Letters to the Editor: May 1985
Unfair to Gutierrez
I greatly respect John C. Cort and agreed with much that he said in his column on the Vatican and liberation theology (Jan.-Feb.). But I was greatly dismayed by his comments about Gustavo Gutierrez. Cort cites one footnote about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and frequent references to “collective ownership” as his basis for judging that Gutierrez does not envision a democratic socialism but is “talking about Marxist-Leninist communism.”
To indict Gutierrez on such evidence strikes me as quite unfair. To build a case on one footnote is bad enough, but even the one footnote does not substantiate Cort’s conclusion. The footnote simply quotes Marx (not Lenin) on class struggle; it makes no statement of “clear approval” as Cort claims. Even if it did, it would not prove espousal of Leninism. Many Marx scholars (e.g., Hunt, Draper) insist that Marx never intended dictatorship of the proletariat in the anti-democratic sense used by Lenin. And why should “collective ownership,” a phrase used by democratic socialists to cover various types of public ownership, be attributed to Gutierrez only in a sense of state-owned, party-controlled communism?
Gutierrez never uses Leninist language or advocates Leninist tactics. He never calls for entrusting the poor to some vanguard party. Rather he repeatedly says that the poor themselves are “protagonists of their own liberation” (A Theology of Liberation, page 113), “artisans of their own liberation” without mediation (The Power of the Poor in History, page 65), and “active shapers of their own destiny” (ibid., page 29).
Why not note that Gutierrez “quotes with clear approval” Paulo Freire who warned against the Left imposing its views and Bishop Mendez Arceo who called for democratic socialism (A Theology of Liberation, page 111)? Gutierrez may be criticized for not attending sufficiently to the importance of political freedoms, but to say that he is “talking about Marxist-Leninist communism” is unwarranted and does him great injustice.
Arthur F. McGovern, S.J.
Dept. of Philosophy, University of Detroit
JOHN C. CORT REPLIES:
I greatly respect Fr. McGovern and agree with most of what he has written, notably in his excellent book Marxism: An American Christian Perspective. His chapter in that book on liberation theology and Gustavo Gutierrez, however, misses some critical weaknesses, and that miss is reflected in the above letter.
Let us begin with the Paulo Freire reference. My editions of A Theology of Liberation and The Power of the Poor in History do not mention Freire’s warning “against the Left imposing its views,” either on page 111 of the former or on any other page mentioned in the index of either book under “Freire, Paulo.” McGovern does mention it in his own book on page 175.
Gutierrez does quote Bishop Arceo’s preference for “democratic socialism” on page 111. The big questions are: (1) Does Gutierrez himself quote “with clear approval,” and (2) does he understand by “democratic socialism” what McGovern under stands by that phrase?
In answering these questions, McGovern’s quotes about “shapers…artisans…protagonists of their own liberation” are of little help to us. Leninist literature is full of such phrases and it has lately also been full of words like “democratic.” We need more than that.
Which reminds me: in 1972, the year after he published A Theology of Liberation, Gutierrez took a leading role in the founding convention of Christians for Socialism and, together with Hugo Assmann and Giulio Girardi, two other leading liberation theologians, wrote the “final document” of the convention, which is necessary background reading for our current discussion. But the ironic fact about this convention is that, not once but twice during the proceedings, Lenin is quoted as follows: “Marxism learns from the concrete practice of the masses. Nothing could be further from its mind than the notion that it is to teach the masses certain forms of struggle….”
In other words, Lenin, who was the all-time champion imposer of leftist views on the masses, makes exactly the same point that McGovern makes regarding Gutierrez and Freire to prove that neither of them is a Leninist. All we can conclude is that Lenin himself was not a Leninist. Maybe they were sincere and Lenin was not, but, I repeat, we need more than quotations of that sort.
What we need are quotations that prove that Gutierrez really understands the economic and political implications of his own interpretation of Marxism. Obviously Gutierrez is not a Leninist in the strict sense of the word and I should not have left that unclear. I quoted once from Gutierrez on pages 272-273 of A Theology of Liberation, but I could have quoted the next six pages winding up with a dandy quote from the hardline French communist Louis Althusser, preceded by this statement by Gutierrez: “The unity of the Church is rightly considered by Althusser as a myth which must disappear if the Church is to be ‘reconverted’ to the service of the workers in the class struggle.”
And why? Because both Althusser and Gutierrez have bought Marx’s claim that any private ownership of the means of production that involves the employment of one person by another person is by its nature “alienating,” “enslaving,” and “exploitive” (Marx’s words), and that this evil condition cannot be remedied until all the owners are ousted and state ownership installed, probably not without a revolution or some form of “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This at least is the message of A Theology of Liberation. Gutierrez is much more circumspect in The Power of the Poor in History. Whereas the former is full of references to Marx and Marxism, the latter, written mostly after this element of his thought had come under heavy attack, has only two passing references to Marxism and none to Marx.
Gutierrez is fascinated by Protestant theologians like Barth and Tillich, so unlike each other but alike in their weakness for Marx and in their ignorance, like Marx’s ignorance and that of so many theologians and intellectuals, of how the world actually works and how the Great P’s are related to each other: Property, Power, Personality, Politics, and Poverty.
The Protestant theologian whom Gutierrez should study is Reinhold Niebuhr, who did understand these things, as demonstrated in his great book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. But of course Niebuhr was an ex-Marxist and made plenty of clear, unambiguous statements that he did not, as the Socialist International does not, consider communist dictatorships as “socialist” in any true sense of that much abused word.
Fr. Gutierrez is a great, good man to whom we owe a profound debt for his passionate and scholarly insistence on the implications of the Gospel for some sort of socialist restructuring of our capitalist economies. The question is, what sort? Besides a careful reading of Niebuhr, I recommend to him and to Father McGovern more reflection on that passage of Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno that denies that “the wage contract is essentially unjust,” but advises that it should be modified by partnership or co-operative agreements. Then follow that with a visit to the Mondragon co-ops in Spain and, finally, a reading of the 1951 Frankfurt Manifesto of the Socialist International. They will find that the practical knowledge of the world that comes from long, painful experience — as brought the Catholic Church and the Socialist International so close together that, in economics and politics at least, one can hardly tell them apart.
Take Heart, Jim
I read with interest Jim Hunter’s letter in the Jan.-Feb. issue. “Clustering” is indeed a curious phenomenon. I am a recent convert to the Roman Catholic faith who loves everything in it that strikes of miracle and mystery. As W.B. Yeats said, “Miracle is the only proof of religion.” There’s more to it than that. Perhaps it’s just a phase, but conversion is almost like a re-entry to beginnings, almost like childhood. For a tired intellect like myself, there is a childlike glee in imaginatively walking out upon the New Jerusalem fondling the beads of my rosary, asking St. Michael to pray for me. It’s like a perpetual Christmas.
So I have a devotion to Mary, and this is not (I hope) only childish but mature — or as mature as a human being can be on this earth: Mary is sister as well as mother, the bridge from earth to Heaven, as Christ is the bridge from Heaven to earth. But because I have a devotion to Mary, I find myself “in bed” with greedy misers and right-wing fanatics who think anything to the left of Reagan is anathema, who think giving Church sanctuary to endangered human beings is to worship the abstract devil of communism, who apparently have not read the Gospels.
Take heart, Jim. Luckily there was Dorothy Day. Luckily there is Mother Teresa. Luckily we have a Pope who says to East and West: “A pox on both your houses.”
However, I cannot “cluster” with you, Jim, because of your siding with Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard’s ideas were rightfully condemned (de facto, if not de jure) for reasons which you could best learn about by reading Titus Burckhardt’s “Cosmology and Modern Science” in The Sword of Gnosis, a book now out of print.
But take heart, again: the one thing that can transcend our various inabilities to cluster is this strange thing called charity.
Thomas W. Case
Please “discoin” John F. Maguire’s “word” disambiguate (see his review of The Schillebeeckx Case, Jan.-Feb.). Even if you are able to spell “Schillebeeckx” correctly, you have not advanced to the plateau of “disambiguate,” nor to the carnage of “unambiguate.” Try “clarify.” It goes well with the more expensive spread.
Be of cheer: you didn’t say “disambiguish.”
(P.S. Emeritus signifies a “dispastorization” process.)
Rev. Joseph A. Kelly
Pastor Emeritus, St. Veronica Church
JOHN MAGUIRE REPLIES:
In his delightfully disportive dispatch, Fr. Kelly disadvises, or rather he discommends, the use of the verb “disambiguate.” He even — may I say? — dislusters the word “disambiguate” by disponing it with such defenseless discards as “discoin” and “disambiguish.” In short, Fr. Kelly would disaccustom us to the appearance of the word “disambiguate” on the printed page.
Do I disagree? I’m not sure. I’m caught by the disconcerting fact that all the “dis”-words I’ve used so far can be found in any good dictionary, but not — alas! — the word “disambiguate.” Query: What discrepates (sorry: What distinguishes) “disambiguate” from, say, the dictionary-approved word “discommend”? My guess is that the root word “commend” is a real verb, whereas the root word “ambiguate” is not a real verb — at least I’ve found no proof that it is. Fr. Kelly is therefore quite right to suggest that “disambiguate” is a suspect coinage.
Is this enough to dissuade writers from using it? For my part, so long as certain theologians dispread real ambiguity within sacred sciences, I cannot bring myself to disrelish the injunction to “Disambiguate!”
Not that I don’t hear the same dissonance that Fr. Kelly hears! The word “disambiguate” is unmusical in every sense. I suspect that the late, great Nat King Cole would have discountenanced anyone foolish enough to want to “disambiguate” the smile of Mona Lisa.
The New Oxford Review has become a welcome and valuable resource in my continuing search for a moral and intellectual stance that has both integrity and substance. In a day of partisan causes and gale-forced cross currents, the NOR has become a beacon of sanity for me. As an Anabaptist, I don’t pretend to understand or agree with everything you print, but I am amazed at how many connections you do make with my own background and experience.
I found especially useful Steven Hayward’s article “The Two Minds of Modern Conservatism” (Jan.-Feb.). It helped clarify my thinking about what is liberal and conservative, and what I am. The words used to describe your patron in the editorial in the same issue, “conservative toward God and the church but liberal toward his neighbor,” also helps say what I value in the NOR.
I hoped Juli Loesch would have given her peace visit to Europe (Jan.-Feb.) a sense of balance by speaking to groups in the Soviet-bloc countries. However, as I read her itinerary I looked in vain for Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, or East Berlin.
Loesch and those involved in the anti-nuclear-weapons movement would give more credibility to their cause if they brought their message to all countries in which nuclear weapons are manufactured or installed.
Ed. Note: Indeed! But getting into Soviet-bloc countries and doing anti-nuclear work there is easier said than done. While we hope Loesch will find her way to Prague, etc., we find it hard to fault her for not having been able to do everything all at once.
The University Press of America has contracted with Prof. Lawrence Clipper of Indiana University, who will serve as editor, to publish all of G.K. Chesterton’s weekly columns from the Illustrated London News, two-thirds of which have never been reprinted. The columns began in September 1905 and ended with Chesterton’s death in June 1936. Seven thousand dollars of the estimated $20,000 needed for the project has been raised and about one-third of the work has been completed.
We are in urgent need of help to complete the project. We have been given a wonderful opportunity: we will receive a matching grant of $5,000 on condition that we first raise $5,000. We have good reason to believe there are many Chesterton lovers among NOR readers who would be willing to contribute.
There are two additional incentives for Chesterton lovers. A valuable one-of-a-kind, boxed, bound volume of 320 original Illustrated London News pages with Chesterton’s columns on one side and fascinating insights into the world of 1905 to 1911 on the other (“Mr. Wilbur Wright’s…remarkable fight of sixty-one-and-a-half miles,” the Boer War, Tolstoy’s 80th birthday, etc.) will go to one of the donors of $25 or more at a June drawing. Also, donors of $100 or more will have their names printed in the first volume of the projected 11-volume set. Contributions of any amount, however, are most welcome.
This is a great opportunity to help Chesterton and the things he stands for not only survive but prevail.
Frank A. Petta
President, Midwest Chesterton Society
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