving it careful attention.
A Logic Extended
Jenny Teichman takes Peter Singer to task in the pages of The New Criterion, and Mr. Singer certainly invites being taken to task. He is an Australian who has popularized the notion of “speciesism”—meaning the moral judgment that human beings count more than, say, piglets or puppies. In Germany, Mr. Singer has been disinvited from conferences and prevented from speaking on several occasions. He has complained about this at length in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere. It has become a minor cause celebre for people who take it to be an issue of academic freedom. But it seems the Germans think they have heard Mr. Singer’s doctrines before, and they led to most unfortunate consequences.
Ms. Teichman abhors Singer’s condoning of infanticide and euthanasia, along with his general program of “deprivileging” the human species. She thinks the best term for Singer and his like is “personist.” By that she means this: “Note that in ordinary life the word ‘person’ is strongly humanistic. Outside philosophy and religion its meaning is governed by the fact that its extension is in practice the same as the extension of the term ‘human being.’ In other words, in ordinary life ‘person’ and ‘human being’ refer to the same things. For this reason the ordinary sense of the word ‘person’ does not, indeed cannot, detach moral import from the concept of the human. The case is otherwise with the Singerian view of personhood, because when Singer draws his distinction between human beings and persons he carefully detaches moral import from his idea of the human and transfers it to his idea of the person.” In the ethics of Peter Singer, Teichman writes, “person” is an honorific term.
One can agree with Teichman’s criticism of Singer wholeheartedly while still raising a problem or two. We hope that “personist” does not find currency, since it is easily confused with “personalist,” a philosophy associated with some of the greatest champions of the sanctity of human life, notably by Pope John Paul II. Second, we very much wish Ms. Teichman were right in suggesting that there is something novel in the separation of “person” from the human. That separation, far from originating with Peter Singer, is the very key to the argument for the abortion liberty in, for instance, Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions. Singer and those of like mind simply extend the logic of Roe somewhat further. But they are faithful to the logic. As fine as Ms. Teichman’s article is, one is always a little surprised when very sensible people discuss these questions in a manner that ignores the reality and rationale of abortion.
Pop Culture and Tyranny
“Unless we improve the tone and quality of our own democratic culture, we may end up helping the nations of Central and Eastern Europe move from tyranny to decadence with no redeeming interval in between.” That is Ervin Duggan, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, giving some good answers to good questions asked in an interview with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Can’t the government clamp down on some of the smuttiest smut being broadcast? Duggan responds: “I believe that government should have laws against obscenity, although it seems difficult to find a jury these days that’s willing to judge anything obscene. And I support the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement standard that levies occasional fines on broadcast indecency. But we need to realize that when the general level of taste and morality breaks down in the society, government is hardly the agency to cure the problem. The police are occasionally called to quell family disputes and break up marital squabbles, but we don’t think of the police as marriage counselors or the source of the values that inform family life. The problem is more a problem of ethics and morals than of law.”
Is censorship today a real threat to American freedom? Duggan: “I suspect that the level of censorious sentiment is lower today that ever before, and that the strength of would-be censors less than ever. A useful question to ask, I think, is, ‘What is the real wolf at our door?’ In today’s popular culture, it seems to me that the real wolf at the door is not censorship; a look at Phil Donahue or Oprah is proof that uninhibited free speech is alive and kicking in this country. The real wolves at the door today, in my judgment, are a pornographic concept of sex that robs adults of romance and children of innocence; a pornographic approach to violence that relishes gore and may even promote violent behavior—and finally, a general, in-your-face tastelessness that coarsens social life and robs it of beauty, civility, and elegance. But again, the answer is not the blunt instrument of censorship; it’s a positive effort to promote what is good and true and beautiful.”
Isn’t positive change really up to parents? Says Duggan: “I’m not about to blame parents, who are beleagured and without much help. A generation ago parents could depend on the popular culture to support and reinforce their moral values. Now they can’t. A generation ago, parents (typically the mother) had more choice about whether they would work outside or inside the home. Now they don’t; many who would like to be at home when their kids come home from school can’t afford to be. A generation ago, I suspect, more families lived closer to grandparents and relatives than they do now. So children are unconnected, turned loose, exposed to a relentless and invasive televised onslaught—and parents are told, by the very people who are concocting the swill, that they need to exercise more ‘control.’ To tell parents that parental ‘control’ is the only answer is unimaginative—like saying that gas masks are the only answer to air pollution, or that bulletproof vests are the only answer to drive-by shootings.”
It may seem only a few years ago that “open marriages,” “spouse swapping,” and “no-fault divorce” were touted as marks of liberation and progress. In fact, those ideas and the behaviors they spawned have been with us for three decades and the returns are now in. The consequences are disastrous, especially for children and women. The proverbial pendulum is now arching its way toward the commonsensical truths that children need stable, two-parent families, and women deserve protection from the predatory ways of too many men. These truths are receiving increasing attention in the academic literature, but the change among scholars is still hesitant and much disputed, since intellectuals have a vested interest in perpetually complexifying the obvious.
Not so with syndicated columnist and committed Christian Michael J. McManus. He goes directly to the heart of things in Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Stay Married (Zondervan, $15.99 cloth, $9.99 paper). McManus presents persuasive evidence that 80 percent or more of even the most troubled marriages can be saved—and he gives very specific steps (steps actually used in the churches and families he describes) toward that end. The author is strongly and rightly critical of churches that bless unions without accepting responsibility for what happens before and after the wedding. Himself a Protestant, McManus suggests that Protestant churches that have turned themselves into “wedding factories” have a lot to learn from the marriage preparation and renewal programs sponsored by the Catholic Church.
While his main attention is on the local church and the family, McManus recognizes that divorce, abandonment, and the pervasive weakening of familial bonds constitute a public crisis that requires a rethinking of relevant public policies. He notes that present law permits a man to abandon his wife and family, run off with a secretary, force the sale of a family home so he can get half of its value, and then avoid alimony and even child support. McManus comes up with an idea that will undoubtedly meet opposition but is worth thinking about. Perhaps couples should be allowed to choose either a “Marriage of Compatibility” or a “Marriage of Commitment.” In the latter, neither can divorce unless one party can prove that the other party broke the marital covenant by adultery or desertion. He further proposes that women divorced after long-term marriages deserve alimony until they die or remarry. California took this approach, and the number of divorces is dropping. McManus also asks us to think about the wisdom of having the IRS collect child support, much in the way that that agency now collects taxes.
It is not chiefly for its public policy proposals, however, that Marriage Savers is a book for our time. It is its unblinking account of what is happening to marriages and families and its straightforwardly practical remedies that make this book such a compelling call for churches and couples to get serious about the solemn and sacred adventure that is marriage. Those who just want a wedding without preparing themselves for the commitments of marriage—priests, pastors, and rabbis should have the confidence and honesty to say—can always go to the Justice of the Peace. Where there is such confidence and honesty on the part of clergy, McManus contends, the impact on marriage and divorce is dramatic.
Those critics are right who say that conservatism was for several decades held together by opposition to communism. Mark C. Henrie, a Harvard graduate student of political theory and valued contributor to this journal, does not hesitate to admit it. He writes in The Intercollegiate Review: “If, as Carl Schmitt once argued, politics is a matter of finding enemies, then the conservatives were particularly astute at seeing the real enemy of our time, while liberals, blinded ideologically to enemies on the left, simply ‘missed’ the major threat to peace, public liberty, and private virtue in the second half of this century.” That is a lot to miss, but, of course, communism is no longer a politically available enemy. Communism, Henrie jons others in suggesting, was but one form—albeit an awesomely bloody form—of the real enemy.
The real enemy since the French Revolution has been a particular doctrine and practice regarding the sovereignty of the state. The threat that conservatives resist is posed by the centralized and “rationalized” state that claims a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of coercion, “a claim which expanded imperceptibly to a tacitly presumed monopoly of social authority, tout court.” This all- encompassing notion of sovereignty can take both authoritarian and democratic forms; it is sometimes viewed as leftist, sometimes as rightist. Henrie joins Robert Nisbet (Conservatism: Dream and Reality) in arguing that, while it sounds impossibly paradoxical to many Americans, “the power of the state in our lives has risen hand in hand with the rise of the individual ‘rights’ about which we are so proud.” Increasing state power and increasing individual “freedom” can work together quite nicely. That is because the rights that are “recognized” by the modern liberal state are not so much rights against the state as they are rights against other communities that used to have a measure of social authority. Marriage, family, church, for examples.
Conservatives are right to contend against “big government,” says Henrie, but they frequently do so in a way that inadvertently increases the sway of government. Come again? Here is how Henrie explains it: “What American conservatives largely have failed to see is that the advance of the negative liberties and the protection of a ‘private’ realm have often operated not to the advantage of real liberty, but rather to the advantage of the state’s monopoly on ‘coercion,’ which now is the only meaning of ‘authority’ once all alternatives have been delegitimized. The implications of this analysis are plain: the natural rights of the social contract tradition, to which American conservatives have often repaired in their attempt to limit the gigantism of the state, ultimately serve to strengthen the hand of the liberal state. Thus, a conservatism that celebrates individual liberties only accelerates liberal totalism. We have most clearly experienced this emerging totalism in the oft-heard lament that ‘everything is becoming politics,’ from education to morality to relations between the sexes. Such politicization is an inevitable result of the manner in which American liberalism conceives of the ‘public-private’ distinction. That is, in protecting only a certain understanding of privacy, and doing so by advancing a doctrine of politically administered individual rights, a uniform politicization of all spheres of human interest occurs. Thus, all human relations begin to resemble the relations of the political sphere, and these relations in turn are modelled on the contracts of the marketplace, for significantly, the preeminent Lockean rights are the rights of private property and economic freedom.”
Henrie urges conservatives to be the reforming party by accenting authentic diversity and pluralism in society. This against the ersatz diversity of the current champions of “diversity” and “inclusivity” who employ the power of the state to eliminate the differences that really make a difference. The constitutionally protected freedom of association, Henrie suggests, is a communal right (he does not use the term) that has been much neglected. In the university and other institutions, the need is to create and protect space for diversity. Groups that are “equally open” to everyone cannot, by definition, be distinctive. They must be the same as every other group, they must fit into the homogenizing dynamics of “liberal totalism.” “Human goods such as community, solidarity, and indeed, even eccentricity, which are threatened in the process of homogenization, are what conservatives ultimately must be about ‘conserving,’” says Henrie.
It is, as we say, a bracing article. Even if Henrie’s sympathy for the Southern Agrarians—“perhaps the most genuine conservatives America has yet produced”—leads him to indulge in a little capitalist-bashing and fear that free trade between nations will lead to exporting the less attractive features of American liberalism. (Many leftists might agree with Henrie on the last point, although they speak in terms of American “imperialism.”) A further weakness in the argument is the failure to explain that the apotheosis of the sovereignty of the state can only be countered by the claims of another, and higher, sovereignty. Henrie writes: “Yet only if our families, churches, and other associations mean something to us, indeed become part of us, will a defense of them in public policy be plausible. Living ‘conservatively’”living generously within our concrete contexts—always has priority over any political or ideological project.”
What these associations “mean” to us is important, but the proponents of the kind of liberal totalism criticized by Henrie readily respond that these are our private and individual feelings (although private and individual feelings about public and communal realities), and they must not be permitted to get in the way of public (meaning state) purposes. The pretensions and power of the state can only be checked by the public assertion of a rival and superior sovereignty. Henrie clearly understands that the assertion of the Sovereign Self does not check, but ends up by abetting, the expansionist state. Only religion, it seems, has the public purchase and a coherent conceptual claim that can challenge the state. That claim is the sovereignty of God—as in “one nation under God.” The respect demanded for the resulting communities—whether the Church or an elect people bound by Torah—is not a demand made simply by individuals to whom these communities “mean” a great deal. These are not communities formed by individuals exercising their associational rights, but communities constituted by Sovereign Authority. These are not communities of our creation, indeed they are not ours at all. They were there before us and they will be there after us. We are simply called to obedience to the truth by which they are constituted.
Because he is a serious Catholic, we doubt that Henrie disagrees with this addendum to his fine article. But it is a necessary addendum. Without it, assertions of associational freedom—whether such assertions be called conservative or something else—have no firm place to stand, socially or conceptually. Associational freedom that is premised upon individual rights serves the doctrine of the sovereign self, which inevitably ends up serving the ambitions of the sovereign state to control both the individual and his associations. To be sure, some will protest that sovereignty means sovereignty; that if sovereignty is divided, or checked by another sovereignty, it is not sovereignty at all. If that all-or-nothing definition of sovereignty is the only one available to us, then we have no choice but to say that the state is not sovereign.
Every time Christians say “Christ is Lord,” they are saying that the state is not sovereign. Not finally. And, if “not finally sovereign” means not sovereign at all, then the state is not sovereign at all. In fact, however, we can, with the founders of this constitutional order, understand sovereignty in a more limited sense. Politically and legally, decisions about the modest tasks assigned to the state are made by its rules. The decision that this is the way things should be is, at least in theory, made by the sovereignty of “We the People.” And, at least in this society, most people acknowledge a sovereignty above themselves, and certainly above their own creature, the state. Admittedly, this understanding of sovereignty has fallen upon hard times in our courts and legislatures. The dynamics of state power today work hand in hand with inflated claims of individual rights to break out of any limits imposed upon the state’s claim to sovereignty. This is a particular way, a very American way, taken by a universal temptation of power. The temptation, of course, is to aspire to being God. The consequent idolatry can only be subverted by those who know that God is God, and who have the courage and ability to effectively assert that truth in public. And even then the idolatry may prevail, for a time.
Those of a certain age will remember when numerous books of religious and theological significance bore the imprint of Harper & Row. What is now HarperCollins (San Francisco) is something else. For at least a couple of years, it seems, its thick catalogue offers little but the detritus of spiritual and cultural decay. The current catalogue has just come across our desk. It is chock full of New Age, fatuously bouncy self-help, the unvarnished egoism of self-esteem, the occult, radical feminist ravings, gay advocacy whinings, and related effluents of ruined souls. Then there is a new book by John Shelby Spong, the Episcopalian bad boy who has previously published his discoveries that sexual sins are fun and that the Virgin Mary was . . . well, no need to get into that.
In more curmudgeonly moments we refer to him as Bishop Sponge, so uncritically does he soak up whatever comes down the toxic cultural stream. The new book is Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop Rethinks the Origins of Christianity. Being familiar with the bishop’s earlier “rethinkings,” one may reasonably predict that his answer to the subtitle’s question is that the resurrection is a myth, but it is a very meaningful myth and is therefore filled with reality. Or something like that. Perhaps we are wrong. We hope so. But the bishop’s efforts to date do not instill confidence. The description of the new book says that it aims “to make Christianity relevant and credible to today’s spiritual seekers.” Yes, people still say things like that, at least at HarperCollins.
The reality that struck us while examining the current catalogue is that Spong’s is probably the most theologically weighty new book on offer. Compared with the others advertised, John Shelby Spong looks like a veritable Karl Barth or Hans Urs von Balthasar. Our business manager will likely be unhappy with this item. “Why should we advertise in a journal that attacks us?” That was the question put to him by another publisher about whose activities we were not entirely flattering. Don’t worry, Rich. At HarperCollins they probably never heard of Barth or von Balthasar and they may well take the whole thing as a compliment.
While We’re At It
In her generally persuasive tome, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard University Press), Liah Greenfeld examines the history of five nations that have been and are nations in quite different ways—England, France, Russia, Germany, and America. In almost 500 pages, Greenfeld throws out many enticing asides, including this one: “It would be a strong statement, but no overstatement, to say that the world in which we live was brought into being by vanity. The role of vanity—or desire for status—in social transformation has been largely underestimated, and greed or will to power are commonly regarded as its mainsprings. In all the five cases in this book, however, the emergence of nationalism was related to preoccupation with status. The English aristocracy sought to justify it; the French and the Russian nobility—to protect it; the German intellectuals —to achieve it. Even for the materialistic Americans, taxation without representation was an insult to their pride more than an injury to their economic interests. They fought—and became a nation—over respect due to them, rather than anything else.” In a time when nationalism is demonstrating a new vibrancy—sometimes vicious and sometimes benign—Greenfeld is required reading. She is determinedly realistic about what drives men to action while not indulging in cheap debunking of the ideas and ideals that they profess.
• In discussions of religion and society, “cultural accommodation” is usually thought to be a very dubious way to go. Not for Albert Borgmann, the author of Crossing the Postmodern Divide, now out from the University of Chicago Press. He concludes that the Episcopal cathedral in New York, St. John the Divine, is the very model of where we ought to be going. As the cathedral’s dean, James Morton, is fond of saying, the church’s mission is to host and nurture the “carnival” of contemporary culture. Borgmann writes: “Some Christians may feel misunderstood when their endeavors are assimilated to social justice and their sanctuaries to the cultural heritage. The renewal of Roman Catholicism in this country, at any rate, depends on whether it comes to terms with democratic equality and contemporary culture. This is what the postmodern spirit, the holy spirit, calls us to do.” Mr. Borgmann’s zealotry for the Zeitgeist apparently knows no bounds. It is a zealotry widely shared but usually not so bluntly stated. In Paul Moore, the former New York bishop, the author descries “the embodiment of what this country can be, a person of Brahmin features and heritage who became a spokesman for the poor and powerless, who opened the Church to them, and who embraced the women, the minorities, the homosexuals.” Setting aside the question of whom Bishop Moore may have embraced, Borgmann is undoubtedly right in saying that he and St. John the Divine represent what this country could become, perhaps is becoming, in obedience to the “holy spirit” of this moment in our cultural convulsions.
• It was at a conference of patristic scholars and the subject turned to current agitations about gay and lesbian rights and the views of the early church fathers on homosexuality. David Wright, then at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, contributed this illuminating passage from the sayings of the desert monks. It seems that Satan had come to tempt a monk and knocked on the door of his cell. A comely boy answered the door, and Satan said, “Ah, since you are here there is no need for me.”
• Although confined to a wheelchair, Bill Bolte, president of Barrier Busters, is a very active proponent of the rights of the handicapped. He had this to say in USA Today: “The craziest thing I ever heard is that suicide is the newest right, as though the Founding Fathers made a mistake by not putting it in the Bill of Rights or FDR slipped up by not making it one of the four freedoms. Choice is becoming a code word for the powerful eliminating the powerless. It is their choice to make their lives more comfortable by making the lives of others end or become so unlivable that they are easily persuaded to accept the final act of charity (short though it is) of being killed.”
• The Moral Sense by James Q. Wilson (Free Press) is an important book and has received major attention in these pages. Sociologist Alan Wolfe of Boston University reviews it in The New Republic, noting that Wilson places a heavy emphasis on the importance of bonding between mother and child. Wolfe isn’t buying. He writes, “The concept of bonding as it has evolved among scientists has dropped the mother as the necessary adhesive to her own infant. There may be general agreement that bonding is a good thing. There is no general agreement that bonding between a specific mother and a specific child is the only way to achieve it.” Uh huh. Wolfe thinks social scientist Wilson relies too much on science. “It is a shame that, in this book, he ventures far from his expertise, in search of a certainty that, he believes, science can provide. Yet moral certainty is not, and must not be, the same thing as scientific certainty. All the sciences, physical and social, can tell us much about the world, but none of them can tell us the proper way to live in it.” As we read The Moral Sense, Wilson is not after certainty. He does think that there is powerful evidence for the existence of something like “human nature”; he does conclude that human nature is endowed with certain moral “dispositions”; and he does suggest that we can derive some clues about the oughtness of things from the isness of things. The substance of Mr. Wolfe’s review is that he seems to disagree on all these scores. The simple assertion of disagreement does not do much to advance the discussion.
• Stupid us. In the November issue we quoted some fine words by Father Zen Er-jwun on Christian martyrdom. We referred to him as Father Er-jwun when, of course, Zen is the family name. While his friends may call him Father Er-jwun, we’ve never met the man, and so apologize.
• From Wheaton College, Alan Jacobs writes in with this prediction: “When you think about all the people who are devoting their lives to sundry Adult Children groups, meditating on all the wrongs that their parents did them, one must wonder what is happening to their children. How much time can they give to child rearing when they can’t stop talking and thinking about their own ‘codependency’? It is reasonable to think that thirty years from now there will be only one such group: Adult Children of Adult Children.”
• As noted earlier, the oldline churches in Canada, led by the United Church of Canada, strongly opposed the idea that “single-faith” enterprises should be given broadcasting licenses. They feared “an invasion by American televangelists,” and maybe not without reason. But now the greatly expanded number of channels has prompted the government to allow such licensing. The pervasive Canadian anxiety about American influence is evident in the new regulations that prescribe a heavy “Canadian content.” The “ecumenical” double-faith and multi-faith broadcasters are nervously monitoring the impact of the new rules that threaten to facilitate the free exercise of religion for folk with only one religion.
• The New York Law Journal carries an extensive article on a study commissioned by the New York Bar Association. It is titled, “Gay Lawyers Report on Workplace Bias.” The gist of the report is that, wouldn’t you know it, there is a lot of bias. The interesting thing is that the gay and lesbian movement has regularly denied that its goal is to get affirmative action and quotas for homosexuals. Yet in this study the way is prepared for exactly those measures. Questions asked include, “Are you aware of any effort on your employer’s part to actively recruit gays and lesbians?” “Has your workplace adopted express goals and timetables for hiring and promoting gays and lesbians?” Since these and similar questions were overwhelmingly answered in the negative, the report concludes that the legal profession in New York is riddled with “bias.” So much for the claim that gay activists simply want to be “accepted” and “treated like everyone else.”
• Despite two decades of the legalization of abortion on demand, the “procedure” has not been securely normalized within the American medical profession. Project Choice, a Texas organization, sent a questionnaire to 961 abortionists in January 1993, and here are the results. Sixty-nine percent say they are not respected in the medical community. Sixty-five percent feel ostracized because they perform abortions. Almost one in five have been denied hospital privileges. Almost half have had problems recruiting or keeping nurses or other staff because they perform abortions. Sixty-four percent say that performing abortions causes a negative impact on the non-abortion part of their practice. Almost 80 percent say that pro-choice organizations and politicians are not doing enough to support them. Thirty-eight percent express moral misgivings about the abortion procedure. Eighty-seven percent say they have been the victims of anti-abortion harassment or violence.
• Many question whether the Jewish-Christian dialogue has any purpose, or at least any good purpose. The detractors of the dialogue, says Eugene Fisher of the U.S. Catholic Conference, are both Jewish and Christian and what they have in common is at least this: (1) they have almost no practical experience with the dialogue; (2) they have a social or political agenda that they think the dialogue should serve. “But dialogue, properly understood, cannot be a means to any end beyond itself,” writes Fisher. “For, by definition, it is ordered to the deepening of the relationship of meaning, trust, and understanding between the parties in dialogue.” Rabbi Leon Klenicki of the Anti- Defamation League, responding to Fisher, quotes the words of Will Herberg, words as striking today as when they were written forty years ago. Herberg, we hope it will be remembered, was the author of Protestant, Catholic, Jew and personally exemplified Jewish dialogue with Christianity, including engagement with such notable figures as Reinhold Niebuhr. He wrote: “Yes, each needs the other: Judaism needs Christianity and Christianity needs Judaism. The vocation of both can be defined in common terms: to bear witness to the living God amidst the idolatries of the world. But, since the emergence of the Church, and through the emergence of the Church, this vocation has, as it were, been split in two parts. The Jew fulfills his vocation by ‘staying with God,’ ‘giving the world no rest so long as the world has not God’—to recall Jacques Maritain’s unforgettable phrase. The Christian can fulfill his vocation only by ‘going out’ to conquer the world for God. The Jew’s vocation is to ‘stand,’ the Christian’s to ‘go out’—both in the same cause of the kingdom of God. Judaism and Christianity thus represent one faith expressed in two religions—Judaism facing inward to the Jews, and Christianity facing outward to the Gentiles, who, through it, are brought to the God, and under the covenant, of Israel, and therefore cease to be Gentiles in the proper sense of the term. This is the unity of Judaism and Christianity, and this is why a Jew is able to see and acknowledge Jesus in his uniqueness as the way to the Father.” Not all Christians and not all Jews will agree with Herberg, but it is a way of understanding that warrants the reflection that it provokes.
• At first glance, it appeared that our Eastern Orthodox friends were going the way of all liberal flesh. A brochure from St. Vladimir’s Press announces: “For the first time ever, English-speaking Orthodox Christians have a Bible written from an Orthodox perspective.” The Bible is being rewritten from so many other perspectives, why complain if the Orthodox get in on the game? But we had rather expected more of them. They do, after all, make a point of being orthodox. As it turns out, the brochure promoting The Orthodox Study Bible meant to say that the study guides are written from an Orthodox perspective. Fair enough.
• Everybody who writes much, and especially those of us who write too much, gets asked from time to time, Who have been the great influences on your thinking? Your scribe is eager to acknowledge his debts to a host of thinkers who have personally graced his life, including such as Richard Caemmerer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Joseph Ratzinger, and Alexander Schmemann. But any such listing runs the risk of unfairly leaving people out, for it seems that life has been one sustained and intensive conversation with thinkers from whom one has learned more than he is aware, and therefore more than he can acknowledge. Near the top of the list, however, if not at the very top, would have to be Arthur Carl Piepkorn. A Lutheran scholar of immense erudition, Piepkorn, who died in 1973, was for many years professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, this writer’s alma mater. He was, among his many other achievements, a pioneer and major inspiration of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic theological dialogue. The intention of Lutheranism, Piepkorn taught, was to be a confessional movement within and for the Church of the West. Lutheranism became a separated church by accident and by what were perceived to be the theological and political necessities of the sixteenth century. Some students of Piepkorn, including this writer, subsequently became Roman Catholics, while most continue to strive within Lutheranism to turn that movement toward its constituting intention. To understand Piepkorn is to understand, in large part, the crisis of Protestantism at the edge of a new millennium—or at least those parts of Protestantism that claim the legacy of the sixteenth century Reformation. It is therefore with particular satisfaction that one notes the appearance of a new book, The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn (304 pp. $15). Edited and introduced by Michael Plekon and William Wiecher, and carrying an afterword by this writer, the book is published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, P.O. Box 327, Delhi, NY 13753.