This week Mark Tooley, Marc LiVecche, and Mark Melton discuss Providence’s latest content, including Eric Patterson’s article describing eight principles for Christian realism. LiVecche compares this summary to his own and highlights how Christian realism is a diverse community of thought that incorporates a variety of thinkers. LiVecche also reviews Habib C. Malik’s op-ed about Lebanon’s future and how its rulers and Iran have held the country captive. Then Tooley covers his recent interview with Bruno Maçães about his latest book, “History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America.” Melton then connects this interview with Maçães’ previous book “Belt and Road.” Finally they close the conversation by talking about vigilantism and Kyle Rittenhouse.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with yet another episode of “Marksism,” the good kind of Marxism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, and today we will review several items of accomplishment from Providence over the last week, including a wonderful summary of eight points regarding Christian realism from Eric Patterson, a Providence contributing editor, an interview with the Portuguese political thinker Bruno Maçães on his new book about the birth of a “new America,” about Habib Malik, the famous Lebanese writer- some commentary from him on Lebanon’s future- and finally, a few words about Christian ethics and vigilantism. So, fellow Mark(c)s, and especially you Marc LiVecche, Eric Patterson’s review of eight points, central points, for Christian realism- how do they contrast with, I believe, the eleven central points of Christian realism that you offered a few weeks ago?
LiVecche: I don’t know, do they contrast? I think they compare favorably.
Tooley: They’re not at odds, but they’re slightly different.
LiVecche: They are slightly different. I am going to produce the five points of Christian realism. For next week I think I’m going to boil it down even further and then eventually they’ll just be a point.
LiVecche: Which is, I think, exciting. All the topics that we’re going to talk about, that I want to talk about, today- and this might point to Melton’s genius- I think there are significant points of overlap. And one of them is this idea that Eric touches on with Christian realism not being a sort of a self-determined school of thought with its key founders, its point of origin, its strict dogma. Instead it has its dogma, but the dogma manifests in more supple ways, more fluid ways, ways that are case specific. I think there’s a value in that. So, Patterson points out that Christian realism is a, I think he calls it a “community of thinking,” which is to say that there’s not a totalitarian way of thinking about being a Christian realist. So, I could be a Christian realist, Reinhold Niebuhr can be a Christian realist, Patterson can, and there’s points of overlap of course that can identify us as thinking similarly, but there’s not an assertive “you have to think this way otherwise you ain’t a Christian realist,” right. And that’s going to manifest, I think, in important ways. In Habib Malik’s piece about Lebanon and the requirements of free thought in Lebanese society, I think it manifests. In the book interview you did where he talks about the American ability to reimagine itself and to think in unique and entrepreneurially, even morally entrepreneurial, ways, I think that’s an essential element of Christian intellectual history and theology. Paul Ramsey famously or infamously, but certainly provocatively, said that Christianity is a faith without rules. And he didn’t mean that quite literally, but he didn’t sort of mean it entirely unilaterally. So, you know, he’ll say there are rules but the rules are things like love. What’s that mean? Well, it’s going to be situationally dependent, and you’re going to have to have the subtlety of thought and supplements of thought to be able to identify the ways that this particular situation, which is somewhat unique in history, requires that I love. I think that was one of the strengths of Eric’s piece that I probably didn’t emphasize- it’s being a loose country of thinkers shaped by certain commitments, but not dogmatically held by anyone.
Tooley: Excellent, you wrapped up everything for us this morning, and we will elaborate further in Monday evening’s “Christian Realism” happy hour with yourself, Eric Patterson, and Daniel Strands, or everyone who’s listening now tune in Monday evening at 5:30.
LiVecche: I have been invited to participate in the happy hour on Keith Pavlischek’s porch, which I suppose will mean it will be a true happy hour, at least with Pavlischek and LiVecche. So…
Melton: Are there going to be smoked meats for you?
LiVecche: I don’t know if there will be smoked meats. I hope so! They’ll be… yeah.
Tooley: Well, exercise restraint in every regard, as a Christian realist should. We’ll be quickly touching on my interview with this Portuguese political thinker Bruno Maçães and his new book History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America, which Marc LiVecche just summarized in that it’s rather hopeful and a tonic to America’s current pessimism by asserting that even the current turmoil, social upheaval, in America is simply just another chapter in America’s constant reinvention of itself. That from the very beginning, especially when the Puritans first stepped foot in New England, through the westerns of John Ford, Americans love creating their own new reality, which often can be disconcerting and offer a dramatic zigzag. And yet, it’s constantly unfolding and adaptable and it means America never gets old. And the world is simultaneously appalled and fascinated by it. So, I found his analysis as a Portuguese observer insightful and helpful. What did you Mark Melton, having reviewed his last book, what was your response?
Melton: I think he’s a very interesting speaker because, as you said, you know, he’s coming from a Portuguese perspective. He was also, I believe, in the foreign ministry, so he served in government in Portugal. And so, he looks at this not just from an ivory tower perspective, but also from having done work in the trenches of government, which I think sometimes can be missing in academia, at least in some of my conversations with people. And so, yeah, like the idea of America being renewed- it reminds me a bit about a book I read last year, Albion Seed, where it talks about, basically there are four different types of America and they kind of come to the fore in different ways. So, you have like the puritans, so this very idea of a moralistic vision. You also have like the tidewater, so the southern slaveholders and their vision of what America meant. They came from different parts of the United Kingdom at different times. And then you also have the backcountry people who came from the borders of Scotland in this lawlessness area, and they kind of brought their ethos of what all these things meant. And Walter Russell Mead actually brings in some of these ideas from that book into his idea that we’ve talked about- the four schools of foreign policy. And so, this idea of like America regenerating itself- I sometimes wonder is it regenerating itself or are different parts of these old historical cultural routes that come from the United Kingdom? And those people who came over, did they kind of come to the fore in different ways at different times? And now are we looking today at a new realignment of these different groups? And so, that’s kind of my first thought, and I’m excited to, you know, read this book. Like I said, or like you said, I read the previous book, which kind of talks about belt and road and China’s foreign policy. And so, with that, kind of looking at the competition of different ideas. I think that’s one of the things he said if I remember correctly. And the last thing is that there’s going to be a, globally, this new competition of ideas is not going to be the world looking like America. And so, this book will be interesting to kind of consider and dive into his thoughts and perspectives.
Tooley: Excellent, thank you Mark Melton. Marc Livecche, I want to ask you about Habib Malik, who of course is the son of the great Lebanese thinker Charles Malik, who helped to craft the UN’s declaration on human rights. But, the younger Malik, as his father, is very devoted to his nation of Lebanon and, of course, distressed about his nation’s future at this point. What were your thoughts?
LiVecche: Yeah, I have appreciated his passion in every article that he’s written for us. You know, there’s an element of tragedy in it which I find one level incredibly disheartening. You know, he paints this picture of a Lebanon of incredible possibility, of incredible potential. You know, Robert Nicholson is, and I think Luke Moon as well, in our pages have talked eloquently about Lebanon- the incredible pluralism, you know, in many ways the religious tolerance that’s there, contrasted by gross injustices, contrasted by being in many ways, you know, a puppet of the Iranian regime. And so, his passion comes out and I think it’s powerful, and I think what the main takeaway, especially reading it through the lens of the various articles this week, that jumps out is the need in Lebanon, or Lebanese society, for free thinkers, for an opportunity for freedom of expression and people’s own free desires to be articulated. That Lebanon and the Lebanese people should be given an opportunity to be self-determining, you know, what direction are we going to go- are we going to be allied with some of the western Arab states and finally, you know, make peace with Israel? He points to the tragic, well, first of the hopeful history back in the day when everybody assumed of all the nations, Lebanon is going to be the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel. Now it’s way down the list, or at the bottom of the list, and Habib Malik just simply calls for the opportunity for Lebanese people to be able to speak their mind, free of the cartels, you know, free of the regime, what do we want? And then to be given the opportunity to pursue that. So, it’s a, you know, it’s an aspirational piece. I don’t know the conditions on the ground well enough to know whether or not it’s tethered to a realistic possibility, but it’s, you know, it’s a powerful piece.
Tooley: And then, almost finally, Marc LiVecche conducted an interview with a Just War scholar Keith Pavlischek about vigilantism. Tell us just a little bit about that, Marc LiVecche.
LiVecche: Yeah, it originated from a conversation on Keith’s back porch with smoked meats about Rittenhouse and media perceptions.
Tooley: Remind us who Rittenhouse is.
LiVecche: Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old boy who was in Kenosha doing a variety of different things. He’s a lifeguard in Kenosha; after his shift he went with a semi-automatic rifle to help a group of citizens protect various buildings that were under threat. The police had withdrawn from the area, they had sort of cordoned off a section, and Rittenhouse ostensibly was there to do, you know, property protection. But he was also there- he has some training I guess due to his lifeguard work in emergency medical- so he was there also to help some of the protesters who were being tear gassed in various things. So, I think there’s footage of him giving people aid to recover from some of the tear gas. But at some point, he gets involved in an altercation with some people who I think were burning a dumpster. He goes running over to them with a fire extinguisher, nobody seems to know what happens immediately next, but the next thing we know, there’s cell phone footage of him being chased by a man- he has his weapon- the man has like a plastic bag filled with something, throws a bag at him, there’s shots that are fired. Turns out that those probably weren’t Rittenhouse’s shots. The next thing we know, the man who was chasing Rittenhouse charges him again, is shot, other shots occur, he’s shot by Rittenhouse, other shots occur. Now we’re not sure who exactly has hit this guy, but the guy is dead. Rittenhouse is chased by a group of people, he falls, he’s attacked by several of these people. One of them tried to brane him with a skateboard, he shoots that man, and another man then approaches with a firearm and pauses, sort of raises his hands. Rittenhouse is pointing his weapon at him when the man raises his hands, he begins to lower the muzzle, the man charges again, Rittenhouse fires once and hits him in the elbow I believe, and then gets up, runs off and runs to the police to turn himself in, and to presumably keep himself safe. The police bypass him because they hear the shots. They ignore him completely. He eventually turns himself in. He has now been in, I think, indicted on several charges of I think first degree murder. And this exercise- Keith, he wanted to know, you know, was this just, and he did his own research into the situation. And he wanted to talk about vigilantism a little bit and how that might be different, which is the accusation made against Rittenhouse now. “He’s just a vigilante.” So, he wants to know what is vigilantes and what is self-defense. Where do they, you know, where the lines begin to blur and where do they sharply contrast- that was the start of the conversation. But we quickly moved from there to conversations about the responsibilities of local authorities to create a situation in which a 17-year-old kid doesn’t take it into his head to try to go and protect buildings that ought to be protected by established authorities, police authorities and the like. So, what happens in these sorts of vacuums? And, you know, when citizens decide to take it upon themselves to do what the police ought to be doing. We talked about that. We invoked John Ford, just as your interviewee did. So, John Ford gets two mentions this week in Providence. And, you know, what it looks like when institutions are unjust. How do individuals rise up to try to ameliorate some of that? We talk about some of the distinctions that are touched on in your interview between fact and legend, and how with the role that plays in American society. So, there’s some overlap there. You know, it’s Keith and it’s me, so it’s wide-ranging and it’s rambling, but I think some good thigs get tweaked out about the responsibility of sovereignty, the responsibility of individual human beings to help maintain order in society, and such things. So, it’s a good interview. Melton, what do you think?
Tooley: Well and finally, let me jump in, that I just have to mention from my own sheer delight that I interviewed this British political scientist about his new biography on the Portuguese longtime dictator Salazar, who evidently is celebrated by some American Catholic integralists. So, in response to my interview, an editor at American Conservative, who I believe was also the founding editor of the online journal the Jacobite, whose views you can imagine, celebrated that in effect I had, was surrendering to integralism by having this semi-, as he perceived it, favorable interview about Salazar. So, I enjoyed that moment. Mark Melton, how do you feel about integralism and Salazar?
Melton: Well, I actually haven’t read the transcript from the Salazar thing, but the, kind of my, I find the integralist debate very much an ivory tower discussion. Now, when I, last year there was a spike in interest in the topic and I did like a Google search- where were these people coming from? And a large number of them I think actually came from the DC suburbs, which I thought was interesting. DC suburbs and also some places around New York. And so, when I see people who are writing and talking about this, they seem to be in those areas. That doesn’t mean the idea won’t spread and won’t get into other discussions, but when I talk about integralism to, I don’t know, anyone else outside of Providence circles, I have to spend about fifteen minutes to explain what I’m talking about because they don’t know what I’m talking about.
Tooley: Well, you’re not going to the right Catholic happy hours.
Melton: I don’t go to Catholic happy hours. So, but the, one of the things that I’ve kind of been writing an article on this, and hopefully we’ll get it out soon, is the, to me, religious liberty is the best way to really increase the practice of faith. Like when I lived in Europe in places where the Catholic church used to have a huge influence or still has a huge influence in different ways, practice was very, I would say, very low. Like I would go to church and it’d either be difficult to find a church or be difficult to find a church that was vibrant. Probably the most vibrant place in Europe that I saw was in St. Andrews, but that was because I think a lot of churches emphasized the, you know, participating like trying to reach out to college students there. But the, compared to like, living in Mississippi where there’s a church on every corner, and so the idea to me is that when you increase the religious freedom, you increase a religious market, where enterprising churches can spring up and serve the needs of the people. And so, my concern with kind of the direction of integralist thought is that it would kind of diminish that. But again, I kind of see it as an ivory tower discussion. I don’t, I know they would probably denounce me on Twitter for this stuff, but I just-
Tooley: Hopefully they will, but as we understand it, you as a Mississippi Presbyterian are not embracing the integralist agenda.
Melton: No, like the logic just does not compute for me on a lot of the points they make, it just doesn’t. Yeah, it doesn’t compute right.
Tooley: Mark Melton and Mark LiVecche, thank you for another titillating conversation of “Marksism,” and until Monday evening and our “Christian Realism” happy hour, bye-bye.