The heritage abandoned? Part II

Steinfels, Peter

THE HERITAGE ABANDONED? CATHOLIC THOUGHT ON WAR & PEACE - PART H PETER STEINFELS eorge Weigel's TranqUillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on...

...These developments rested on political facts and analyses which Weigel does not confront except by way of caricature...
...A significant number of Catholic peace activists echo New Left and secular anti-war themes...
...It undercuts its own case when, in a polemic disguised as scholarship, it tries to proscribe all politics but the author's...
...On the other hand, a great many, even though not all, pacifists have acted within living communities of service that lend particular persuasiveness to pacifist principles...
...I tried to urge this point two years ago in an essay, "Appointment with Hitler" (Commonweal, July 12, 1985...
...Both schools of thought share a presumption against the resort to violence, and both believe that individual Catholics must reach some conscientious judgment in regard to war based on moral principle rather than simply on national feeling or government command...
...nfortunately, Tranquillitas Ordinis does not explore these issues...
...For reasons, I believe, of faith and temperament, Weigel certainly stops short of traveling all the way down this road...
...In encountering such views, Weigel may well have felt the relevance of this critique to be confirmed...
...within the Catholic church," but he immediately granted that this answer was not very satisfactory since that community was then doing little to apply this tradition to foreign affairs ' 'beyond its contribution in sustaining the domestic mood of anti-Communism...
...Weigel insists that Catholics "must think harder" about pacifism, and he is right...
...Actually, Weigel's politics also shape his conception of tranquillitas ordinis, which often smacks suspiciously of Wilsonian idealism...
...The third basis for pacifism's increased appeal is the unprecedented character of nuclear war and the near intractability in traditional Catholic moral terms of the problem of nuclear deterrence...
...Weigel discusses this but almost always critically, repeatedly dismissing scripturally-based pacifism as "fundamentalist" or "literalist...
...No, even that may overstate the matter: except at the nuclear level, most of these activists might still hesitate to pronounce themselves in principle opposed to any resort whatsoever to an armed defense...
...Furthermore, the American experiment in democratic pluralism and the resolution of conflict through public debate and electoral processes provide a so-far unsurpassed model of such rightly ordered political community...
...Much Catholic pacifism draws strength not from literal readings of "proof texts" but from comprehensive understandings of the words and deeds of Jesus, whose name, by the way, appears rather infrequently in Weigel's pages...
...And why, as I suggested much earlier, could it prove a boon in a badly needed dialogue...
...11), I touched briefly on the politics of Weigel' s book but concentrated on the distortions in its historical account the accumulated misrepresentations, one-sided comparisons, biased selection of evidence, forcing of material into inappropriate and extreme categories, and the neglect of context...
...What Weigel calls the classic Catholic heritage has been a natural-law ethic in a one-sided way, cut off from scriptural and liturgical expression...
...Such a political community, in this vision, neither rejects the use of power as though the harmony of the Kingdom had already been achieved nor reduces the use of power to violence and cunning in a Hobbesian or Machiavellian vision...
...Even if this bad history had no further effect on Weigel's argument, it should not go unchallenged...
...Why has this author, whose intelligence as well as industry are evident throughout Tranquillitas Ordinis, produced a history of this sort...
...Weigel does offer a number of useful proposals for the church's peacemaking, from urging greater attention to Communist persecution to warning against investing undue energy in specific policy proposals...
...About the former, he can only warn at several points against the sin of "survivalism...
...The just-war teaching of the pastoral is frequently treated as a kind of pacifism manque...
...This won't do...
...Tranquillitas Ordinis is valuable because it reasserts the moral necessity of politics...
...The growth of pacifism is quite another matter...
...Murray replied that the ancient tradition of reason lives...
...Was he then psychologically primed to extend it ready-made to "Catholic elites," scouring Commonweal and America for the necessary "proof texts," committing them to index cards, and then dealing them out to, fit the preexisting categories of the critique...
...Catholic pacifism has never passed through the kind of critique its Protestant counterpart received from the Niebuhrians...
...It is rich in commitment and personal spirituality, much less so in rigorously thought-out theology and politics...
...neoconservatives and "Cold War liberals" against postVietnam liberalism generally...
...Weigel rightly insists that 532: Commonweal the quality of religious teaching on war and peace should be judged not by its stridency or purity of intention but by its truth...
...It has little touch with the living words of Scripture and liturgy...
...The pastoral is, after all, basically a just-war document...
...Quite the contrary...
...I am, of course, only speculating...
...Why is this so important...
...It should be obvious, then, why Weigel's thesis is .valuable...
...Of course, just-war teaching is too entrenched in Catholic teaching to be abandoned by the bishops...
...A Catholic would not imagine that this attitude is unique to the ideological left...
...The choice is between two contending moral visions...
...Even in non-pacifist journals like Commonweal or America, a good word for nuclear deterrence or simply for strengthening NATO's conventional forces (a step noted by the bishops as a means of implementing a "no-first-use" policy in Europe) comes rarely enough that many readers seem to be taken by surprise...
...Ex-radical neoconservatives have imported this furor polemicus into their current "war of ideas...
...But does this picture of an emerging Catholic schizophrenia on war-peace questions backtrack on my earlier criticism of Weigel's historical account...
...He is on the editorial board of Dissent and the editorial advisory board o/Ethics & International Affairs...
...But the current pacifist "edge" strongly reflects the weaknesses notwithstanding the many near-hagiographic references these days to John Courtney Murray of the just-war heritage...
...Those approaches, he believes^ currently assume that the fullness of biblical shalom can be achieved now or they translate political conflicts into psychological quests for inner serenity and personal understanding...
...Catholic pacifists readily acknowledge, even celebrate, the fact that adopting their position would be a radical turning point in Catholic history...
...It needs instead to recapture the centrality of this-worldly political life and the institutions and habits which support it...
...A second factor in the appeal of pacifism was suggested by a "friendly critic" of John Courtney Murray who wrote that the real question was not what are the ethical principles that could fix moral limits to war but where are those principles...
...here have in fact been major changes in Catholic attitudes on war, peace, and morality over the last two decades, even if they are neither so drastic nor so unnuanced as Weigel describes them...
...An unwillingness to abet the military enthusiasms of the present administration may go some way toward explaining this reticence, but the matter, I think, goes beyond that...
...Whatever their value, they are imports...
...One is the return to biblical sources urged by Vatican II...
...That is an inspiring vision but it may also be an unrealistic one...
...CATHOLIC THOUGHT ON WAR & PEACE - PART H PETER STEINFELS eorge Weigel's TranqUillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford, $27.50, 512 pp...
...Certainly Catholic intellectuals and religious thinkers no longer give the Soviet challenge to the West the centrality it had in the fifties and early sixties, before Communist ideology had lost its moral allure in Western Europe and the Sino-Soviet split indicated that even Communist successes did not necessarily equal Soviet ones...
...We already see some of this schizophrenia in regard to the bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace...
...Its experience is brave but historically limited...
...Still more important, Weigel's exaggerated and inaccurate history does not do justice to the real grounds for pacifism's appeal...
...This theological argument is basic but crucial: just-war theory must again be seen in relation to the larger framework which gives it moral life...
...They did not in themselves constitute an abandonment of the just-war heritage but are quite compatible with it...
...Obviously it does constitute a challenge to the just-war heritage...
...The pastoral's just-war theory is a concession to inertia or pastoral prudence rather than an authentically moral posture demanding a serious response...
...The legacy of Vietnam was nothing so sweeping as a rejection of the "moral worth of the American experiment" to recall Weigel's formula but the war did implant a deep and practical skepticism about the employment of military force as a "shield" for establishing democracy in the third world...
...Notice that terms like "anti-Amerika," "anti-antiCommunist," and "neo-isolationism," which play a prominent role in Weigel's analysis, are not coinages native to Catholic discussions about just-war theory, pacifism, liberation theology, or social justice...
...Even more unfortunate is its negative tone toward the one document that does try to place pacifism and just-war theory in some kind of dialogue the bishops' pastoral...
...It cannot be emphasized too much that Weigel is presenting the Catholic understanding of tranquillitas ordinis as a moral vision and one morally surpassing the various forms of pacifism or anti-war activism he sees dominating the American church...
...Fundamentally, they believe that existing liberal elites must be thoroughly discredited ideologically run out of town, so to speak and replaced by conservative ones...
...The application is not completely fanciful...
...Those who advocate less ambitious, provisional, or makeshift notions of world order, in which maintaining certain "rules of the game" among nations may take priority over implanting democratic institutions, should not be charged, on those grounds, with "abandoning" the Catholic heritage...
...Opposition to armaments and military programs are prominently and sympathetically featured in the National Catholic Reporter...
...And the ordinary Catholics in the pews are at most mildly dovish, not at all inclined toward pacifism or even nuclear unilateralism...
...In other words, where is "the community which is the living repository" of such principles...
...There are undoubtedly a large number of thoughtful Catholics who believe, perhaps reluctantly, that a sufficient deterrent or a strong NATO are the best means for preserving peace, but at least in activist circles they maintain a discreet silence...
...it remains innocent of serious reflection on even so obvious a topic as the morality of the anti-Nazi war in Europe...
...It is a halfway house where the bishops, belatedly released from the prison of uncritical nationalism, have lodged themselves until they (or their flocks) are ready to enter the truly Christian world of pacifism...
...Even some of the bishops have acquiesced in this view, defending their pastoral as simply "realistic" rather than right...
...They descend from sixties debates between different factions of the anti-war movement, debates which, going back, reflected ancient divisions over Stalinism among secular leftists and, going forward, fed into the polemics of ex-radical , peter steinfels is the editor of Commonweal...
...If the positions of his Catholic moral and intellectual elites are truly as monolithic, extreme, and ill-founded as he suggests, then there is really no hope for dialogue until the whole bunch, from bishops and their staff members to peace activists and journalists, are swept out and replaced...
...I detect the assumption that the world should properly be moving toward something resembling American constitutional parliamentarianism writ large, a world order of nations enjoying relatively similar and democratic domestic regimes...
...is a book of politics, history, and theology...
...In this sense, Weigel argues, current Catholic approaches to war and peace do not need "to be depoliticized so much as repoliticized...
...530: Commonweal nfortunately, it is not only in tone but in substance that these historical exaggerations and | distortions have an impact on the third (and potentially the most useful) prong of Weigel's work the theological...
...Thus a critique originally dealing with developments in the New Left, the anti-war movement, and liberalism is here applied to the Catholic world...
...military force in international affairs...
...Catholic war-peace thinking thus becomes essentially apolitical...
...But he has allowed the ideological matrix of his analysis to propel him farther than he should have...
...Internecine debates on the left have never been distinguished for fastidiousness or generosity...
...If that heritage is to be secured, it won't be done by shaving down its terms to fit our own policy choices, important as these may be...
...It has been natural, although perhaps unwise, not to pursue differences as long as it seems doubtful that these common premises are widely and firmly held among Catholics...
...It is, instead, the middle levels of active Catholics, especially those exerting leadership on issues of social justice who increasingly lean to pacifism...
...In this contrasting vision of "moderate realism," power must be directed and circumscribed by law, by a "tradition of reason," by prudent calculations of the relationships between ends and means, and by practical wisdom...
...They like to refer to Pareto's "circulation of elites," although the spirit is no different from Lenin's scornful assignment of certain groups to the "dustbin of history.'' There is not much room for distinctions or niceties in such a process, and the resort to branding adversaries "anti-American" or "totalitarian" has become positively casual...
...That framework is the belief in tranquillitas ordinis, a rightly ordered political community, which allows the human conflicts that are inevitable in this world to be resolved nonviolently and even channeled in creative ways while works of justice and love go forward...
...What may well be emerging is a form of institutional 25 September 1987: 531 schizophrenia, a church adhering to just-war doctrine at the top and (with luck) at the bottom, while the middle strata, which interpret and trarismit the teaching, have their hearts and minds in a different place...
...Weigel is right to see that there is considerable confusion in the church on these questions...
...In a previous article (Sept...
...The need for the church to create opportunities for civic debate on the larger background or "contextual" issues, the importance of genuine inculcation of the church's social teaching, respect for lay competence, the potential of cooperation with Protestant evangelicals, the wisdom of emphasizing "core rights" in human-rights campaigns, the importance of attending to the positive relationships between democracy and economic development though some of Weigel's emphases may reflect his political agenda, the points can be well taken...
...church for dealing with the twin problems of totalitarianism and total war...
...Indeed, even if the overall picture of Catholic war-peace discussions were to conform to Weigel's description, the specific writers whose names dot his text and notes deserve not to have their thoughts disfigured in what may easily be taken for a scholarly account...
...It makes clear that the dialogue between pacifism and just-war principles involves not a genuinely moral position versus one that is "merely" political or practical...
...As history, it purports to describe the post-conciliar "abandonment' ' by American Catholic religious leadership of a heritage of thinking on war and peace that should have specially equipped the U.S...
...Even where the latter have made a determined effort to be exact in representing the pastoral, a certain confusion, not unexpectedly, has been the result...
...Yet pacifist discourse, a pacifist agenda, and a pacifist style dominate their public discussions...
...Although it insists, in an unprecedented way, on the legitimacy of the pacifist option for individual Catholics, it reiterates the church's teaching that "governments.threatened by armed, unjust aggression must defend their people" and "this includes defense by armed force if necessary as a last resort...
...All the more so the bishops' conditional moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence...
...Yet what remains at bottom an application for our day of just-war teachings has been most actively promoted (to their credit, one might add) by Catholics whose conception of peacemaking is drawn largely, if not totally, from the pacifist tradition...
...Its practicality, either as a guide for statesmen or for ordinary citizens, has been criticized, and even its theoretical capacities have been severely tested by nuclear deterrence...
...It misses the chief reason that "established" just-war opinion (e.g., in America and Commonweal), while holding to its distinct convictions, nonetheless has given a low priority to pressing its differences with pacifism...
...Since opponents are viewed as either morally corrupt or morally obtuse, and at stake is the preservation of true doctrine, the object has usually been to discredit more than persuade...
...But his historical account actually puts a strait jacket on his theological argument...
...As politics, it takes the side of the Reaganites and liberal interventionists about the centrality of the East-West conflict and the appropriate role of U.S...
...But this speculation has the merit of not only explaining the gap between the intelligence at work here and the routine bending of evidence, it also helps explain the gap between the book's occasional pleas for constructive rethinking and its otherwise harsh prosecutorial tone...
...it ' 'requires a recommitment to the moral necessity of politics.'' The moral necessity of politics...
...Theologically, it strives to reassert that heritage in a particular American form...
...About the latter Weigel fays relatively little...
...The only explanation I can hazard takes us from the historical aspect of the book back to the political...
...Just-war analysis remains the preserve of political scientists and international affairs specialists...

Vol. 114 • September 1987 • No. 16


 
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