September 2006

Liberty and Power: A Dialogue on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy in an Unjust World.  By E.J. Dionne Jr., Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Kayla Drogosz. Brookings Institution Press. 105 pages. $16.95.

Dionne et al. present a complex and fascinating discussion of the role that religious faith plays in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy. The events of 9/11 and the Iraq War have made understanding the role of religion in our foreign affairs more important than ever. The authors who contribute the six essays that make up Liberty and Power discuss the morality of "pre-emptive" (or preventive) war and whether a superpower such as the U.S. should pursue unilateralism or multilateralism in dealing with political crises around the world.

J. Bryan Hehir and Michael Walzer are two scholars whose essays are at the center of Liberty and Power. In "Religion, Realism, and Just Intervention," Hehir discusses the work of several prominent Christian scholars, in particular Reinhold Niebuhr and Pope John XXIII, to formulate his own vision of how religion can provide a moral vision for U.S. military intervention in other nations. Hehir's vision is of a carefully considered military intervention that is based upon several important factors.

The most important of these factors is distinguishing clearly between different kinds of military intervention, that each one requires a specific kind of justification. Hehir also states that any analysis of a political situation should draw on the Just War ethic's ultima ratio, that military force is the last resort. Regarding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hehir states that although the possible threat of WMDs could not be ignored, we still need to clearly justify such military intervention. Going through the UN would be one way to do so. "If proliferation is a systematic threat, one with consequences for more than a state or a region, then systemic legitimation through the Security Council is needed for preventative war. The Bush administration acknowledged that revision of international law would likely be needed to justify the policy it was advocating."

In "Can There Be a Moral Foreign Policy?" Michael Walzer presents a blueprint for introducing morality into foreign policy. Walzer argues that a state's foreign policy should by guided by four obligations: it should protect the lives of citizens; it should not inflict harm on citizens of other states; it should help citizens of other states to avoid crimes and disasters such as genocide, tyranny, and disease; and finally a state should help citizens of other states build non-repressive political systems.

Like Hehir, Walzer makes the case for a multilateral foreign policy. He contends that acting alone when it comes to military intervention is not, in the long run, in the best interest of a superpower such as the U.S. "We possess something close to absolute power, at least in the military sphere. But this sort of power is dangerous; not only for other countries, but also for the country that possesses it. Absolute power corrupts…. Absolute power also makes people stupid…. The work of negotiation and persuasion that is necessary in a world where power is more widely shared produces a kind of collective intelligence, which is wisdom in international affairs."

In "Fighting Against Terrorism and for Justice," Louise Richardson agrees to a certain extent with Walzer and Hehir. Richardson states that the problem of terrorism cannot be solved with military might. "It is fundamentally a political and psychological conflict, and it has to be fought, and can only be won, on those terms…."

Of the contributors to Liberty and Power who discuss the two essays by Hehir and Walzer, Charles Krauthammer is the only scholar who disagrees with their vision of a multilateral foreign policy that is grounded in international law. In "When Unilateralism Is Right and Just," he argues that the U.S. needs to practice unilateralism since the UN is essentially a corrupt organization that cannot be depended upon when it comes to fighting terrorism. "The foundation of the current order in the world, the guarantor of peace in just about every region, is power and, most specifically, American power." Krauthammer believes that we really cannot depend on other nations to help us fight terrorism since their principles of morality and humanitarianism may differ from ours considerably. He argues that the U.S. must act unilaterally to combat the terrorists based on the immense threat that they present.

Based on the intense foreign-policy discussion presented in Liberty and Power, it is clear that there are no easy solutions when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.

However, it is vitally important that divergent viewpoints concerning religion and foreign policy be debated.

- Steven Silva



Jacques and Raissa Maritain: Beggars for Heaven.  By Jean-Luc Barre. University of Notre Dame Press. 495 pages. $50.

Parents are familiar with questions from their children, even adult children, which when duly answered elicit the surprised comment, "But how do you know that?" And, often enough, the parent has a ready reply: "Because I was there," with the relevant particulars then dispensed -- proudly or otherwise.

Jacques and Raissa Maritain, spiritual parents to so many, were present for two world wars, the Spanish Civil War, the birth of the UN, Vatican II (with its hopes, accomplishments, and betrayals), as well as a renaissance of Catholic intellectual life followed by its startling capitulation to yet another wave of modernity.

They were at once activists and contemplatives. They struggled for the common good, sometimes associating with "the Right" and sometimes with "the Left," while remaining, as Jacques put it, "neither of the Right nor of the Left."

They knew Pacelli, Roncalli, and Montini before their respective pontificates.

All the while the Maritains recognized the Church's universal call to holiness, and they all the while met with fierce opposition from an impressive range of enemies -- including, at times, from Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., who would later sit on one of Karol Wojtyla's dissertation committees.

Jacques and Raissa were confidantes of artists (including Georges Roualt and Marc Chagall) and poets, but most of all they were champions of a Thomist philosophy that engaged the hopes and fears of their contemporaries. And yet Jean-Luc Barre's extraordinary telling of their story, only very recently available in English, is anything but a philosophical biography. From start to finish, it is a story of this devoted pair as "beggars for heaven," as a husband and wife who were passionate about the salvation of souls.

Here I offer a single, and topical, example of their begging for Heaven. It is an excerpt from a letter that Jacques sent to his friend, the poet Jean Cocteau, who was a homosexual: "No, it is not the result of a prejudice of St. Paul or of a seminary education, it is for eternal reasons that the Church condemns [homosexuality]…. What can change is the manner in which these souls are treated -- souls who are sometimes among the noblest, the most pursued by the love of God -- stricken, often through no fault of their own, by this mysterious evil. But it will always remain an evil. A profound rejection of the cross."

Being a beggar for Heaven requires one to speak the truth, not to destroy but to heal, and not by one's own wisdom but by God's free grace.

- James G. Hanink





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