Heated Debate Over Climate
Marcuse had it right—science is no neutral arbiter of truth. That goes for the scientist arguing that humans are a major force in global warming and those who argue they aren’t. Thomas Derr (“The Politics of Global Warming,” August/September) illustrates this when he says, “it almost seems as if the issue is not in science but in ideology and social psychology.”
This being said, even politics pushes up against and responds to reality. No one dreamed up the threat of terrorism one day (though there are those who believe someone did), and no one just decided on a whim that human beings must be contributing to global warming (though there are those who believe someone did). There is substantial evidence that human activity has created or intensified a trend like no other in our history. The majority of climate scientists agree with this. Derr’s dissenters are called dissenters for a reason.
This is not to say that the dissenters might not be right. But a look at the history of science makes this possibility doubtful. Sound arguments and insights are more often than not welcomed in the history of science. I doubt that the global-warming dissenters are our Galileos. Galileo was dangerous to the powers of his day because his ideas were accepted so quickly and widely.
Even so, science is a very slow guide to action. It is always revising itself and questioning old research. This fact makes it a valuable way at getting to certain truths and a lousy way to supply the information needed for clear public-policy decisions. What we need instead is a kind of Pascalian wager on the question of global warming.
We must ask, “What if there really is a global-warming catastrophe on the horizon?” Inaction now could have disastrous effects that would create many crises, both economic and natural. On the other hand, what is the worst thing that would happen if we acted as though there really is a catastrophe and then discover there isn’t? We would get away from the very dumb energy of fossil fuels. We would reduce the ground-level ozone pollution that creates respiratory problems for many. Women and children might be able to eat fish freely again, once the mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants subsides. In response to the need for new technologies and energy, many new industries would spur economic growth and provide many new jobs. (This is already happening as Silicon Valley sets its eyes on the green frontier.) Derr’s claim that we would be pushed back to the dark ages is ludicrous, unimaginative, and greatly underestimates the human ability to innovate in the face of a challenge.
Derr seems to think that those who dissent from the scientific majority are being unfairly excluded from that community when their papers are rejected from the journals of record. This is a claim one often hears from those in the minority—“My paper was rejected because it was too radical.” I used to make these claims when I didn’t get the grade I thought I deserved as a freshman in college. I now realize that my papers didn’t make the grade because they weren’t good. I imagine this is often the case with Derr’s dissenters. The burden is on them. We should hear them out, but they better have a good argument to merit our attention. The whinings of minority politics and the appeals for balance (which has never been a scientific virtue) aren’t going to cut it.
Ragan K. Sutterfield
While the article on “The Politics of Global Warming” by Thomas Sieger Derr was interesting and informative, there is one glaring error that needs to be corrected. On the second page, he cites the serious consequences of the ash cloud thrown up by volcanic eruptions as evidence that “perhaps there is something to the greenhouse gas theory.” This is flat-out wrong. As every meteorologist knows, volcanic ash clouds produce a cooling effect on the earth by blocking the incoming shortwave solar radiation, whereas greenhouse gases tend to reflect earthward the longwave radiation emitted by the earth and atmosphere, thus creating a warming effect. These are two entirely separate phenomena, and the action of the former in no way lends support for any thesis regarding the latter. Certainly he is correct to note that atmospheric emissions can affect climate, but he has chosen an inappropriate example with which to buttress his point.
Lindenhurst, New York
Prof. Derr asks, “So what’s going on?” Indeed. His article catalogues a series of doubts but never attempts to answer that question. The press has run stories lately that the “denial machine” is losing the argument on logical and evidentiary grounds—and if this is not the case, as Derr would say, then what is going on? If solar effects are the simple answer to the climate debate, and the good professor can lay the matter to rest in 2,400 words, then what is all the ruckus about? What has blinded Timothy George, a member of First Things’ editorial board, and the other signatories to initiatives such as “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action”? What would cause Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton, to say: “We have not paid as much attention to climate change as we should, and that’s why I’m willing to step up. The evangelical community is quite capable of having some blind spots, and my take is this has fallen into that category”? Is it an instance of well-meaning but foolhardy Christians trying to curry favor, perhaps to stay in fashion intellectually? If not, then what? That would have been an interesting article.
Ewing, New Jersey
I would like to thank Prof. Derr for his article. Having experienced the frightening aspects of a nation in the ban of a blind ideology that permitted no dissenting opinions, I find the present fear-based climate-change propaganda very disturbing. It will take clear arguments as presented by Derr to prevent our nation from sliding into a climate-change McCarthyism.
Human progress was achieved through a fair exchange of opposite ideas from which rational conclusions can evolve. Derr’s excellent article is the right antidote to the global-warming emotionalism of Mr. Gore and his allies. The knowledge obtained in recent decades about the immense energies of the universe should make us aware that the conditions on our planet are to a much greater degree dependent on the impact of universal forces than what humans could ever produce.
John H. Egbers
Thomas Derr replies:
Mr. Sutterfield touches on several points, including the benefits of escaping from our dependency on fossil fuels, which I also endorsed in my article. He celebrates the possible economic benefits of green technology and accuses me (with some sharp and impolite adjectives) of claiming that large-scale warming abatement would push us back to the dark ages. I did not say that, only that the 60-80 percent reduction in fossil-fuel use required to stabilize so-called greenhouse emissions would be economically disastrous, especially for poor nations trying to climb out of poverty (as they are saying so forcefully). That’s a point generally accepted by economists, I believe. I do think he is correct in expecting technological breakthroughs, but in that respect he parts company with that large segment of environmentalists who have consistently warned us against relying on a “technological fix” to our predicament—as they see it.
The core of Sutterfield’s letter is what is widely known as the “precautionary principle,” though he does not use the term. The argument is that because the potential effects of global warming would be so disastrous we had better take extreme measures now to stop it, just in case the alarmists are right. But, like any insurance, the trick is to match the cost—the premium—to the risk. Given the deliberately exaggerated catastrophic scenarios of the alarmists, and the unlikelihood that any of these will come to pass, it would be a major stretch to wreck the world’s economy and condemn the poor in an almost certainly vain attempt to change natural cycles. Far better to spend our environmental dollars on things we can affect, like pollution control and alternative-energy sources.
He finishes his letter with insults to the distinguished scientists who dissent from the anthropogenic global-warming (AGW) thesis. The more I learn about how peer review actually operates and what it means, and how United Nations bodies such as the IPCC really work, the less confidence I have that truth is established by majority vote—certainly not in science. People who dissent from the results are not automatically inferior beings. Among them are serious, well-credentialed, respected scientists, not unlettered freshmen whining about their grades, a demeaning analogy.
To Mr. Sauer I would say that my comment on volcanic ash was not in error, though perhaps I could have chosen a better example, like an El Niño surge. Of course I know—everyone does—that eruptions have a cooling effect. See the famous “year without a summer,” 1816, and the effects of Mt. Pinatubo’s blow-up in 1991. In any case, all I meant—and all I said—was that terrestrial events can affect the climate, and so the worries of the global-warming alarmists are at least worth serious consideration.
Mr. Johnson says I didn’t answer my question “What’s going on?” But I did: It’s the sun, and there are many, many articles, more all the time, that say so, in some detail. That some evangelical leaders (and even a Nobel Prize committee) have signed on to the AGW thesis is not relevant to its truth or falsity.
Finally, my thanks to Mr. Egbers for his kind words and especially for his reminder of the power of natural forces. The global-warming alarm finally founders, I think, on the stubborn fact of indisputable climate swings of natural origin, a point that none of my critics acknowledges.
Though Algis Valiunas’ overview of Victor Hugo’s life and work (“The Sacred Heart of Victor Hugo,” August/September) made for an entertaining romp, one statement therein should not go unchallenged. Valiunas lists Balzac among nineteenth-century authors “soaked . . . in skepticism or even nihilism,” while he includes Victor Hugo among those who “upheld the old godly truths.” Balzac’s personal life was admittedly a mess—a problem he shared with other French Catholic writers of the Romantic era, including Chateaubriand, Mme. De Staël, and Barbey d’Aurevilly. But Balzac had a profoundly Catholic sensibility, perhaps best exemplified in his novel Le Curé de Village, which Balzac described as “the application of Catholic repentance to civilization” and in which critics have seen a forerunner of both Dostoevsky and Bernanos.
There was something of Old Catholic France in Balzac, something almost medieval; but Hugo was a true modern. When it suited him, Hugo could make use of the old religious symbols, but only as a way to express the new religion of self-worship. And his hatred of Catholicism was almost Voltairean in its intensity. Valiunas mentions without comment Quatrevingt-treize, Hugo’s 1874 novel about the French Revolution. That novel is a vicious bit of propaganda that paints priests loyal to Rome as cynical manipulators of the ignorant masses and, in a disgustingly racist portrayal, presents as literally subhuman the heroic Breton guerrillas (Les Chouans) who rebelled against the revolutionary Terror in defense of the Catholic Church. Hugo goes so far as to make heroes of the revolutionary “infernal columns” the troops that introduced genocide into modern warfare, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent Catholic men, women, and children in Brittany and the Vendée. It’s rather as if someone were to write a novel today making heroes of the Nazi occupation forces in Poland.
Interestingly, forty-two years before Quatrevingt-treize, Balzac also wrote a novel about the Breton Catholic resistance to the French Revolution, Les Chouans. Though Balzac does not gloss over the faults of the aristocracy and of the Old Regime, he provides a much more well-rounded and human portrayal of the Breton resistance and of this tragic episode in French history.
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
Algis Valiunas replies:
Mr. Hughes begins with a condescending flourish, then rapidly descends into pettifoggery, misrepresentation, and vituperation that verges on the unhinged.
I am not exactly a literary palooka, but I had never even heard of Le Curé de Village; to try to make the case for Balzac as a medieval Catholic on the basis of a book that obscure surely strains credulity. In his acknowledged masterpieces, such as Père Goriot, Lost Illusions, and Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans, Balzac is a far different writer. In Pere Goriot, for instance, the title character says he loves his daughters more than God loves the world and proves it by condoning their adulteries and wishing their husbands dead. The hero, Eugène de Rastignac, who becomes the lover of one of the daughters and is complicit in a murder for hire from which he bails out at the last second but does not stop, is given to the odd outburst of piety. After keeping vigil by Goriot’s deathbed, he cries out, “Oh! Yes, there is a God! And he has made a better world for us, or this earth is blank and meaningless.” That there must be a better world because this one is so bad has never been a cogent argument for God’s goodness or even his existence. In any case, the world Balzac shows here and elsewhere is indeed a blank and meaningless one.
To say as Hughes does that Les Misérables represents “the new religion of self-worship” is flat-out ridiculous, as perhaps only the most tendentious theological-political moralizing can be. There is no literary hero more self-denying than Jean Valjean, and in the name of the faith inculcated in him by the goodness of Bishop Myriel. Hugo might have been anti-Catholic and anticlerical, but the bishop is one of the few convincing saints in modern literature, and Jean Valjean is another.
As for Ninety-three, anyone who knows the novel will recognize Hughes’ description as a slanderous travesty. Humanity, in the sense of humaneness, is the preeminent virtue in that novel, as well as the fount of love. The leader of the Chouans, the Marquis de Lantenac, sacrifices himself to save from a fiery death the children of a woman believed to belong to the Revolutionaries. Of the competing revolutionary impulses—“the republic of terror, and the republic of clemency; the one desirous to conquer by rigor, and the other by mildness”—there is no doubt which one Hugo favors. And, as always in his works, Hugo emphasizes the decency of the persons of no consequence who may not even know who is fighting or why, even as their loved ones are tragically mowed down.
The cause of Catholic literary intellectuals is not helped by die-hard fanatics such as Hughes, who make even the queer theorists and post-colonialists of the left seem sweet and reasonable by comparison.
Reading Prof. Mansfield’s remarkable essay (“How to Understand Politics,” August/September) prompted me to add or underline some points.
1. He focuses his discussion of politics on the notion of thumos. Plato called the intermediary layer of the soul “what resembles thumos.” Why? Some light comes from the playful physiology that parallels Plato’s psychology: The intellect is located in the skull, the desires in the lower belly, the thumos in between, in the chest. My hunch is that Plato took his bearings from a simple fact: What the lungs do—breathe—is the only bodily function that is together instinctive and voluntary. We keep breathing while sleeping, but we can, when awake, hold our breath, take a deep breath, etc. Furthermore, the thumos is not just any way of breathing, but what happens when we are out of breath and keep running all the same, because we would be ashamed to stop. Breathing furnishes thereby a good image of the way in which reason can control desires—a problem that bothered many philosophers, ancient and modern (Hume, Kant).
2. I am no great friend of the adjective important. More often that not, it enables cowards or rascals to evade the issue of “good vs. evil.” An example from academic life: “To be sure, this book is poorly researched, miserably written, and the thesis it defends is obviously dead wrong. But it sold well and triggered a lively discussion. Hence this book, albeit bad, is important. Therefore, I will quote it approvingly, or have it translated in my series, etc.” If the thumos is the sense of importance, importance is important, but it is not what is most important. If my self is the most important thing for me, I still have to learn from elsewhere what to do with it: Both self-indulgence and self-sacrifice presuppose that we have a self and that we know that we have it. In order to shift to the higher gear, we must have access to the good through our soul. Hence, great care is apposite in handling the idea of “importance.” Philosophy teaches us not to consider man as that important in the whole of things. Religion reveals to us that we are important for God because of what God did for us—giving us his law, or redeeming us on the cross—not because of our own achievements.
3. The fecundity of the idea of thumos was seen by C.S. Lewis. In the first chapter of his The Abolition of Man (1943), Lewis, consciously borrowing from Plato, described the human type fostered by some trends in modern education as “men without chests.” He meant men without thumos, beings in which reason and desires face each other but can’t interact. In such beings, reason reduces itself to science and technology; desires are left to themselves and can’t undergo a process of refinement. The most sophisticated kind of reason becomes the slave of the rudest kind of desires. Understanding the thumos involves doing justice to man as such, for animals have desire, and computers some sort of reason. Understanding the political dimension of man enables us to understand the whole of man, man as a whole, unified by thumos.
Harvey C. Mansfield rightly seeks to remind his fellow political scientists that politics is not strictly reducible, in the language of social science, to preferences. A preference suggests a momentary or fleeting interest, a convenient desire that can change as circumstance, time, or place may demand. Mansfield rightly reminds us that politics is about deeper and more fundamental human motivations that liberal democracy has difficulty accounting for, ones that cause us to strive for honor, glory, and victory. These goals cannot be reduced to a set of mere “preferences,” and this contemporary liberal assumption in particular makes it difficult for our social scientists to begin to understand cultures—for example, the culture of Islam, not to mention significant aspects of our own—for which “honor” and “faith” are not mere “preferences.”
Yet, in offering a corrective to the paucity of social-scientific analysis, I believe Mansfield goes too far: In effect, he reduces politics to affairs of thumos, or spiritedness. Politics, he writes, “is about who deserves to be more important”; it is “about what makes you angry”; it is “a series of victories and defeats”; it is about greatness and assertion. Mansfield argues that the greatest exemplar of such political spiritedness is Achilles, a “he-man” who refuses to be ruled by an inferior and who asserts his claim to rule. Yet, in the annals of ancient and modern literature, can there be any character who exemplifies least the necessary virtues of political life than Achilles? Achilles not only refuses to be ruled by Agamemnon; in a rage he threatens to eat Hector’s heart raw, viciously drags his corpse around the city of Troy, and even undertakes to do battle against the river Skamandros, a god and natural force. Achilles is ungovernable by man, nature, and god alike, and above all cannot govern himself.
Aristotle describes the citizen—the Greek word is polites , the “political person”—as one who can practice the art of “ruling and being ruled in turn.” A definition of politics is one-sided if it solely emphasizes, or overemphasizes, the attraction of ruling. For politics to occur there must also be the capacity and ability to submit to rule, whether by another person or, more important, over ourselves. What distinguishes politics from war or violent conflict is this capacity and willingness, at some point, to be ruled. We must come to govern what we crave. Plato understood this: Thumos is a part of the human soul, but a part that must itself be separated from our basest desires and then governed by reason. The well-ordered city and soul is not governed by thumos, but rather thumos aids reason in the governance of our basest desires. A city or soul governed by thumos alone would ultimately be unable to engage in politics and thereby would cease to be a city or cease to be a citizen.
Our modern social scientists leave out any consideration of the most fundamental motivations of the human creature in reducing all politics to mere preference. Mansfield reveals the insufficiency of this understanding of politics by exaggerating the role of thumos in politics. A return to a true political science would rightly account for thumos but also account for the sources of our motivation to overcome and govern our thumotic drive. If thumos represents our inclination to assert our selves, then another motivation must impel us to govern that tendency in our soul. Plato argued that reason must govern thumos and the desires, but he did not adequately explain why thumos—of either the individual or the party—would submit to the weaker rule of reason. What would motivate Achilles to accept the governance of his inferior if such acceptance would contribute to the common good—as surely it would?
This quandary lies at the heart of the problem of politics: locating and encouraging the source of the motivation that gives rise to the willingness on the part of our thumotic assertiveness to take into account considerations of commonweal—in short, that which makes us willing not only to rule but also to “be ruled in turn.” To put this in Christian terms, the problem of politics is the very thing Mansfield seeks to identify as the very definition of politics: pride. To tender an answer in Christian terms, the alternative to pride is humility, particularly the form of humility that arises from an understanding of our individual insufficiency and the falsity of our pride. For a Christian, the source of humility, and its motivating source, is love, the love that we recognize was the ground of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice and his willingness to “empty himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). And so, Paul advises us, we must strive to live in the imitation of Christ by “having the same love . . . do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself.”
Today’s social scientists can no more account for love and humility than they can for pride and thumos. If Mansfield speaks almost wholly of thumos, exaggerating it to be tantamount to the whole of politics, he nevertheless concludes his essay by admitting that “at the end someone might object: Have I left out love? The answer is yes. For now. Love is a further complication.” I would only offer Mansfield a friendly amendment: Love is not a further complication but the way by which we might tame our thumotic pride and, as such, make possible the art and practice of politics and return to a full understanding of political science. Love is not a complication. It is the way to politics and to the art of self-governance.
Patrick J. Deneen
I read with great interest Harvey Mansfield’s Jefferson Lecture on how to understand politics. One of the lecture’s goals is to clarify what one can expect to encounter when entering politics, not to instruct people on how to succeed in politics or on what positions to take on current issues. He thus reminds us of the classic distinction going back to Plato and Aristotle between political action and the study of politics. Another of his points is to suggest that the humanities prepare us better for understanding the nature of political life than do the social sciences. He expresses skepticism about the contributions of the sciences of economics and psychology to our understanding of politics, in particular because he sees the modern social sciences adopting, in principle, an ethically neutral view of human purposes and values, and also an impersonal perspective in which names, personalities, and localities recede into the background in favor of statistical generalizations and impersonal “forces.”
For Mansfield, on the contrary, politics always is suffused with time and place, enacted by agents with proper names, particular persons, and groups pursuing their chosen ends in contingent circumstances, pursuing, as Michael Oakeshott would say, the “intimations” of their situation. The humanities—history and literature, in particular—do not, in their aspirations to universality, neglect but embrace the particular. In politics itself observant people will find themselves led on to ideas of what is good or best for them; there is a philosophical pursuit intimated in the midst of politics, and a sense of what is right or best and where the ranking of goods is unavoidable. Politics itself is an activity that vibrates between the particular and temporal and the universal and eternal. Hence it is natural for some political agents to be led beyond their immediate preoccupations in search of something that is more than mere opinion or material self-interest, and also more than mere statistical generalization. They want to understand, not merely plunge to and fro, distributing things here and there.
The background of all this is Mansfield’s awareness that the modern liberal tradition of the West is preoccupied with the goals of “peace” and “prosperity,” to be achieved by adopting a “cosmopolitan point of view,” trying to make commercial transaction a substitute for violent conflict, pointing to “perpetual peace” on a “global scale.” This form of idealism, he thinks, deceives us as to the ineluctable nature of politics. His Socratic turn is to make the “weaker” argument (the argument not in favor for the past two centuries) “stronger.” He does so by reflecting on what the ancients called “thumos” or “spiritedness,” even “willfulness,” lurking in the soul of every human being.
In a characteristically direct and stark presentation, Mansfield presents the “agonal” nature of politics. Politics is for him a struggle for recognition, the adoption of one’s opinions and goals as opposed to those of others. He speaks of political competition as a zero-sum game. If I win, you lose, and vice versa. I believe he does this in order to invite a reconsideration of the abstract and disembodied character of much of modern political rhetoric. In this respect, he performs a salutary function, reminding us of the realism of the ancients against the abstract idealism of the moderns, inviting a profounder dialogue, potentially a politics that is less moralistic but more sensible.
Yet there are questions that this dialectical gambit must elicit: Is it true that politics must be a zero-sum game? Nowhere in the lecture do we hear about compromise, striking agreements in order precisely to avoid zero-sum conditions, the part of politics involving self-restraint as opposed to self-assertion. Nor do we hear about constitutional restraints or the rule of law, erecting barriers against ourselves, lashing ourselves to the mast against the Sirens’ song. Although Mansfield speaks of the quest for the good in the midst of our particularity, there is no indication that he is other than skeptical about resolving the conflict among competing conceptions of the good. Such competing conceptions of the good may just as well intensify the thumotic ambition for success as calm it. It appears that, for Mansfield, to understand politics is to become a skeptic about politics, especially about politics that aims to transcend politics. Does this lead those who are most thoughtful away from politics onto a different path because the beauty of the eternal things makes one forget the political? Does it permit them to enter politics with a vengeance? Is there inevitable disjointedness at the heart of the human condition? I have no doubt that Mansfield has a lot to say about these troubling matters.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
In his elegant essay “How to Understand Politics,” Harvey Mansfield rightly takes modern political science to task for its reductive view of human nature. Taking its bearings from the natural sciences, modern political science (and rational-choice theory in particular) attempts to explain human action solely in terms of self-interest. Consequently, it excludes the more elusive, spirited dimension of human nature, or what Plato and Aristotle called thumos. By opposing self-interest to thumos, however, Mansfield does an injustice to the Founders and to that seminal work he has done so much to illuminate, The Federalist. Although there is much more to The Federalist's political philosophy than the notion of competing economic interests sketched in Federalist nos. 10 and 51, self-interest is nevertheless a core principle. What’s more, it is vastly superior to the later political science of the progressives, which, taking its cue from evolutionary biology, assumed that men had reached the stage where they could replace self-interest with disinterestedness.
Prof. Mansfield is also correct that no discussion of modern politics would be complete without mentioning Tocqueville. But the Frenchman, too, observed that Americans tended to explain their actions in terms of self-interest well understood. Ultimately, this seemed to require a healthy injection of pride. In the kind of politics Mansfield has in mind, self-interest and thumos are not always at odds, but intertwined. If republican self-government is to endure, men (and is it only men?) must be willing to fight and even die to defend their rights. Mansfield’s essay shows the rich contributions the humanities can make to our understanding of politics, but these should not obscure the insights of an older, more sensible political science that did not run away from considerations of honor and greatness.
Jean M. Yarbrough
In “How to Understand Politics,” Harvey Mansfield challenges the academic profession presumably concerned with understanding politics. Political Science: Dare to revision yourself as Political Philosophy by admitting two terms that will restore to your science the importance of the person, namely thumos and the proper name.
Thumos is a term of central importance to the personal and political psychology of Greek poets and philosophers. It is cognate with our word fume, the boiling ebullience that flares up when a human being is wounded in his self-importance—not his economic or pleasure-seeking self-interest, but his self-respect, his sense of honor. Thumos denotes a human fact that has gotten lost in the homogenized man of mean rationality that quantifying political science has constructed. Mansfield recommends recourse to literature as a source book of human nature, and there, in Homer’s Iliad, we find a first example of thumos: Achilles, who, when despoiled of his glory by the king, asks himself whether he should slay him or “restrain his thumos.”
The other term proposed is the proper name, and to its distinction Homer again leads the way. “Be you a castaway or a king,” we read in the Odyssey, “tell your name, by which your mother and father called you at home, as did those in the city and in the suburbs. For none of mankind is entirely nameless.”
All of us are told apart by names, but some names are more distinguished than others, and so the return of names brings with it a revived regard for the motive power of heroes and models, about whom poetry tells more than statistics.
There is a third term, tacked tantalizingly—and charmingly—onto the end of Mansfield’s lecture: love. He confesses to having deliberately left it out. Perhaps he is leaving it to the non-manly portion of humanity to adumbrate? At any rate, it immediately set my mind revolving. Is he thinking of seductions like that of Helen, the casus belli of antiquity’s most famous war? Or of that celebrated pair of lovers, the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton? Or is he thinking of familial love? How I wish there were an Abigail Adams or a Dolly Madison Lecture in which Harvey Mansfield might be persuaded to show how that “further complication, love” is crucial to understanding politics!
St. John’s College
Harvey Mansfield replies:
Thanks to my friends for remarks that show how critical one can be without hostility, even while remaining in the realm of appreciation. No defenders of self-interest appeared in the lists, though their number is legion. Either my challenge did not reach them, or they feel strong enough to ignore it.
Jean Yarbrough did want to put up The Federalist and Tocqueville on behalf of a certain self-interest, “well understood,” in Tocqueville’s phrase. This sort of self-interest goes together with honor and ambition, but in what way? The phrase “self-interest rightly understood,” often used, implies that your right or true or correct interest includes honor and ambition, though they seem contrary to it. But the words well understood (translating Tocqueville’s bien entendu) allow for the possibility that your interest might accommodate or coexist with something contrary to it. Tocqueville does not adopt “self-interest well understood” on his own account but attributes it to Americans. Following him, my ambition is not to supplant the idea of self-interest but only to supplement it with a reminder of what is buried beneath it. As I said, I don’t suppose that the failure of social scientists to reply to my article is a sign of their shame.
In response to Patrick Deneen, I would say that love is a complication because it opens the soul, while thumos closes it. These two impulses are quite opposed and are difficult to combine successfully, even though we must always combine them somehow. When you open your soul to God, you can be tempted, prompted by thumos, to believe that God is on your side, instead of wanting to put yourself on God’s side. If only love were by itself, and not hitched to thumos, no one would care if his love were not returned. But, because of thumos, we do care and often demand it. Needless to say, neither love nor anger at unrequited love can be explained by self-interest.
Perhaps we should replace self-interest by two of the virtues, by moderation paired with courage. But I wanted to begin from thumos, which is basic to courage. Thumos attends to our freedom. In our lives we should all do what a prudent woman does when getting married: secure her own things and her own honor before becoming a slave to love. I say this with a view to the doubts expressed by Timothy Fuller. For Rémi Brague and Eva Brann, I have the wary gratitude of one who feels he is understood better by others than by himself.
The Jesus(es) of the Gospels
Prof. Hays’ review of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent book, Jesus of Nazareth (August/September), illustrates the resistance of academic theology to reading the gospels as “an overall unity expressing an intrinsically coherent message,” as Benedict puts it. Other than a few errors of detail, Hays mostly highlights omissions and seems to say that Benedict should not have taken up scholarly matters, such as the historical-critical method, if he was not going to say much more about them.
I did not find Benedict’s discussion of critical scholarship to be “distracting,” as Hays suggested it might be. On the contrary, it was refreshing. Benedict presents and defends his central themes by relying primarily on the gospel texts themselves, often drawing extensive support from saints and the Church Fathers. The scholarly sources and arguments are acknowledged and interwoven where they shed light on Benedict’s readings and interpretations or are refuted by them. The book admittedly was not an exhaustive treatment of the “literature,” so to speak. I have my doubts as to whether such a feat would be possible within manageable proportions; even if it were, it would be a different book for a narrower audience. Hays condemns Benedict’s blending of his scholarly and meditative commentary with regular, albeit less than comprehensive references to scholarship. I applaud this approach and wish it would be more widely emulated.
Benedict’s book renders the scholarship immediately accessible and relevant to the life of faith. My admiration for this feature is not a retreat into fideism or a refusal to take up the more patient and heavily footnoted examination to be found in a work intended only for a scholarly audience. If Benedict’s discussion of the scholarship is so episodic or brisk as to lead him into error, then that is certainly something I want to know. The review may provide Benedict (or others) with a fine list of suggestions for further work, but that does not justify the review’s occasionally harsh words and somewhat indignant air.
My problem with Hays’ review is the suggestion, perhaps only implicit, that a “synthetic and harmonizing” reading of the gospels, as Hays characterizes it, is impossible or inherently ahistorical and inferior to more atomized readings. Benedict’s book faces this issue squarely in many places. He argues that there is a bias often found in the academy against the coherent, unified understanding of Jesus that can be drawn from the gospels. He also argues that the rigid categorization that sometimes evolves in academic debates can do violence to the complex yet unified reality of the Incarnation and the subsequent events of Jesus’ life. The book demonstrates that a coherent, unified understanding of Jesus via the gospels is possible. It does so not by ignoring the academic controversies but by showing that, while scholars may pull apart the individual pieces of data about Jesus and explore their context and subtle shades of meaning, those pieces can still be put together to form a compelling whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and transcends the time from which the texts came.
Christopher J. Kellner
Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth is a work of theology and devotion, not strictly of New Testament scholarship, as the pope makes clear. The pope understands that, to show the face of Jesus, it is necessary to think with the Church and see the New Testament within the reality of the community that receives it. He gives all due respect to the discipline of New Testament scholarship but understands that, by itself, scholarship cannot reveal Christ. Even an N.T. Wright, whose work shows the face of Christ perhaps as clearly as any modern exegete’s, succeeds because, like the pope, he writes from within that community.
So, too, of course, does Richard Hays, but his review of Jesus of Nazareth is skewed by his approaching it rather too much from the point of view of a professional exegete. From this perspective, he certainly does call attention to debatable points and offer useful criticism. Still, I wonder if his starting point does not make it hard for him to do justice to the pope’s perspective.
I would call attention to just two instances. First, I do not think the pope has rejected the apocalyptic background of the New Testament as integral to understanding Jesus. But his assertion that a thoroughgoing apocalyptic approach makes, for instance, some of the growth parables incomprehensible is worth serious engagement. Jesus did preach the Kingdom and we did get the Church, and the pope with the New Testament and the vast majority of the theological tradition believes that this is as God intended. Might not the metaphors of growth and other hints at institutionalization of the Jesus movement help us see the continuity between Jesus’ proclamation and the reality of the Church?
I would question also Hays’ resort to the distinction between a higher Johannine Christology and a lower synoptic one. The pope is not so utterly Johannine as Hays claims because his Christology is high. This volume is heavily based on the structure and content of Matthew’s Gospel. John uses more ontological language, but that does not mean that his Christology is “higher” than that visible in Jesus’ “great commission” at the end of Matthew or, for that matter, in the much earlier hymn of Philippians 2. Throughout its history, the Church has seen the same face of Jesus in John and the synoptics. I think, in the end, Hays does too. But could he not grant that, rightly understood, John distills but does not alter the theology of the synoptics and that the Christ of Nicaea (and of Benedict) is simply the Jesus of the New Testament?
Fr. Leonard R. Klein
In his foreword, Benedict states the purpose and center of his book. “Jesus’ relatedness to God . . . is also the point around which I will construct my own book. It sees Jesus in light of his communion with the Father, which is the true center of his personality; without it we cannot understand him at all, and it is from this center that he makes himself present to us still today.”
Indeed, Benedict stays marvelously focused on Jesus’ closeness to the Father. And Benedict draws us into that closeness and helps the average Catholic discover the divinity of Christ in the gospels under the guidance of Peter’s successor.
As The Economist ‘s reviewer saw it, “The pope’s elegantly, almost tenderly written essay on the founder of his faith . . . remains uncompromising in its insistence on the divinity of Jesus Christ.” Your reviewer, Richard Hays, sees the book strictly from the narrow historical-critical perspectives and their never-ending controversies. Benedict’s book, however, strives to transcend these mundane issues. Specifically, Benedict wants to go beyond the historical-critical method and says that “the historical-critical method does not exhaust the interpretative task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God.”
After reading Prof. Hays’ review of the pope’s Jesus of Nazareth, I read the book. If anyone else has ever written a life of Jesus of such depth and breadth, I would love to hear about it.
Hays disagrees. He writes, “As it stands, readers not interested in the history of historical-Jesus scholarship are likely to find the intermittent surveys of critical opinion distracting, while readers like me who are interested in these matters are likely to find them sketchy and unsatisfying.” Not so. The pope is not writing about or for “critical opinion” but about Jesus. His exegesis is about the Word of God, and his conversation is with the faithful he has been commissioned to shepherd.
Maybe the limited engagement with critical opinion the reviewer is decrying is all it is worth. A conversation with the critics is unrewarding if it starts from an arbitrary premise we do not share. Some critics start from the premise that what is written in the gospels is not what Jesus taught, so they take it upon themselves to edit the gospels. Others argue that not the evangelists but their communities wrote the gospels, and that their source was not the apostles but the so-called Q manuscript. With these critics in mind, I suppose, Benedict observes that the early-church communities must have been “communities of theological geniuses.”
Based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we start from a different premise. We start from the premise first expressed by Peter near Caesarea Philippi and today reaffirmed by his successor in Rome: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. From this vantage point, one may fully appreciate the wide vistas opened up and expounded on with such skill by Benedict XVI in his masterpiece, Jesus of Nazareth.
Richard Hays replies:
The letter writers seem to share, to one degree or another, Mr. Kellner’s impression that my review of Pope Benedict’s book “illustrates the resistance of academic theology to reading the gospels as ‘an overall unity expressing an intrinsically coherent message.’” Nothing could be further from my intention. My review actually praised the book’s synthetic aims and, in part, its results. For example, I wrote: “Benedict’s synthetic reading of the canonical New Testament witnesses is both subtle and illuminating,” and I observed that “the book is full of luminous passages that offer a fruitful basis for meditation on the mysterious and gracious figure of Jesus.” I also gave accolades to Benedict’s constructive use of patristic sources and typological interpretation of the Old Testament.
Nonetheless, the letter writers are correct to discern a tone of disappointment in my review. The disappointment arises not because I am “indignant” that Benedict has attempted this task of synthesis or because I think the task impossible but because I think his actual performance of it is regrettably flawed. After reading the book’s foreword, I was rooting for him to succeed, but in my judgment he unfortunately fails to achieve the goals he sets for himself. He insists that “the historical-critical method . . . is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work,” and he wants to accept what “modern exegesis” tells us about the historical setting and composition of the gospels. Yet, recognizing the limits of the historical method, he also wants to integrate these historical findings into a trusting, synthetic reading of the gospels. The problem is simply that he fails to achieve real integration: His use of historical methodology is selective and inconsistent.
Careful exegesis discloses the distinctiveness of the four portraits of Jesus drawn by the canonical evangelists. Any responsible critical attempt to speak of “the Jesus of the gospels” must first reckon with the diversity of these portrayals before it can speak integratively of their unity. In my judgment, Jesus of Nazareth moves prematurely to unity in a way that glosses over, rather than grapples with, the particularity of the evangelists’ witness. Thus, my criticism of Benedict’s work is not that he seeks unity in the gospels, but that he does so in a way that is methodologically inconsistent and insufficiently attentive to the issues raised by actual close reading of the texts.
Benedict achieves his synthesis of the gospels by focusing on Jesus’ personal communion with the Father. This motif is indeed present in the gospels. But in focusing so resolutely on this motif, Benedict drastically truncates the future apocalyptic elements of Jesus’ message, along with the social and political dimensions of the evangelists’ testimony.
My concern here is not just that Benedict has failed to cite the latest scholarship in his footnotes; rather, my concern is that his devotional account is theologically problematical because of its foreshortening of the evidence.
The deeper problem, however, is that Benedict seems to think of historical criticism as an autonomous secular discipline whose findings may occasionally turn up tidbits of data useful for theology. What my review called for is a deeper rethinking of the premises and methods of doing history. If it is true that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God who was crucified and buried, then raised from the dead, does that not change the way in which we think about history? That is why my review called upon Benedict “to set forth more clearly how the practice of history writing should be done in the new world revealed by incarnation, cross, and resurrection.” Conventional historiography must be radically reconceived in light of the gospel’s claims. It seems to me that Benedict does not push far enough on this front.
Lest this criticism seem disrespectful, I remind readers that Pope Benedict explicitly states in his foreword a disclaimer about the authority of this book: “It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.” My own purpose is not so much to contradict him as to encourage other interpreters to pursue a more rigorous, theologically integrative criticism that will do justice to the multiplicity of witnesses actually given to us in the canon.
In light of these remarks, it will be evident that Mr. Caso’s complaint about critics who “start from the premise that what is written in the gospels is not what Jesus taught” misses the mark if he intends this as a characterization of me and my work. (And, for the record, I am skeptical about the existence of the hypothetical Q.) Instead, as Fr. Klein recognizes, I write as a scholar within and for the Church. If so, then, Fr. Klein inquires, would I grant that “the Christ of Nicaea (and of Benedict) is simply the Jesus of the New Testament”? No, not simply. Nicaea and Benedict have both set forth selective synthetic readings of the identity of Jesus. I am grateful for both, and both have much to teach us. The former is authoritative for Christian faith and theology in a way that the latter is not, but both are faithful portrayals of Jesus. Both are truthful, but both direct us to return to the primary canonical witnesses to see a fuller and more complex picture of Jesus than the one sketched in their interpretative summaries.
I hope that the “gifted young [Jesuit] joining the society” who told Fr. Neuhaus that “we will inherit the ruins and rebuild what Ignatius intended” (While We’re At It, August/September) has done the reading, research, and discernment necessary to know and understand what Ignatius did intend. That would surely demand great familiarity not only with the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Constitutions but also with Ignatius’ Spiritual Diary, his Autobiography, and many of his letters. It would include, too, a serious acquaintance with what scholars have discovered about what he and his fellow founders of the Society of Jesus thought and did as they inserted the Society into the religious and cultural contexts of the first half of the sixteenth century. It will surely also involve the imagination to see how to insert the Society and its activities into those contexts of our twenty-first century. Without such knowledge and imagination and the patience and prayer to put them into practice, any rebuilding will result not in a “temple of living stones” but in an antiquarian’s pastiche.
John W. Padberg, S.J.
The Institute of Jesuit Sources
St. Louis, Missouri
A Bishop’s Moral Core
It seems to me that Richard John Neuhaus is becoming the “nagging mother” of the political scene, and his remarks about Cardinal Mahony’s immigration policy are not only unfair but also tendentious (The Public Square, August/September). Everyone knows Fr. Neuhaus’ political persuasions, and I say this not in criticism of them but because I agree with much of his political commentary. But it is well known that Cardinal Mahony is slightly left of Fr. Neuhaus’ political and theological center—and that seems to be the basis for Fr. Neuhaus’ remarks.
Who does not remember the “good bishop” of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables who certainly “broke the law” in his kindness to an escaped criminal. There is a moral core to Cardinal Mahony’s immigration policy, beyond politics and beyond any political persuasion, and Cardinal Mahony is more in the tradition of Catholic social and moral teaching than Fr. Neuhaus’ remarks.
Most of the immigrants are fleeing a poverty and economic wretchedness far greater than the destitution of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s great classic, and if it is unlawful to harbor them and give them hospitality, then there is something immoral and un-Christian about these laws.
I don’t know the solution to the immigration crisis, and I suspect that Cardinal Mahony is in agony over this overwhelming input of poor and destitute people. Fr. Neuhaus would do better to send a large donation to Cardinal Mahony, who must be desperately in need of funds, rather than throw cold water on what might be one of the great works of mercy of our time.
Fr. Clifford Stevens
St. Patrick’s Church
My reflection on Cardinal Mahony’s speech was not based on his being more to the left than I, although he may well be. Among my concerns is his apparent indifference to the distinction between the legal and the illegal with respect to immigration. Christian history provides many laudable instances of people violating positive laws in obedience to moral law. The rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust is a particularly dramatic instance. The Church’s ministry to illegal immigrants today does not violate immigration law as currently applied. As for sending a donation—how to put this delicately? The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, having recently paid $660 million in penalties, is undoubtedly in need of funds. The cause of this unhappy circumstance is most decidedly unrelated to works of mercy and has everything to do with, among other things, the distinction between the legal and the illegal.