Russell A. Berman’s essay (“State of Emergency,” June/July) about our nation’s instability in various areas of public life is an insightful and valuable analysis of the fraying of the social bonds that hold together our multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation.
There is one sentence, however, that Mr. Berman may want to revisit: “African Americans and Asian Americans are not at all aligned with each other on questions of selective high schools or affirmative action in college admissions.”
This is not the case according to the 2022 Pew Research survey, which found that 59 percent of African Americans, 68 percent of Hispanics, and 63 percent of Asian Americans disapprove of using race as a factor in college admissions.
The cultural and academic elites who advocate the continuation of race in admissions are, ironically, working against the convictions and preferences of a significant majority of all of America’s racial minorities.
Russell Berman replies:
I am grateful for Edward Blum’s kind comments about my essay as well as for the opportunity to comment further on the issue he raises: minority public opinion on affirmative action policy.
I will accept these Pew data, although I have otherwise been skeptical of a hidden agenda in Pew polls. The obvious conclusion to draw is that significant majorities in the three minority populations do not support racial preferences. Still there is a difference of degree: Asian Americans, who may see themselves as particularly disadvantaged by current policy, are more strongly opposed. My point is that a misalignment is emerging among minority groups that erodes the illusion of the erstwhile “rainbow coalition.”
As I follow the national news, I learn of activist Asian Americans—in particular, parents of students—who have vocally opposed affirmative action, especially concerning selective secondary schools: in San Francisco, to be sure, but also in New York City. I have not heard of African American parent groups actively opposing the use of race in admission, despite what Pew reports concerning their opinion. Perhaps the media choose not to report on this topic. Still it remains a question why it seems more difficult to express heterodox viewpoints in one community than in the other.
The differences between elite or leadership groups (activists) and the broad populations polled by Pew may be a hidden factor in this discrepancy. Fifty-nine percent of African Americans may oppose using race as a criterion in college admissions, but I doubt that that is the case for the Congressional Black Caucus.
Let us hope that the Supreme Court eventually clears up its muddied record on this matter.
I read the exchange between Ross Douthat and Pater Edmund Waldstein (“A Gentler Christendom,” June/July) with great interest, and I thank both writers for engaging so thoughtfully with the difficult problem of Christian politics. Nevertheless, I think the discussion was missing something of the subtlety that the issue deserves. Traditionally, Christians have discussed the relationship between the spiritual and temporal powers using images such as the soul and the body, the sun and the moon, Mary and Martha, the New Testament and the Old Testament, or the two swords of Luke 22. These images do not suggest that “politics” and “religion” are extrinsic, separable sociological categories that need to be placed in some sort of positive relationship within a stable frame. Rather, they are images that implicate cosmology, anthropology, history, metaphysics, ecclesiology, and even trinitarian theology—they invoke mystery. They force us to completely reconsider the concepts that underwrite modern arrangements, especially those between “politics” and “religion.” Douthat and Waldstein both hold to these modern categories, only arranging them differently.
A letter to the editor does not afford the space to explore this problem in any detail. But one might begin by acknowledging that the construction of modern politics was the process of transforming Christianity into a modern religion. The central problem of modern politics was how to justify cuius regio, eius religio. The solution was to invert the relationship between the temporal and spiritual powers—which could be accomplished only by fundamentally changing both. The temporal power had previously been, essentially, a particular authority that aimed at universal truth and justice through its animation by the spiritual power, which, while inseparable from it, always pointed to an end that lay beyond it. Now, however, the temporal power became merely power, merely “politics,” aimed at ends it could comprehend. The spiritual power was reduced either to an extrinsic “church” that pretended to be a sort of “super-state” or to a mere “religion,” a cultural phenomenon that happened within a society; truth was put at the service of action; morals came after consequences. Faith became ideology. It is not that the state caused the decline of Christianity; it is that the sovereign state is the decline of Christianity. The modern state is not merely the recent manifestation of the temporal power, and modern religions and their churches are not a continuation of the spiritual power. They are different things.
My point is this: There is no arrangement of “politics” and “religion” or of “state” and “church” that will somehow sustain the maintenance of a Christian society precisely because these concepts were constructed over time to undo such a society. An absolute monarchy with Christianity as its official religion and a liberal democracy with a dominant cultural Christianity are two variations on the same societal “form,” a form that was devised to render Catholicism impotent, to supplant Christendom with the sovereign state, replace truth with effectiveness, and replace ethics with economics.
The regimes under which we live do have a nature and aim, however. If we want to see a path forward, we must begin by identifying them from within the conceptual framework of Christianity. Otherwise, if we stay within the thought-world of modern politics, we are merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Andrew Willard Jones
franciscan university of steubenville
The recent exchange between Ross Douthat and Edmund Waldstein illuminated the depth of the crisis confronting Catholicism in the West, and revealed the extent to which the Catholic imagination remains conditioned by this very crisis and therefore limited in its attempt to cope with it.
Both writers are correct that the Church’s problem in the modern world exceeds the bounds of politics. Yet neither allows these insights to unseat the “political question” from its quintessentially modern primacy. Douthat’s central question seems less a matter of truth than a question of political strategy. He unsurprisingly opts for a Maritainian affirmation of American liberal democracy, buttressed by an empirical analysis of American political and religious history that leaves the essential theological and philosophical questions—questions not of fact but of truth—untouched. To his credit, Douthat recognizes this as an exercise in journalism, not philosophy.
Waldstein doubles down on an integralism that both writers seem to concede is practically impossible, but that at least confronts the Church with the metaphysical truth that the rejection of Church authority is inseparably bound up with the rejection of teleology in nature. Still, integralists have a lot of philosophical and theological work cut out for them. They need a clearer explication of key concepts like “authority,” “power,” and “submission.” They need to show how (or whether) they can reconcile the ecclesiology of Immortale Dei with Lumen Gentium. They owe us some effort to move beyond the impasse between Maritain and De Koninck and to see whether the older tradition of common good reasoning can be synthesized with the personalism that has become part of the Church’s magisterial tradition. There are not only political, but important metaphysical questions at stake. Despite these issues and the unreality of the integralist program, the truths it recalls prompt the kind of inner reconciliation of the Church with its past that Benedict XVI called for in the liturgical realm. As such, it is an important brake on the Church’s present trajectory toward a sociologistic self-understanding. In this respect at least, the integralist resurgence is a welcome development.
But if Waldstein offers the better answer, theologically and ontologically speaking, Douthat asks the better questions. Why did the entire edifice of Christendom—religious, cultural, intellectual, and political—collapse so spectacularly at the first opportunity? The standard traditionalist answer suggested by Waldstein—it was Maritain, (or the modernists, or the Hegelians, or the nouvelle théologie)— fails to comprehend the scope of the modern problem or the ways in which Catholic traditionalism might have been infected by it, and it fails to address the decay of this edifice diagnosed by internal critics like Blondel and Péguy. Why does integralism seem to lead its champions to consort with dubious political regimes, and what theoretical modifications to the integralist vision, as opposed to merely moral remedies, would prevent this in the future? Is there any development in conciliar ecclesiology, Catholic political thought, or metaphysics of the last century that would cause a modification in integralist thinking? And perhaps most importantly, how are we to contend with the deeper, more intractable problem glimpsed by both authors, a world whose fundamental modes of thought and life are impervious to Christianization?
Such questions cannot be answered by reciting scholastic formulas or by prioritizing a political solution—as if we already held the truth firmly in hand and needed only the power to apply it. Grasping the breadth of modern nihilism and the extent to which truth itself has been put in question will require not only an extensive ressourcement but a genuine renewal of Catholic thinking. The most urgent obstacles to the renewal of Christian civilization are theoretical before they are practical, philosophical before they are political. To reverse this order is to become unwittingly complicit in the very crisis one is trying to overcome.
pontifical john paul ii institute
Edmund Waldstein replies:
I have long been a proponent of Andrew Willard Jones’s insights in Before Church and State into the problem of the modern construction of “state” and “church,” which, as he reminds us in his letter, were constructed in order to undo Christendom. The Quebec integralists to whom I referred in my exchange with Douthat were indeed keenly aware of the problem of what Charles De Koninck called “this monster of modern invention which is called the State . . . congealed and closed in upon itself.” Opposition to that modern monster (and its corresponding false form of religion) is integralism.
I am therefore puzzled by Jones’s claim that I hold to the modern categories of “politics” and “religion” and only rearrange them. I would like to ask Jones what he thinks the integralist vision leaves intact in the modern notions of “politics/state” and “religion/church.” It belongs to the very essence of those modern notions that political authority is seen neither as deriving from God nor as intrinsically ordered to the true good. But rather political authority is seen (and enacted) as a result of human will and for the sake of human goals. Moreover, according to modern notions the Church cannot be seen as a koinonia teleios, a community ordered to complete supernatural good, superior to and independent of temporal authority. Rather, it is essential to modern practices to see the Church as an intermediate society between the state and the individual, one that depends on the consent of its members and the tolerance of the state for existence.
What then would remain of those modern notions and practices were integralist principles to be acted on? As Jones points out, the modern inversion of the relation of the two powers could only be accomplished “by fundamentally changing both.” But this means that it is neither desirable nor possible to invert the relation again while leaving them unchanged. An integralist political community would no longer be “the State,” closed in on itself. Rather it would be a truly teleological community of the enacting of the good. We integralists are not trying to relate “extrinsic, separable” categories in “a stable frame”; rather we are trying to put the two powers established by God himself into the dynamic relationship that he intends for them. The relation of the two powers is dynamic because it changes as it advances—the more a people are converted to Christ, the more what at first appeared to be two communities begins to appear rather as one community.
I therefore cannot agree with Jones that I hold to modern categories of politics and religion. Nor do I agree with Hanby that my framing of the question remains “quintessentially modern.” I do, however, think that Hanby raises important questions that deserve further reflection.
In “Architecture of Repair” (June/July), Michael J. Lewis paints an appealing portrait ofChristopher Alexander’s anti-establishment idealism. Alexander had to sue his employer, the state of California and more specifically the University of California, Berkeley, for the permission to speak about Christianity in his lectures and in his curriculum. Nowadays we architects are forbidden—or forbid ourselves—to use the word beauty. But a jury recently called the design of one of my buildings—a juvenile detention center—“optimistic.” Giving a building a human attribute like optimism was something of a shock to me. On reflection, I realized that the building’s “optimism” is an expression of God’s love. Alexander helped open my eyes when he said:
The sacredness of the physical world—and the potential of the physical world for sacredness—provides a powerful and surprising path towards understanding the existence of God, whatever God may be, as a necessary part of the reality of the universe. . . . Can we find a way to mobilize, afresh, the force of what was once called God, as a way of helping us to recreate the beauty of the Earth?
larchmont, new york
American Regime Change
Before reading Christopher Caldwell’s “Regime Change, American Style,” I felt little sympathy for Richard Nixon. But Caldwell argues there is more to the Watergate story: The Nixon campaign’s conduct, ordinary for the milieu wherein it operated, became license for Beltway forces to sack the 37th president.
Caldwell observes that the FBI allowed Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s predecessor, to use “agents for ‘black bag jobs,’ or illegal break-ins,” only to deny Nixon that courtesy. He could have added that Johnson’s CIA enlisted moles among 1964 Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s staff to steal confidential campaign documents, an E. Howard Hunt-led operation. By 1972, Hunt had left the CIA and was a Nixon aide. He helped organize the Watergate break-in, justifying such schemes by, to quote Steve Usdin, “comparing them to the CIA’s spying on Goldwater”—which Hunt believed Johnson himself ordered. Meanwhile, the Watergate break-in directive, explains Caldwell, came from an unknown individual whose motivations remain unclear to this day.
Given these facts, it is impossible not to wonder if Nixon suffered enhanced investigative scrutiny because his campaign favored outsiders instead of deputizing taxpayer-funded bureaucrats for nakedly political ends.
Nixon received 43 percent of the popular vote in the 1968 election, but only 18 percent in D.C., and, as Caldwell explains, the 37th president did not ingratiate himself with the capital’s denizens. Upon J. Edgar Hoover’s death, Nixon appointed an outsider as the interim director of the FBI, astonishing Hoover lieutenant Mark Felt. “Deep Throat,” Felt’s secret alias, proceeded to feed his Washington Post contact play-by-play updates on the FBI’s Watergate investigation, fueling the demise of the president who scorned the G-Man status quo.
Even more unpopular in the Beltway is one of Nixon’s successors, Donald Trump, who won 46 percent of the vote nationally and just 4 percent in D.C.—and whose boorishness and “drain the swamp” mantra revolts the sensibilities of the political class. The FBI accordingly accepted at face value a fallacious, Hillary Clinton-funded dossier accusing Trump of collusion with Russia, leading to several investigations that ultimately found no criminal conspiracy. The FBI, more brazenly, cited the dossier to obtain surveillance warrants against a Trump advisor. And after Trump’s inauguration, an FBI agent who despised the new president seemingly conspired with his colleagues to entrap and prosecute General Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security advisor.
Do not challenge the D.C. establishment, Nixon and Trump’s examples suggest, and your administration will be safe.
university of chicago