Letters to the Editor: November 2022
Ukraine: A Pawn in the Game
I agree with Pieter Vree’s observation that the new generation of neoconservatives is committed to its parents’ and grandparents’ goal of achieving “total hegemony in every corner of the world” (“Neocon Hubris & the Battle for Ukraine,” New Oxford Notebook, Sept.). The neocons and the East Coast elite have had their hands in every war in which the United States has been involved over the past half-century. Vree is also right that a major factor in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lies in these elites’ reckless decision to expand NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At the same time, it is important to keep two things in mind. NATO expansion doesn’t provide a justification for anything. It has been a done deal for three decades, and, like it or not, we must live with it. Ukraine is nothing more than a victim. Without Western support, it would have already lost its battle against a murderous foe. Second, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is only secondarily about NATO expansion. Putin is a bloodthirsty imperialist. He has openly and consistently declared that he aims to restore the boundaries of the old Soviet empire. He began by invading Georgia. Now, he is in Ukraine. If we do not stop Putin, his next targets are likely to be the Baltic states and possibly Poland. Again, like it or not, these states are NATO members. The United States is obliged to come to their defense the moment Russian troops touch their soil. This could precipitate a world war that none of us would survive.
I disagree with Vree on one point. Although I may be misinterpreting his point, he appears to suggest that Donald Trump’s presidency was an interregnum between the two eras of collaboration between the neocons and the East Coast elite. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that Trump’s tawdry pandering to Putin also played a role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For four years, Trump emboldened the Russian dictator to think that no one would care what Russia did to Ukraine. In fact, Trump’s lust for profit and power has always made him a key player in the East Coast cabal. Why else would he lavishly support the Clintons for so many years? Indeed, we might also wonder why he has consistently gone out of his way to appease Putin.
A. James McAdams
William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
So, the neocons are influencing the Biden administration to support the Ukrainians in their war against Russia, despite America’s mediocre record in 20th-century wars.
Here’s my perspective on that, from one who was a boy during Hitler’s rise and watched the United States defend itself and what was left of Christianity in that war and in the other little conflict we won: the Cold War. The lesson burned into me as a youth was: If you find a Hitler growing strong in your midst, defeat him at once, lest he become your downfall.
I consider Putin to be such a threat, and I support the United States and NATO (heck, we are NATO) in the effort to thwart him. Is he a nuclear threat? Yes, but we can’t let that hand him victory. What if he uses a nuclear weapon? Descend upon him with our full fury (decided in advance), using our non-nuclear weapons to crush him, providing the world a needed example that a nuclear attack can be countered without growing into the worldwide horror we fear.
And I don’t care whether a few neocons agree with me.
Please do not cancel my subscription. I love your journal, even if we occasionally disagree.
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
To my knowledge, the NOR has never canceled anybody’s subscription — except by request. We aren’t frazzled by disagreements; rather, we encourage debate, even if the debate leads to further disagreement. That’s what makes the NOR’s letters section one of the best reads in the industry.
Now, on to our disagreement!
Yes, NATO is a “done deal,” but Ukraine’s membership isn’t. Though the United States is “obliged” to defend NATO states, we are not required to defend non-NATO states such as Ukraine.
With all due respect to Joseph Kerwin and A. James McAdams, calling Putin the next Hitler is facile and glib, a tired trope trotted out whenever “moral” justification is needed for military action against a sovereign nation. Duplicitous U.S. politicians and their lapdogs in the corporate media have a long record of rallying support for our overseas adventures by presenting them as righteous crusades against evil personified. The most common way is to call our alleged enemies “the next Hitler.”
It started as early as 1955 when The New York Times referred to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser as “Hitler on the Nile.” Why? He’d purchased arms from communist Czechoslovakia. Within a year, our allies Great Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which was owned primarily by British and French shareholders. The trio withdrew following pressure from the Soviet Union and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower over fears of escalation. (Escalation in any regional conflict could precipitate a “worldwide horror.”)
In 1988 Vernon Walters, U.S. representative to the United Nations, made the same claim against Fidel Castro, saying (in terms echoed by Mr. Kerwin), “I am old enough to remember those who apologized for Hitler,” as well as the cries of horror that arose when what Hitler had done “filtered out to the world.” Walters said “the same cries will go up” when the world is made aware of the horrors perpetrated by Castro.
In November 1990 George H.W. Bush said Saddam Hussein — formerly a close ally of ours — was even worse than the Nazi leader, accusing the president of Iraq of “brutality that I don’t believe Adolf Hitler ever participated in.” (It seems Bush and Walters either forgot or conveniently ignored a little thing historians like to call the Holocaust.) According to the Associated Press, Bush’s remarks were designed to prepare Americans for “any eventuality.” Two months later, Bush authorized a major assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait, then one of the world’s key oil producers. (Russia, by the way, is the world’s third largest oil producer today.) A Gallant Foundation study found that between August 1990 and February 1991 the U.S. print media compared Hussein to Hitler on 1,035 occasions.
In 1999, in justification of NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, U.S. officials repeatedly compared Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević to Hitler. Even Bill Clinton got in on the act. Not satisfied with Milošević’s defeat, arrest, international trial, and death in a Dutch prison cell (allegedly by heart attack), The Wall Street Journal published an article about Milošević in 2006 titled “A Petty Hitler.”
In March 2003, as his father before him had done, George W. Bush rallied support for attacking Iraq by again comparing Saddam to Hitler, stating that a “policy of appeasement could bring devastation of the kind never seen on the face of the earth.” Ironically, that devastation was wrought not by our appeasement of Saddam but by our invasion of his country: Some 4,500 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, as were 3,800 U.S. contractors, 42,000 Iraqi military and police personnel, and 250,000 Iraqi civilians as a result of that ill-fated decision.
In 2011, during Libya’s civil war, U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham likened Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to Hitler. That same year, Barack Obama authorized a U.S.-led missile attack on Libya aimed at killing Qaddafi.
Two years later, during Syria’s civil war, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry labeled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the “new Hitler” after Obama had said Assad “must go,” and while the Obama administration was contemplating military intervention in Syria.
Heck, even Putin himself has used this rhetorical device. He claimed he invaded Ukraine to “denazify” that country.
Do you detect a pattern?
So many Hitlers! How to tell who the real one is? Well, the real Adolf Hitler died by his own hand in 1945, shooting himself in the head in the Führerbunker as Allied troops moved into Berlin. Will we see his likes again? Possibly. Is Putin the next Hitler? Probably not. (George Will has compared Putin instead to Otto von Bismarck, “who used three quickly decisive wars — against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866 and France in 1870 — to create a unified modern Germany from what had been a loose confederation of states,” Washington Post, Feb. 22.) But the Hitler label fits the purposes of those who want “moral” justification for a military expedition against the leader of a sovereign nation — Putin of Russia, this time around — a label used for the same purposes many times over. Will we never learn?
Complacency or Clarity of Thought?
Casey Chalk’s column “The Post-Liberal Project & the American Polis” (Revert’s Rostrum, Sept.) seems to vindicate the first sentence of my defense of integralism in the same issue (“What is Integralism?”). Integralism, which I would call a particular variety of post-liberalism, is obviously a force and probably a growing one, but it makes people uncomfortable. Chalk clearly recognizes the strength of its critique of liberalism, but he seems unsure of what to do about it. It’s impractical and lacks prudence, so best, he figures, just to accept and work with the social order bequeathed us by Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, and — may I say? — ultimately Satan.
But integralism, or any form of post-liberalism, need not compel us to choose between abandoning practical politics or accepting without a murmur the distortions of the liberal order. We can fully accept the critique of liberalism put forth by integralists and others and, at the same time, realize that we live in a Lockean polity and have to deal with that fact, including, for those so inclined, participation in politics. I tried to make clear in my article that integralism, right now, is mostly an exercise in clarification of thought.
The danger in Chalk’s advice is that, to most people, the counsel to “join the fray and save our imperfect polis” too easily becomes mere complacency, which allows us to avoid the hard thinking of what a Catholic social order should look like. If we take the Church’s social teachings seriously, the liberal order is fundamentally deficient. How do we deal with that fact? Do we ignore it because there’s nothing immediate to be done?
Politics can have two meanings. For most of us, most of the time, it’s about the daily grubbing for votes, and the deals and betrayals that take place in and around legislative bodies. But it can also mean, following Aristotle, thinking about what is good for our polity, about the fundamental shape of our institutions. Only in the latter sense is integralism a political project at this moment. And, ultimately, this latter sense of politics is more important than the daily give-and-take on which politicians seem to thrive.
The maxim, cited by Chalk, that politics is the art of the possible was coined by Otto von Bismarck. He did not simply sit around and make the best of things; rather, he engaged in long-range (and sometimes duplicitous) planning to achieve his goal: the displacement of Catholic Austria by Protestant Prussia as the political and cultural leader of Germany. Bismarck kept his eyes on the second meaning of politics and achieved a fundamental reordering of German national life, much more than he could have achieved simply by managing the Prussian legislature on behalf of the king.
Post-liberalism ought not to, and ultimately cannot, be ignored by Catholics. While rightly noting that, right now, integralism is an intellectual construct, that does not mean it is nothing. For, as Pope Leo XIII wrote in Aeterni Patris, “Since it is in the very nature of man to follow the guide of reason in his actions, if his intellect sins at all his will soon follows; and thus it happens that false opinions, whose seat is in the understanding, influence human actions and pervert them. Whereas, on the other hand, if men be of sound mind and take their stand on true and solid principles, there will result a vast amount of benefits for the public and private good.”
Casey Chalk’s insightful column left me wondering what exactly his position is in the debate between classical liberals and post-liberal integralists. He seems to agree with the post-liberal critique of classical liberalism, but he also seems to disagree with the post-liberal solution as unrealistic.
I would be interested to know what Chalk makes of the work of thinkers such as Robert P. George who defend religious liberty and other aspects of classical liberalism but who are also trenchant critics of the problematic cultural trends that motivate the post-liberals. Relatedly, I would be interested to know what Chalk makes of the pre-Enlightenment — especially medieval and Catholic — roots of classical liberalism, and what resources these may offer for correcting the cultural trends that both sides in this debate find problematic, or whether he thinks that these roots, too, either call for correction or do not warrant classical liberalism.
Robert J. Matava
Dean of the Graduate School, Christendom College
Front Royal, Virginia
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
I thank Thomas Storck and Robert J. Matava for their letters.
Mr. Storck’s summary of my argument is incomplete. I didn’t argue only that integralism is impractical, but that much of what we understand as classical liberalism (integralism’s nemesis) has much deeper (and even Catholic) roots than Luther, Hobbes, Locke, and Smith. Moreover, I also argued that liberalism, despite its flaws, promotes many objective goods. These include religious liberty and private property. Both have served American Catholics well, given the relative strength of the Church in this country (compared to many other historically Catholic European nations) and the fact that millions of our coreligionists have leveraged free enterprise to build better, sustainable lives for themselves and their children.
Storck says we can appreciate liberalism’s limitations while “those so inclined” can participate in politics. I think that’s both naïve and insufficient. It is naïve because all Americans, regardless of our dissatisfaction with (and perhaps even disregard of) our imperfect political system, are participants in this regime. We are beholden to its institutions and laws, its taxation authorities, and the innumerable coercive powers it regularly levels against us and our communities, from conscription to speed limits. Of course, we can attempt passivity and retreat in order to retain an ideological purity from a “Satanic” regime, but in a democratic republic like ours, that amounts to irresponsibility. Let me explain why.
I, like Storck, subscribe to an Aristotelian conception of politics, which, in its expansive character, understands politics as meaning citizens’ diverse participation in the public square. Modern interpreters of Aristotle, such as Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, argue that we possess individual rights but also obligations (or pietas, to use Pieper’s word) to our fellow citizens. Those obligations are especially acute when the regime aims to harm those fellow citizens, as is now often the case. Our neighbors, whether they realize it or not, need our active participation in the res publica to protect them from evil and orient them toward the good. This includes not only voting for candidates who promote that good but protesting unjust, immoral laws and state-sanctioned ideology, as well as taking part in various other forms of civic engagement.
Let me give some practical examples. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson declared that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Previously, there had been, on average, almost a million abortions per year in this country. Because of Dobbs, there will be thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, fewer murdered children per year. This achievement required decades of relentless political action and volunteering by activists who turned the Republican Party and conservative judges into reliable pro-life allies. The cynic might argue that this victory will be fleeting, given the supposed groundswell of pro-choice opposition, but even if that’s true, saving the lives of thousands of American children was surely worth the effort.
Here’s another example: This summer, the Virginia Department of Education, under recently elected Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, issued “new model policies” that seek to curb the influence of gender ideology in the Commonwealth’s public schools. The new regulations include requirements that students’ participation in school programs and use of school facilities, such as bathrooms or locker rooms, be based on their biological sex; that schools may not conceal information about students’ so-called gender identity from their parents; and that parents must be given the opportunity to object before schools offer gender-related counseling services to their children. Again, the cynic may retort that these policies could be short lived if the next Virginia gubernatorial election results in a Democratic victory. But even if true, until then, my home state’s public schools will be less able to persuade minors (including prepubescent children) to permanently harm themselves.
I could also cite the manifold civic activities that influence our immediate neighbors and communities. Volunteering within our American Legions, our libraries, our Little Leagues, and many other places offers opportunities to represent, either explicitly or implicitly, an authentically Catholic conception of the good life. Our absence from these places cedes ground to the forces of evil and leaves our neighbors, and especially our neighbors’ children, vulnerable to ideas and activities that may well destroy them. Pietas demands our presence not only in our parishes but in the polis.
I welcome Dr. Matava’s request to further expound on my (qualified) defense of liberalism. Fully addressing his questions would require another full-length treatment, but I’ll offer a few general remarks. Robert P. George and Ryan T. Anderson, in an article titled “The Baby and the Bathwater,” argue that rejecting the illusory moral neutrality of liberalism does not necessitate abandoning all forms of liberalism. “Representative government, separation of powers, constitutionalism, limited government and respect for the autonomy and integrity of institutions of civil society (beginning with the marriage-based family), jury trial, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other basic civil liberties all pre-date John Locke,” they say (National Affairs, Fall 2019). I agree wholeheartedly. Many of those aforementioned institutions, as I noted in my column, predate Locke and Luther and find support in the Catholic tradition or the wisdom of the Greeks and Romans.
Matava and others should not be surprised to learn that I believe pre-Enlightenment and pre-Reformation support for “liberal” institutions offers a corrective to their radicalism and abuse in our own age. Many American Catholics (and some non-Catholics) for generations have sought to steer our institutions and laws toward the principles of the natural law, a tradition that Catholic thinker Robert R. Reilly has argued can be traced to the (mostly Protestant) Framers, if not further back (see his book America on Trial, 2020). In a pluralist, increasingly secular society like ours, how to do this effectively requires shrewd calculation. Recent criticisms of gender ideology and critical race theory by Catholic thinkers and pundits provide one example of how we can inject arguments into the public square that, though not typically presented as explicitly Catholic, are deeply informed by Catholic teaching. “Devising sound political institutions and crafting good public policy isn’t simply a matter of direct derivation from first principles of philosophy (or theology),” write George and Anderson. “Rather, it requires what Aquinas referred to as a determinatio: an application of true moral principles to the particularities of one’s time and place.”
I appreciate the integralist desire for intellectual purity when it comes to political philosophy — who wouldn’t want to be a citizen of a state that conscientiously seeks to apply Catholic principles to every area of life? Unfortunately, that is not the society we inhabit — nor, frankly, is it one inhabited by the vast majority of the world in 2022. It’s true: our liberal institutions are flawed and easily manipulated to errant ends. In that regard, we are not unique in Christian history. The institutions of imperial Rome contained both good and bad, yet Christians were able to orient them toward the service of the good and, sometimes, their God (think of St. Paul leveraging his Roman citizenship in the name of justice and a fair hearing of the Gospel). The task of 21st-century American Catholics may not be identical to that of the early Church, but it certainly presents some analogies.
A Dismal Picture
Thomas Storck paints a dismal picture of modernity that includes this remarkable statement: “The new kind of political and social life introduced by liberalism proved much worse for everyone — except for those clever and unscrupulous enough to take advantage of the new opportunities for moneymaking” (“What Is Integralism?” Sept.).
According to Storck, it seems, the several billion people since 1900 whose lives have been lifted from poverty to something approaching a middle-class existence are really worse off than those in the 16th century, as people today are being exploited by global corporate enterprises that have brought about the material fruits of modernity: advanced medicine; hospitals; sanitary sewers; clean water and air; better and safer food, clothing, and shelter; as well as improvements in transportation and communication that make these and other advantages of modern life possible.
Centrally managed economies were tried in the 20th century, of which the prime example was the Soviet Union, and they failed dismally. Would an integralist economy be any better?
San Marcos, Texas
Thanks very much to Casey Chalk and Thomas Storck for their contributions (Sept.) to the ongoing conversation about integralism, wherein thinkers explore how and in what ways it might make sense to advocate for the integration of Church and state rather than their separation so as to build up the common good as defined by Christians in general and Catholics in particular.
The appearance of integralism as a movement was sparked by the 2017 publication of Before Church and State, Andrew Jones’s landmark study of a moment in 13th-century France when distinct temporal and spiritual powers effectively modeled healthy institutional pluralism for subsequent generations owing to dual membership in what can only be called a liturgical cosmos. Given that most people in the post-Christian West no longer reside in that cosmos, it would be ridiculous to imagine that “integrating” the Church and the modern centralized state could ever of itself “sign” or enable the common good. Nevertheless, owing to the continuing enforcement of woke ideology, some people do, in fact, advocate for that integration, most recently Adrian Vermeule of Harvard University in Common Good Constitutionalism.
And there’s the rub.
Storck says people who welcome and trust in originalist interpretations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are “haunted” by the “specter” of integralism, but I think it would be more correct to say that we are intrigued by integralist critiques (eager to understand them so as to better counter the forces conspired against us) and, no less importantly, thoughtful about the extent to which positions regarding post-liberalism appear to have hardened to the point where the NOR now requires simultaneous articles by two contributing editors — namely, Storck and Chalk (sounds like a law firm!) — to argue for, and against, integralism. Might it not be time for an integralist conversation reset?
Given that Chalk’s rather sweeping dismissal of the theory outweighs his perceptive and much-needed observation that standard post-liberal critiques falsely equate liberalism with Protestantism, and given too that Storck’s cavalier reduction of John Locke’s legacy to the privatization of religion (rather than toleration as well as privatization) weighs approximately as much as his regularly sounded insistence that papal encyclicals “must” be obeyed (rather than listened to, reflected on, and convinced by), I think the answer is yes, it is time for a reset. What would be the best way forward to inaugurate that reset? I think there’s just one way forward, that being to reassess the legacy of the man virtually every integralist cites when it comes time to legitimate their proposals: Pope Leo XIII.
Leo XIII was, without question, a great pope, but not for the reasons Storck and other integralists believe. Post-liberals tend, for obvious reasons, to exalt Leo’s 1885 encyclical Immortale Dei, wherein he argues that it is “a public crime to act as though there were no God” and, too, that states have a duty to constrain “liberty of thinking and publishing” when the common good is endangered. However, the premise that allows Leo to conclude that it is a public crime to act as though there were no God — to wit, that “proofs” of God’s existence are “abundant and striking” — is now, for most of the world, problematic, given the 20th-century consensus regarding the failure of the Enlightenment to secure glimpses of transcendentals like goodness, truth, and beauty. And that fact, in turn, means that the papal voice in Immortale Dei is relatively lacking in authoritative power, compared to the voice that sounded forth six years later in Rerum Novarum (Leo’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labor) and then a full ten years later in Longinqua (Leo’s 1895 letter on Catholicism in the U.S.). Those are the encyclicals that best define Leo’s greatness as a pope, for these latter documents speak with incontestable authority to a 21st-century audience, the reason being that in these encyclicals Leo argues, right from the start, that in liberal democratic societies the common good is best built from the ground up by laypersons and religious working voluntarily, rather than by state-issued, ultimately coercive, directives emanating downward from centralized powers.
How can the common good be built from the ground up? In two ways, suggests Leo. First, by constructing a parochial school system that will instruct pupils in logic as well as faith and morals, and second, by resisting calls for the eradication of private property and committing to ownership and to some extent even entrepreneurship as a means for inculcating virtuous behavior. Is that integralism? I think it sounds more like classical liberalism, or at least the strain of liberalism on view in American founding documents and, more recently, in publications by thinkers like Patrick Henry College professor Mark Mitchell, whose wonderful new book Plutocratic Socialism: The Future of Private Property and the Fate of the Middle Class reads (unwittingly!) like an updated Rerum Novarum.
But whatever we call it, and regardless of what label we affix to ourselves, the way forward is becoming, almost by the day and in direct proportion to the woke technocracy rising in our midst, increasingly clear. It is to remember that the First Amendment prohibits the banishment of public religion as clearly as it prohibits the establishment of a state-sponsored church, and then, on the strength of that understanding, to follow through on Leonine teaching by realigning our schools with Western tradition and building genuinely localized economies in which the practice of ownership is widespread.
THOMAS STORCK REPLIES:
Karl Stephan apparently assumes that an economy oriented by Catholic teaching toward the common good would necessarily be a centrally planned economy. This is not the case. Space prevents a full presentation of the principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy here, but it is important to recognize that although “the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces,” as Pius XI put it, neither does it require central economic planning.
However, if we examine the catalog of goods Mr. Stephan mentions — “advanced medicine; hospitals; sanitary sewers; clean water and air; better and safer food, clothing, and shelter; as well as improvements in transportation and communication” — we might note that most of these were not brought about by free-market forces but by government policies that regulated and restrained free-market forces for the public welfare. This is most obvious in the case of “safer food.” I urge Stephan to read the papal social encyclicals, beginning with Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, to get an idea of what a Catholic economy might look like and how it would differ from a centrally planned economy.
Will Hoyt’s comments about integralism are interesting but aren’t, I think, warranted by facts. Whether or not “integralism as a movement was sparked by the 2017 publication of Before Church and State,” Andrew Jones is hardly responsible for the revival of integralist ideas. Whenever Catholics begin to take the Church’s teaching on the social order seriously, something like integralism will be rediscovered. In my case, I came to it in the 1990s simply by reading the papal encyclicals and some of the debates about Dignitatis Humanae. In fact, I wrote a book on the Catholic state, Foundations of a Catholic Political Order, in 1998, the second edition of which was released earlier this year.
Mr. Hoyt avers that “it would be ridiculous to imagine that ‘integrating’ the Church and the modern centralized state could ever of itself ‘sign’ or enable the common good.” Given that I said in my article that right now “integralism is not a program for political action, but simply a means for Catholics to learn to think with the Church,” it doesn’t seem that there is much disagreement between us on this point.
I’m puzzled by Hoyt’s reference to “people who welcome and trust in originalist interpretations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” I suppose he’s referring to my mention of Catholic conservatives. I highly doubt that interest in constitutional originalism is the defining characteristic of conservative Catholics — indeed, I doubt most of them even possess a coherent understanding of the idea — but let us let that pass. We are on more serious ground when we discuss John Locke.
Yes, Locke wanted religious toleration — up to a point. According to Locke, whenever the practices of a religion conflict with a plausible secular claim by the state, the religion in question simply has to give up its practices, and the state has absolutely no interest in whether the religious practice in question might be highly pleasing to God. One can see Locke’s doctrine stated with clarity and rigor in Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith (1990). Locke’s doctrine necessarily entails a dismissal of religion from public life and its relegation to the private sphere. In fact, the Lockean state is at best deistic, with a god that has revealed nothing and takes no interest in anything, a god that is, at best, a prop for personal morality and psychological comfort.
Equally worthy of discussion is Hoyt’s apparent disagreement with my assumption that papal encyclicals do indeed have some authority — not simply to be “listened to, reflected on, and convinced by.” Hoyt’s apparent relegation of encyclicals to the status of mere advisory documents hardly comports with the Church’s understanding of their status, particularly as stated by Pius XII in Humani Generis.
Discussion of papal encyclicals leads Hoyt to speak of Leo XIII’s encyclicals. I am puzzled by Hoyt’s assertion that while “Immortale Dei is relatively lacking in authoritative power,” this is not the case with Longinqua, addressed to the American bishops ten years later. The latter says the same thing as the former, asserting that “it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced. The fact that Catholicity with you [Americans] is in good condition, nay, is even enjoying a prosperous growth, is by all means to be attributed to the fecundity with which God has endowed His Church, in virtue of which unless men or circumstances interfere, she spontaneously expands and propagates herself; but she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.”
Finally, I am all in favor of sound Catholic schools, parochial or otherwise, and agree that they are an important ingredient in promoting the common good. I am not familiar with Mark Mitchell’s book, but I would caution Hoyt and other readers that any alleged way forward that involves an embrace of liberalism, 19th century or otherwise, runs afoul of both the Church’s teaching and the lessons of history.
Dobbs: A Tragic Statement
James G. Hanink’s insights get right to the heart of the ongoing problem confronting those of us who know that every abortion ends the life of a fellow human being (“After Dobbs: What’s Next?” guest column, Sept.). While suggesting — accurately, I might add — that “the furious are in full throttle,” Hanink goes on to say that for those of us who fight the killing, many are not committed to ending the horror of abortion.
Hanink does not say that in so many words, but he does remind us of the profound truth taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, that it is never acceptable to kill an innocent person, the very act being a violation of justice. This is why it is wrong for any pro-life person to suggest that regulating abortion at the state or local level is somehow a good thing. Quite the contrary: it is evil.
When the U.S. Supreme Court blithely ruled that it was up to individual states to dispose of abortion in whatever way state lawmakers see fit, the message was clearly that the court will not address the human personhood of the preborn child and, worse, it has no expectations that state lawmakers or judges will do so either. Rather than being a minuscule victory for babies, then, Dobbs is a tragic statement of total disregard for the humanity of individuals who exist, each and every one, from their conception forward.
Kudos to Hanink for making this clear. I agree that the time is nigh for every one of us to take up the “mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature,” as Pope St. John Paul II challenged us to do in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”).
Judie Brown, President
American Life League
James G. Hanink gives us many points to ponder regarding the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I offer these additional insights.
1. Hanink writes that “a columnist for the Los Angeles Times dismissed memorials to preborn victims of abortion as political ploys.”
The abortion industry relies almost exclusively on secular criteria to promote the proliferation of abortion. For instance, it talks about abortion using euphemisms, calling it health care or reproductive rights. The LA Times columnist dismisses the idea of post-abortion memorials probably because they recognize the humanity of abortion victims. A parallel memorial that reveals the dignity of the unborn is when a funeral Mass and full burial rights are accorded for a preborn baby after a miscarriage. The Catholic Church and basic embryology agree: human life begins at conception. That’s hardly a “political ploy.”
2. Hanink writes that “there is no…federal right to abortion.”
The problem is that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t deal with matters of a moral nature. The Framers never considered the head-on collision of religion and politics over the abortion issue. Moral issues, at their time, were the province of religion and were settled through the merits of sound religion. If the Framers knew the science of embryology (i.e., that human life begins at conception), the Bill of Rights undoubtedly would have an amendment conferring personhood on American citizens starting at conception.
3. Hanink writes that “in reading Dobbs, we see that both sides argue about the character of settled law based on stare decisis.”
After overturning Roe v. Wade, Samuel Alito, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, revealed several key reasons for the court majority’s decision: “Roe found that the Constitution implicitly conferred a right to obtain an abortion, but it failed to ground its decision in text, history, or precedent…. Wielding nothing but ‘raw judicial power,’ the [Roe] Court usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance that the Constitution unequivocally leaves for the people…. It’s time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
4. Hanink writes that “both sides argue at length whether overturning Roe and Casey would violate the 14th Amendment’s demand for due process.”
In the United States, we have something called the Vagueness Doctrine. Under the 14th Amendment, the government cannot write a law that is vague in principle or concept. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the court found the privacy right to birth control in the penumbras (shadows) of the Constitution. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the court found the privacy right to abortion in the same penumbra. As Associate Justice Clarence Thomas said in 2020, the Roe court “created the right to abortion based on an amorphous [vague] unwritten right to privacy.”
Politics, politics, politics. That’s all the mainstream media offers us on the issue of abortion. But, as President John Adams said in 1798 to the Massachusetts Militia, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” Maybe one day the Bible again will be relevant to the morals of our society as it was in the time of our country’s founding.
The wisdom of God, through the Word of God, awaits those who humble themselves. The Bible says, “Before I [God] formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you came forth from the womb I sanctified you” (Jer. 1:5). Who, in his right mind, would attempt abortion after acknowledging that?
Dan Arthur Pryor
Belvidere, New Jersey
What worries me about the proposed amendment to the California Constitution is the vagueness of its language. As James G. Hanink reports, the suggested change includes the following language: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion…. This section is intended to further the constitutional right to privacy…and the constitutional right to not be denied equal protection…. Nothing herein narrows or limits the right to privacy or equal protection.”
We run a risk of having those words thrown into the faces of any doctor or nurse who refuses to participate in an abortion. However, I suppose we can be grateful that the amendment does not include the following: “and the State shall pay for all requested abortions.”
A softening of the language will not be considered, I’m afraid, and so it will be up to us to work toward a society in which no woman thinks that ending the life of her child is a choice she has to make in order to be successful in the world.
Mrs. Leslie Shaw Klinger, O.P.
JAMES G. HANINK REPLIES:
My thanks to Judie Brown, Dan Arthur Pryor, and Leslie Shaw Klinger for their responses to my column.
Mrs. Brown’s abolitionist response to Dobbs is a worthy alternative to incrementalism, and it attends nearly every step of the pro-life struggle. I did not, however, say that many pro-lifers lack a commitment to ending abortion. Moreover, whether regulating abortion at the state or local level is a good thing depends on what the regulation is.
As far as what the Supreme Court will or will not address, that depends in large part on how we respond to Dobbs. I am especially heartened by the resurgence of rescue interventions. As always, we are in debt to Judie Brown for her longtime leadership in what St. John Paul II called the “mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature.”
The Church is desperately in need of devout and learned individuals who hesitate but do not fear to object to poor and even dangerous decisions and actions by leaders in their beloved Church. Both Fr. Gerald Murray and Monica Migliorino Miller are such individuals.
In her review of Fr. Murray’s book Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Church and Society (Sept.), Dr. Miller rightly draws attention to Murray’s perspicacious comment that the problem with the modern age is the failure to make reality the test for claims about truth. His remarks about the problems with the Novus Ordo Mass are balanced and sound.
Books that are deep, critical, and fair are rare. I am grateful to Miller for alerting us that Fr. Murray has written such a book. Though, unlike Miller, I like knowing that Murray enjoys playing ice hockey, and I would love to know what he is reading.
Janet E. Smith
A Power Superior to Man
Thank you for Clement Anthony Mulloy’s article “An Apologia for Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet” (Sept.). Though little known, Fr. De Smet is one of the most memorable people in the history of the West. Recognition of his role, not just as a missionary but as a priest trusted by both the Indians and the U.S. government, is appropriate and appreciated.
Mulloy’s reminder that the Indians on this continent had a “constant desire to discover some power superior to man” is an example of what anthropologists and archeologists tell us was the belief of ancient peoples around the world. These ancient peoples did their best to understand the Creator and creation. We consider their stories about their gods amusing, but these legends were an attempt to describe a Creator, an earth, and a universe the ancients did not have the information to explain.
We Christians know the love of God because Jesus provided the truth that people had been searching to understand for millennia. We are thankful for His teachings and that, unlike ancient peoples, we are not dependent on our imaginations and guesses.
Port Orchard, Washington
I appreciated Clement Anthony Mulloy’s article. I remember the statue of Fr. De Smet at St. Louis University; I graduated from there twice (1962 and 1969). What a shame that my alma mater has gone “woke” and bowed to public pressure to remove the statue. I stopped contributing several years ago when the university started losing its Catholic identity.
Have I Been Brainwashed?
I would like to understand the Catholic view of other Christian religions. I was born into a Catholic family, raised Catholic, and went to Catholic schools. The religious sister who taught me about the faith in grade school acknowledged that our Church has made mistakes and that’s why we are to pray for one another and for the leaders of all religions.
I have come face to face with those from other Christian churches who, when they find out I’m Catholic, tell me what we Catholics believe! They’re often wrong, but when I try to explain our faith to them, they tell me I’ve been brainwashed.
Isn’t that when we should pray for them and not get angry? That is hard sometimes. Christ’s command was for us to pray for and love one another.
People get upset when I say the only true religion is Christ Himself. Believe me, I love going to Mass. But I believe that no church, religion, minister, or priest — and certainly no government — can save anyone.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Living as we do in a pluralistic society, most of us regularly encounter non-Catholics in our daily lives. Given that America is historically a Protestant nation, a good many of those we encounter are likely non-Catholic Christians.
It is in those encounters that witnessing to and defending the Catholic faith is most challenging, for though we live in an Age of Information, the history of Protestant and Catholic engagement suffers from a legacy of misinformation (and, sometimes, the more nefarious disinformation). When in need of succinct, clear information regarding the Catholic faith, the best and most obvious place to start is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
But before we can address Protestant misconceptions of Catholicism, we must clear up some of our own. “Christ” is not, properly speaking, a religion. A religion is, primarily, belief in a supernatural power and, secondarily, acts of devotion toward that supernatural power. Christ, for Christians, is that supernatural power. In other words, He is the object of our devotion, not the act of our devotion. Catholicism, on the other hand, is a religion — it offers distinct acts of devotion toward (or modes of worship of) Christ — as is the more nebulous Christianity, or Protestantism, which offers myriad modes of worshiping Christ.
We Catholics worship Christ in the Church, and, according to Lumen Gentium, Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” the Catholic Church is “necessary for salvation” (no. 14). The Catechism calls the Church the “universal Sacrament of Salvation” (no. 774) and the “instrument of salvation for all” (no. 776). For that reason, we Catholics believe that “outside the Church there is no salvation,” meaning that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (no. 846).
That doesn’t mean our Protestant friends and neighbors are beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Though we occasionally refer to them as our “separated brethren,” Unitatis Redintegratio, Vatican II’s “Decree on Ecumenism,” teaches that we “cannot charge with the sin of separation those who at present are born into these [Protestant] communities,” communities it calls “deficient” (no. 3).
Though we charge Protestants with no sin for the circumstances into which they were born, we must acknowledge that their true spiritual home is in the Catholic Church, and we must somehow convey that to them. Most, of course, won’t want to hear it or, hearing it, won’t believe it. They will fall back on their favored misconceptions about Catholicism or the untruths with which they were reared. Generally speaking, getting angry about it doesn’t help (though there are some who can only be reached through displays of anger). Rather, countering false statements about our faith with the truth is the better response, even if it must be done ad nauseam. But the best response is the simplest: Come and see. Invite your non-Catholic friends to come to your parish for Mass, adoration, processions, or other events to see what Catholicism is really about. The lived example often bests the winningest arguments.
This is real ecumenism, person to person and heart to heart, and it is our duty. For Christ wills that all be one; He wills Christian unity. And “this unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio, no. 277). Therefore, the onus is on us as Catholics to persuade our Protestant friends of the need to consider the fullness of faith found in the Catholic Church. As Unitatis Redintegratio teaches, “Catholics, in their ecumenical work, must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them” (no. 4).
We do this not for our own gratification, but to honor Him whom we serve. As the Catechism states, “To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into His Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation” (no. 845).
Yet, in all we do to try to make the case for Catholicism as the end and fulfillment of the Christian experience, we must remember that “the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ” — that is, in the Catholic Church — “transcends human powers and gifts” (Catechism, no. 822). For “in all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about” (Lumen Gentium, no. 15).
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