Of course the celebration of the end of a great evil was muted by the fact that many in the West, notably intellectuals, never did get around to acknowledging communism as a great evil. Remember the flood of ink expended in chiding Reagan when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. Now almost everybody is ready to say, as though it was never a matter of dispute, that of course it was an empire and of course it was evil. That's obvious, it is said, by people who still condemn those bothersome anti-Communists who made such a fuss about it. In an interesting twist, the idea that the Soviet Union was evil, corrupt, and hopelessly incompetent has given birth to the idea that it collapsed of itself. Reagan, John Paul II, the West's military resolve, the long, bitter struggles of those who resisted their totalitarian masters-none of that really mattered. "It could never have lasted. It's surprising that it went on as long as it did," remarked a Princeton professor on a recent talk show. He who had for decades been telling us that Soviet Communism was "a fact of life" and we would have to learn to live with it, meaning we would have to accommodate it.
We speak of the "collapse" of the empire. As though a spring in the works finally broke, or a fuse blew. Admittedly, it was more collapse than conquest, but the thing did not fall of itself. There were persistent external pressures, and it is true to say that a victory was won. Chiefly by the people inside who resisted the tyrants but also, as those inside will be the first to tell you, by those outside who were steadfast and helped them to sustain hope that the night would sometime end. In that connection they mention most consistently John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Little wonder that so many in the West do not want to hear the story of the end of the empire as it is told by those who lived through it.
Even for those in the West who were in a mood to celebrate what they perceived as a victory, it seemed there was hardly time. As one evil collapsed, a hundred others emerged to take its place. Bosnia is but the word we use to refer to dozens of other bloody conflicts within the former empire. Western television, perhaps gauging its viewers' appetite for unpleasantness, focuses on one at a time. Far from being the end of history, it is the return of history for peoples who are only now free to speak and act on resentments and aspirations that were never forgotten. Vaclav Havel, the playwright who is president of the Czech Republic, observes: "It is truly astonishing to discover how, after decades of falsified history and ideological manipulation, nothing has been forgotten. Nations are now remembering their ancient achievements and their ancient suffering, their ancient suppressors and their allies, their ancient statehood and their former borders, their traditional animosities and affinities-in short, they are suddenly recalling a history that, until recently, had been carefully concealed or misrepresented."
The history that has been recalled seems to be beyond control. Europe and the U.S. failed in Bosnia. One says that without knowing what they might have done not to fail. They are not likely even to posture as the champions of peace and justice in the many other conflicts that have broken out or will break out. The magnitude of what has happened and of the tasks that lie ahead has little touched the imagination of most Americans. Havel writes: "The fall of the Communist empire is an event on the same scale of historical importance as the fall of the Roman empire. And it is having similar consequences, both good and extremely disturbing. It means a significant change in the countenance of today's world. The change is painful and will take a long time. To build a new world on the ruins of communism might be as extended and complex a process as the creation of a Christian Europe-after the great migration- once was."
Havel, who is equivocal about his own Christian commitment, is driven to-some might say he "escapes" to-reflections on the spiritual. "I see only one way out of this crisis: man must come to a new understanding of himself, of his limitations and his place in the world. He should grasp his responsibility in a new way, and reestablish a relationship with the things that transcend him. We must rehabilitate our sense of ourselves as active human subjects, and liberate ourselves from the captivity of a purely national perception of the world. Through this 'subjecthood' and the individual conscience that goes with it, we must discover a new relationship to our neighbors, and to the universe and its metaphysical order, which is the source of the moral order."
Havel and John Paul II read one another. The 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus, is an ambitious argument premised upon the concepts of the "acting person" and the "subjectivity of society." In suppressing the human subject, communism suppressed the transcendent, and vice versa. "Realists" think such talk impossibly fuzzy, little more than another version of what the lady in the White House calls "the politics of meaning." But it is in fact uncomfortably concrete. It is not a certain system or set of policies or constellation of sociopolitical forces that need to change; you need to change, we need to change. Yes, some systems and policies no doubt need to be changed, but nothing will avail without the spiritual renewal of the acting subject of history, man. And "man" is all of us, one by one.
It is the great designs for changing structures and policies and social forces that are fuzzy, vague, and evil in consequence, no matter how noble in concept. Communism was the greatest, the most ambitious, the most comprehensive design that human beings ever attempted to impose by force. Its defeat is cause for celebration. And for renewed determination to attend to the particularities of persons and their communities. Utopias are postponed indefinitely. Being a good and decent person in community with others, and in accord with a moral order that is not of our designing, is task enough. And that is as true for the renewal of America as it is for those countries left in the ruins of the Soviet empire.
Life and Death in "The Movement"
A speaker in search of a platform, a crusader in search of a cause, a
leader in search of a following. Allard Lowenstein was all of that and,
until the last decade of his life, he usually found what he was
searching for. Born in 1929 and shot dead by a mad disciple in 1980, he
seemed at times to be a one-man movement within the prolonged agitation
that, beginning in the 1960s and lingering to this day, is called The
Movement. At the University of North Carolina-an unlikely school for a
rich and terribly bright Jewish kid from New York who could have gone to
Harvard or Yale-Lowenstein distinguished himself in college politics,
becoming the founding inspiration of the National Student Association
and its crusade to enlist the students of the world on the side of
democracy and against totalitarianism. In the early sixties he played a
pivotal part in organizing the freedom rides in support of desegregating
the South, and by 1965 he was in the forefront of protest against U.S.
policies in Vietnam. Along the way, he adventurously tripped through
South Africa and from that experience produced his only book, Brutal
Mandate, an early and stirring call for Western opposition to
Al Lowenstein is most remembered, to the extent that he is remembered at all, for initiating the "dump Johnson" movement that induced Senator Eugene McCarthy to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the Democratic nomination and resulted in Johnson's withdrawal of 1968. According to a new biography by William H. Chafe (Never Stop Running: Allard Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism, Basic Books, 592 pp., $28), it was all downhill for Lowenstein after that. In fact, in Mr. Chafe's account-and he is none too sympathetic to his subject-the downhill slide began much earlier.
Above all, Chafe will not forgive Lowenstein for his anticommunism. From early on, Al Lowenstein was clear-eyed about the totalitarian threat. It was one of the factors that made him William F. Buckley's favorite interlocutor on the left. (To the consternation of his admirers, Buckley endorsed Lowenstein for Congress.) For Chafe, anticommunism was Lowenstein's unpardonable sin. Not that he doesn't have a lot of other problems with Lowenstein. As is the way with pathobiographies, the book delves into a putatively tortured childhood. As a conscientious do- gooder, Lowenstein felt guilty about coming from a rich family. More poignantly, he was embarrassed about his Jewishness and spent almost his entire life trying to pass himself off as a WASP. From the sources cited, it does seem that Lowenstein had a stepmother who makes the stereotypically smothering Jewish mother seem like an understatement. And there is no doubt that Lowenstein had a passion, perhaps an inordinate passion, to be accepted, to be liked. But on these scores and others, Chafe does his best, which is to say his worst, to turn problems into pathologies (e.g., "Lowenstein thrived by feeding on people").
Never Stop Running, one regrets to say, is laced with nastiness. Particularly nasty and confused is its treatment of Lowenstein's alleged homosexuality. There is a diary entry by the youthful Lowenstein indicating that he was sexually attracted to boys, and was worried about it. Nothing especially unusual about that. The big item is that, when he was on speaking tours and traveling with a male assistant, Lowenstein would arrange for them to stay in motel rooms with one bed. After years of assiduous research, the journalistic equivalent of sniffing bedsheets, Chafe never establishes that anything happened in those beds beyond friendly embraces and the comfort of human company. That he does not establish the point is certainly not for lack of trying. On the basis of this book, however, there is no reason to believe that Lowenstein-who was married and had several children-was "gay" in the current meaning of the term. He may have been often lonely and innerly conflicted about his sexuality, but there is no warrant for the book's obsession with Lowentein's homosexuality.
The author's obsession with homosexuality is, in addition to being distasteful, deeply confused. Most of the time, the theme of homosexuality seems to be pursued as part and parcel of the author's indictment of his subject. The implication is that in this respect, too, Lowenstein was a hypocrite, incapable of honesty about himself and the positions that he advanced. But then, toward the end, Chafe suggests that, if Lowenstein had lived longer or had had the nerve for it, he might have again found the new crusade that he needed in the gay liberation movement-a movement that is apparently in continuity with Chafe's understanding of being authentically radical. In this way, the reader is invited to believe, Lowenstein might have, at least partially, redeemed the life of which he had made such a shambles.
Never Stop Running is a fine title. Especially after 1972, Al's life assumed a hectic, fevered, erratic character. In the last years his marriage fell apart, he seemed incapable of staying with one thing for long, and at the time of his death in 1980 was doing flack work on behalf of Senator Edward Kennedy's presidential bid. We saw one another from time to time, mainly talking about the nature of the political and why one must not let it become an idol that consumes the entirety of life. At least that is what this writer talked about, and Al seemed at times to be about half convinced. That, in our judgment, was Al's problem. His problem was that he believed-as William Chafe makes clear that he believes-that "the personal is the political and the political is the personal." It is a deadly formula. Al at times appeared to be open to the possibility that the formula was wrong, but he seemed to be unable to stop believing it, or at least to stop living as though it were true.
For Al (and many others), politics was movement-the student movement, the civil rights movement, finally the all-encompassing The Movement. He was extraordinarily good at what he did in the fifties and sixties. He was charismatic before the term became trivialized. Thousands of now middle-aged Americans can undoubtedly remember the time when, as students, they were carried along by Al's exhilarating confidence that they really could make a difference, that they could change the world. Many of them, one suspects, will resent Mr. Chafe's denigration of their hero. Life is not ordinarily graced with very many heroes, and it is understandable that people would want to hold on to the way they remember Allard Lowenstein.
Al was a liberal. He talked on and on about those who had been his heroes and his friends, about Eleanor Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, Martin Luther King. In his last years, it seemed to many that he was talking about the olden days, but for Al they were all today, and would be tomorrow. He was wrong about that. Along the way, however, he made an astonishing number of friends. Maybe, as Chafe charges, he was feeding on people, but they were also feeding on him. Put more kindly, and more accurately, they nourished one another. There is something splendid in that, even if they sometimes also nourished illusions about what politics can be.
William Buckley, along with Edward Kennedy, spoke at the funeral at Central Synagogue in Manhattan. "How did he live such a life," Buckley asked, "so hectic with public concern, while preoccupying himself so fully with the individual human being? His rhythms were not of this world. His days, foreshortened, lived out the secular dissonances. . . . Who was it who said that Nature abhors a vacuum? Let Nature then fill this vacuum. That is the challenge which, bereft, the friends of Allard Lowenstein hurl up to Nature and Nature's God, prayerfully, demandingly, because today, Lord, our loneliness is great." That is the way many of us will go on thinking about Al Lowenstein, Mr. Chafe's efforts notwithstanding.
Why Cupiditas Gets the Exciting Lines
Lust is exciting. Although it is forbidden, perhaps because it is
forbidden, lust is the enticing indulgence of deepest desire. Love, on
the other hand, is in the Christian reading of things the right ordering
of desire. It is desire tempered by duty, and duty is something of a
bore. That is a conventional interpretation of the difference between
cupiditas (lust) and caritas (love). According to
William S. Babcock of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist
University, it is a wrong interpretation. It is the reason why, in
thinking about life's story, cupiditas gets so many of the exciting,
passionate lines while caritas bespeaks the better but less interesting
side of ourselves.
The Christian understanding of love and loves has been powerfully influenced by Saint Augustine, and Babcock contends that most of us have been getting Augustine wrong. His is one of several engaging and instructive essays in a new book, Augustine Today, published by Eerdmans ($12.99), and emerging from a conference sponsored by our institute. (Other essays are by Ernest Fortin of Boston College, Robert J. O'Connell of Fordham, and Eugene TeSelle of Vanderbilt. The book includes an extensive "Story of an Encounter"-an account of what the essayists and twenty other scholars actually said during two days of intensive exchange-written by John Muether.) Here is a taste of Babcock's argument, an argument that we find entirely persuasive.
"Augustine does not use cupiditas and caritas to distinguish lust from love; he uses them to distinguish two loves. Both count as amor. The point is critical if we are to understand Augustine properly. Cupiditas is not a yielding to blind lust. It is human love seeking fulfillment-happiness-in a sphere that does not and cannot provide fulfillment, the sphere of mortal and transitory things. Since these things are subject to loss, they leave us vulnerable to loss and our love for them unavoidably tinged with fear. The social consequence . . . is that person is set against person, each perceiving the other as a threat to self; and the personal consequence is a demeaning of the self. Augustine's cupiditas is not mere lust. It is a rendering of the hopeless fragility and desperate outcome (both for self and for society) of love's search for fulfillment where fulfillment cannot be found. Certainly this love is flawed, morally, as 'the root of all evil'; but it is to be understood, all the same, as nothing less than love: love loving the wrong thing and thus love entangled in the web of unhappiness that it has spun for itself.
"Caritas, too, is a rendering of love, a love no less intensely passionate than cupiditas. In this case, of course, love seeks fulfillment where it can be found. Its object is not subject to loss; and its love, therefore, is untouched by fear. What is distinctively human-the soul with its capacities to think, to reason, to know-is not demeaned, but brought out of its emotive subjection to lesser things and realized in its full value: knowing is the mode in which this love attains it object. And this love does not set person against person, but rather joins person with person in the common bond of shared love for a shared object. Thus caritas is distinguished from cupiditas as love fulfilled from love unfulfilled, not by any diminishment of passion or of pleasure. In fact, just because caritas is love seeking and attaining the object that does afford human happiness, it would be more than strange if it lacked all intensity in its seeking and all pleasure in its attainment.
"If we do not see, then, that Augustine converted the question of happiness into a question of two loves-two loves differentiated, not first in the lover, but first by the loved-we are in danger of misconstruing what he meant both by cupiditas and by caritas, and we are in danger, too, of misconstruing the cultural and theological tradition within which we still largely, if often unwittingly, delineate our own notions of human love and human happiness, for that tradition was decisively shaped by Augustine and the Augustinian view of love."
Augustine Today is edited by your scribe, and he is confident that you will not regret giving it careful attention.
A Logic Extended
Jenny Teichman takes Peter Singer to task in the pages of The New
Criterion, and Mr. Singer certainly invites being taken to task. He
is an Australian who has popularized the notion of "speciesism"-meaning
the moral judgment that human beings count more than, say, piglets or
puppies. In Germany, Mr. Singer has been disinvited from conferences and
prevented from speaking on several occasions. He has complained about
this at length in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere.
It has become a minor cause celebre for people who take it to
be an issue of academic freedom. But it seems the Germans think they
have heard Mr. Singer's doctrines before, and they led to most
Ms. Teichman abhors Singer's condoning of infanticide and euthanasia, along with his general program of "deprivileging" the human species. She thinks the best term for Singer and his like is "personist." By that she means this: "Note that in ordinary life the word 'person' is strongly humanistic. Outside philosophy and religion its meaning is governed by the fact that its extension is in practice the same as the extension of the term 'human being.' In other words, in ordinary life 'person' and 'human being' refer to the same things. For this reason the ordinary sense of the word 'person' does not, indeed cannot, detach moral import from the concept of the human. The case is otherwise with the Singerian view of personhood, because when Singer draws his distinction between human beings and persons he carefully detaches moral import from his idea of the human and transfers it to his idea of the person." In the ethics of Peter Singer, Teichman writes, "person" is an honorific term.
One can agree with Teichman's criticism of Singer wholeheartedly while still raising a problem or two. We hope that "personist" does not find currency, since it is easily confused with "personalist," a philosophy associated with some of the greatest champions of the sanctity of human life, notably by Pope John Paul II. Second, we very much wish Ms. Teichman were right in suggesting that there is something novel in the separation of "person" from the human. That separation, far from originating with Peter Singer, is the very key to the argument for the abortion liberty in, for instance, Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions. Singer and those of like mind simply extend the logic of Roe somewhat further. But they are faithful to the logic. As fine as Ms. Teichman's article is, one is always a little surprised when very sensible people discuss these questions in a manner that ignores the reality and rationale of abortion.
Pop Culture and Tyranny
"Unless we improve the tone and quality of our own democratic culture,
we may end up helping the nations of Central and Eastern Europe move
from tyranny to decadence with no redeeming interval in between." That
is Ervin Duggan, a member of the Federal Communications Commission,
giving some good answers to good questions asked in an interview with
the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Can't the government clamp down
on some of the smuttiest smut being broadcast? Duggan responds: "I
believe that government should have laws against obscenity, although it
seems difficult to find a jury these days that's willing to judge
anything obscene. And I support the Federal Communications Commission's
enforcement standard that levies occasional fines on broadcast
indecency. But we need to realize that when the general level of taste
and morality breaks down in the society, government is hardly the agency
to cure the problem. The police are occasionally called to quell family
disputes and break up marital squabbles, but we don't think of the
police as marriage counselors or the source of the values that inform
family life. The problem is more a problem of ethics and morals than of
Is censorship today a real threat to American freedom? Duggan: "I suspect that the level of censorious sentiment is lower today that ever before, and that the strength of would-be censors less than ever. A useful question to ask, I think, is, 'What is the real wolf at our door?' In today's popular culture, it seems to me that the real wolf at the door is not censorship; a look at Phil Donahue or Oprah is proof that uninhibited free speech is alive and kicking in this country. The real wolves at the door today, in my judgment, are a pornographic concept of sex that robs adults of romance and children of innocence; a pornographic approach to violence that relishes gore and may even promote violent behavior-and finally, a general, in-your-face tastelessness that coarsens social life and robs it of beauty, civility, and elegance. But again, the answer is not the blunt instrument of censorship; it's a positive effort to promote what is good and true and beautiful."
Isn't positive change really up to parents? Says Duggan: "I'm not about to blame parents, who are beleagured and without much help. A generation ago parents could depend on the popular culture to support and reinforce their moral values. Now they can't. A generation ago, parents (typically the mother) had more choice about whether they would work outside or inside the home. Now they don't; many who would like to be at home when their kids come home from school can't afford to be. A generation ago, I suspect, more families lived closer to grandparents and relatives than they do now. So children are unconnected, turned loose, exposed to a relentless and invasive televised onslaught-and parents are told, by the very people who are concocting the swill, that they need to exercise more 'control.' To tell parents that parental 'control' is the only answer is unimaginative-like saying that gas masks are the only answer to air pollution, or that bulletproof vests are the only answer to drive-by shootings."
It may seem only a few years ago that "open marriages," "spouse
swapping," and "no-fault divorce" were touted as marks of liberation and
progress. In fact, those ideas and the behaviors they spawned have been
with us for three decades and the returns are now in. The consequences
are disastrous, especially for children and women. The proverbial
pendulum is now arching its way toward the commonsensical truths that
children need stable, two-parent families, and women deserve protection
from the predatory ways of too many men. These truths are receiving
increasing attention in the academic literature, but the change among
scholars is still hesitant and much disputed, since intellectuals have a
vested interest in perpetually complexifying the obvious.
Not so with syndicated columnist and committed Christian Michael J. McManus. He goes directly to the heart of things in Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Stay Married (Zondervan, $15.99 cloth, $9.99 paper). McManus presents persuasive evidence that 80 percent or more of even the most troubled marriages can be saved-and he gives very specific steps (steps actually used in the churches and families he describes) toward that end. The author is strongly and rightly critical of churches that bless unions without accepting responsibility for what happens before and after the wedding. Himself a Protestant, McManus suggests that Protestant churches that have turned themselves into "wedding factories" have a lot to learn from the marriage preparation and renewal programs sponsored by the Catholic Church.
While his main attention is on the local church and the family, McManus recognizes that divorce, abandonment, and the pervasive weakening of familial bonds constitute a public crisis that requires a rethinking of relevant public policies. He notes that present law permits a man to abandon his wife and family, run off with a secretary, force the sale of a family home so he can get half of its value, and then avoid alimony and even child support. McManus comes up with an idea that will undoubtedly meet opposition but is worth thinking about. Perhaps couples should be allowed to choose either a "Marriage of Compatibility" or a "Marriage of Commitment." In the latter, neither can divorce unless one party can prove that the other party broke the marital covenant by adultery or desertion. He further proposes that women divorced after long-term marriages deserve alimony until they die or remarry. California took this approach, and the number of divorces is dropping. McManus also asks us to think about the wisdom of having the IRS collect child support, much in the way that that agency now collects taxes.
It is not chiefly for its public policy proposals, however, that Marriage Savers is a book for our time. It is its unblinking account of what is happening to marriages and families and its straightforwardly practical remedies that make this book such a compelling call for churches and couples to get serious about the solemn and sacred adventure that is marriage. Those who just want a wedding without preparing themselves for the commitments of marriage-priests, pastors, and rabbis should have the confidence and honesty to say-can always go to the Justice of the Peace. Where there is such confidence and honesty on the part of clergy, McManus contends, the impact on marriage and divorce is dramatic.
Those critics are right who say that conservatism was for several
decades held together by opposition to communism. Mark C. Henrie, a
Harvard graduate student of political theory and valued contributor to
this journal, does not hesitate to admit it. He writes in The
Intercollegiate Review: "If, as Carl Schmitt once argued, politics
is a matter of finding enemies, then the conservatives were particularly
astute at seeing the real enemy of our time, while liberals, blinded
ideologically to enemies on the left, simply 'missed' the major threat
to peace, public liberty, and private virtue in the second half of this
century." That is a lot to miss, but, of course, communism is no longer
a politically available enemy. Communism, Henrie jons others in
suggesting, was but one form-albeit an awesomely bloody form-of the real
The real enemy since the French Revolution has been a particular doctrine and practice regarding the sovereignty of the state. The threat that conservatives resist is posed by the centralized and "rationalized" state that claims a monopoly on the "legitimate" use of coercion, "a claim which expanded imperceptibly to a tacitly presumed monopoly of social authority, tout court." This all- encompassing notion of sovereignty can take both authoritarian and democratic forms; it is sometimes viewed as leftist, sometimes as rightist. Henrie joins Robert Nisbet (Conservatism: Dream and Reality) in arguing that, while it sounds impossibly paradoxical to many Americans, "the power of the state in our lives has risen hand in hand with the rise of the individual 'rights' about which we are so proud." Increasing state power and increasing individual "freedom" can work together quite nicely. That is because the rights that are "recognized" by the modern liberal state are not so much rights against the state as they are rights against other communities that used to have a measure of social authority. Marriage, family, church, for examples.
Conservatives are right to contend against "big government," says Henrie, but they frequently do so in a way that inadvertently increases the sway of government. Come again? Here is how Henrie explains it: "What American conservatives largely have failed to see is that the advance of the negative liberties and the protection of a 'private' realm have often operated not to the advantage of real liberty, but rather to the advantage of the state's monopoly on 'coercion,' which now is the only meaning of 'authority' once all alternatives have been delegitimized. The implications of this analysis are plain: the natural rights of the social contract tradition, to which American conservatives have often repaired in their attempt to limit the gigantism of the state, ultimately serve to strengthen the hand of the liberal state. Thus, a conservatism that celebrates individual liberties only accelerates liberal totalism. We have most clearly experienced this emerging totalism in the oft-heard lament that 'everything is becoming politics,' from education to morality to relations between the sexes. Such politicization is an inevitable result of the manner in which American liberalism conceives of the 'public-private' distinction. That is, in protecting only a certain understanding of privacy, and doing so by advancing a doctrine of politically administered individual rights, a uniform politicization of all spheres of human interest occurs. Thus, all human relations begin to resemble the relations of the political sphere, and these relations in turn are modelled on the contracts of the marketplace, for significantly, the preeminent Lockean rights are the rights of private property and economic freedom."
Henrie urges conservatives to be the reforming party by accenting authentic diversity and pluralism in society. This against the ersatz diversity of the current champions of "diversity" and "inclusivity" who employ the power of the state to eliminate the differences that really make a difference. The constitutionally protected freedom of association, Henrie suggests, is a communal right (he does not use the term) that has been much neglected. In the university and other institutions, the need is to create and protect space for diversity. Groups that are "equally open" to everyone cannot, by definition, be distinctive. They must be the same as every other group, they must fit into the homogenizing dynamics of "liberal totalism." "Human goods such as community, solidarity, and indeed, even eccentricity, which are threatened in the process of homogenization, are what conservatives ultimately must be about 'conserving,'" says Henrie.
It is, as we say, a bracing article. Even if Henrie's sympathy for the Southern Agrarians-"perhaps the most genuine conservatives America has yet produced"-leads him to indulge in a little capitalist-bashing and fear that free trade between nations will lead to exporting the less attractive features of American liberalism. (Many leftists might agree with Henrie on the last point, although they speak in terms of American "imperialism.") A further weakness in the argument is the failure to explain that the apotheosis of the sovereignty of the state can only be countered by the claims of another, and higher, sovereignty. Henrie writes: "Yet only if our families, churches, and other associations mean something to us, indeed become part of us, will a defense of them in public policy be plausible. Living 'conservatively'- living generously within our concrete contexts-always has priority over any political or ideological project."
What these associations "mean" to us is important, but the proponents of the kind of liberal totalism criticized by Henrie readily respond that these are our private and individual feelings (although private and individual feelings about public and communal realities), and they must not be permitted to get in the way of public (meaning state) purposes. The pretensions and power of the state can only be checked by the public assertion of a rival and superior sovereignty. Henrie clearly understands that the assertion of the Sovereign Self does not check, but ends up by abetting, the expansionist state. Only religion, it seems, has the public purchase and a coherent conceptual claim that can challenge the state. That claim is the sovereignty of God-as in "one nation under God." The respect demanded for the resulting communities- whether the Church or an elect people bound by Torah-is not a demand made simply by individuals to whom these communities "mean" a great deal. These are not communities formed by individuals exercising their associational rights, but communities constituted by Sovereign Authority. These are not communities of our creation, indeed they are not ours at all. They were there before us and they will be there after us. We are simply called to obedience to the truth by which they are constituted.
Because he is a serious Catholic, we doubt that Henrie disagrees with this addendum to his fine article. But it is a necessary addendum. Without it, assertions of associational freedom-whether such assertions be called conservative or something else-have no firm place to stand, socially or conceptually. Associational freedom that is premised upon individual rights serves the doctrine of the sovereign self, which inevitably ends up serving the ambitions of the sovereign state to control both the individual and his associations. To be sure, some will protest that sovereignty means sovereignty; that if sovereignty is divided, or checked by another sovereignty, it is not sovereignty at all. If that all-or-nothing definition of sovereignty is the only one available to us, then we have no choice but to say that the state is not sovereign.
Every time Christians say "Christ is Lord," they are saying that the state is not sovereign. Not finally. And, if "not finally sovereign" means not sovereign at all, then the state is not sovereign at all. In fact, however, we can, with the founders of this constitutional order, understand sovereignty in a more limited sense. Politically and legally, decisions about the modest tasks assigned to the state are made by its rules. The decision that this is the way things should be is, at least in theory, made by the sovereignty of "We the People." And, at least in this society, most people acknowledge a sovereignty above themselves, and certainly above their own creature, the state. Admittedly, this understanding of sovereignty has fallen upon hard times in our courts and legislatures. The dynamics of state power today work hand in hand with inflated claims of individual rights to break out of any limits imposed upon the state's claim to sovereignty. This is a particular way, a very American way, taken by a universal temptation of power. The temptation, of course, is to aspire to being God. The consequent idolatry can only be subverted by those who know that God is God, and who have the courage and ability to effectively assert that truth in public. And even then the idolatry may prevail, for a time.
Those of a certain age will remember when numerous books of religious
and theological significance bore the imprint of Harper & Row. What is
now HarperCollins (San Francisco) is something else. For at least a
couple of years, it seems, its thick catalogue offers little but the
detritus of spiritual and cultural decay. The current catalogue has just
come across our desk. It is chock full of New Age, fatuously bouncy
self-help, the unvarnished egoism of self-esteem, the occult, radical
feminist ravings, gay advocacy whinings, and related effluents of ruined
souls. Then there is a new book by John Shelby Spong, the Episcopalian
bad boy who has previously published his discoveries that sexual sins
are fun and that the Virgin Mary was . . . well, no need to get into
In more curmudgeonly moments we refer to him as Bishop Sponge, so uncritically does he soak up whatever comes down the toxic cultural stream. The new book is Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop Rethinks the Origins of Christianity. Being familiar with the bishop's earlier "rethinkings," one may reasonably predict that his answer to the subtitle's question is that the resurrection is a myth, but it is a very meaningful myth and is therefore filled with reality. Or something like that. Perhaps we are wrong. We hope so. But the bishop's efforts to date do not instill confidence. The description of the new book says that it aims "to make Christianity relevant and credible to today's spiritual seekers." Yes, people still say things like that, at least at HarperCollins.
The reality that struck us while examining the current catalogue is that Spong's is probably the most theologically weighty new book on offer. Compared with the others advertised, John Shelby Spong looks like a veritable Karl Barth or Hans Urs von Balthasar. Our business manager will likely be unhappy with this item. "Why should we advertise in a journal that attacks us?" That was the question put to him by another publisher about whose activities we were not entirely flattering. Don't worry, Rich. At HarperCollins they probably never heard of Barth or von Balthasar and they may well take the whole thing as a compliment.
While We're At It