In this week’s episode, the editors discuss an article by Reinhold Niebuhr where he responds to atrocities against vanquished Germans, J. Daryl Charles’ book review of Nathan Scot Hosler’s “Hauerwas the Peacemaker?”, and this week’s presidential election.

Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with yet another episode of Marksism with my fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton, having three topics in our review today. First of all, the election 2020 on everyone’s minds. Secondly, looking at an article by Reinhold Niebuhr from 75 years ago to hubris of victory, perhaps having application to America today. And thirdly, a review by our contributing editor Daryl Charles on a new book on Hauerwas and Peacemaking. So firstly, Marc LiVecche, as a Christian political theologian, if I may call you so, what is your non-partisan reflection on election 2020?

LiVecche: Monarchy is looking better and better. I know the only reflection I have right now, I mean, it’s 2016 all over again. I think everybody feels that. For me, the particularly, I don’t know that this is exactly non-partisan, so I suppose I apologize in advance. Well, let me say it this way, everybody. That’s to say both parties or both political dispositions have an awful lot of learning to do, that seems fairly non-threatening and painfully obvious. What I find particularly disheartening is this is going to dovetail into neighbors. As Melton says is in his introduction, this dovetails with Niebuhr’s reflections on the justice of victors. The bemoaning on the left that the lesson learned from this election is that half the nation is hopelessly racist and apparently misogynistic and jingoistic and everything else is unsurprising, but it’s still disheartening. So many on one side and another is going to play both directions. And so, just take that as the caveat. But that one side refuses to, that some on one side refused to, see the other side as having anything approaching legitimate reasons, deeply heartfelt legitimate reasons, to throw their weight behind a president, not necessarily endorsing everything about that President but not being able to see their way to believing support for Trump, could mean anything except the racism and misogyny is frustrating. It doesn’t bode well for any sense that we’re going to be able to move forward in unity. That’s, happily, not everybody on the left. Hopefully that’s not anything approaching the majority of the people on the left, but it’s an awful lot of very loud people on the left on Twitter, on Facebook, and the news media. And they’re not just the crazy people, or if they are the crazy people, they’re well-heeled, highly successful, well-positioned public figures who are saying some of the nonsense that’s being said too. That’s disheartening.

Tooley: Well, on a more upbeat note, we can observe that after 232 years of American presidential elections, all of them constitutionally and peacefully conducted, there were apprehensions that perhaps there would be some violence related to this election. None seems to have occurred. So, and a record turnout which is perhaps approaching 70%, which is of itself a sort of affirmation of American democracy, despite the contentions. Mark Melton, do you see the dark clouds, or do you see the sun rising from your sheltering spot down in south side Virginia?

Melton: One thing that I liked seeing was that Mississippi has a new flag, and that last time I checked I think it was a 70% vote yes. And so being from Mississippi, I am happy to see that. Back in 2001, I believe a lot more people voted to keep the flag of the Confederate, the old Confederate battle flag, than generally voted for governor. I might get the numbers wrong there a little bit, but a lot of people came out and voted to keep the old flag back then. So, I’m happy to see that about 70% are voting to change the flag. So, hopefully I’ll get one and can wave that someday. And so, but like, kind of like what you’re talking about, yeah. I mean, American democracy is pretty resilient considering like we encompass a massive geographic area, a wide variety of different types of people, and we have these peaceful transitions of power. As I know I’ve heard, you hear this every four or so years, but I just wanted to bring that up because I’ve noticed that some people were talking about how just the fact that it took so long to do some of these vote counts and whatnot, is people are like, well, other countries are going to see this and not want to do it, follow American democracy. And I think that is a bit wrong, because the fact that we can have these changes of power is always a reminder of just how our constitutional order is pretty solid. I think that strengthening the institution, strengthening the rights of states, I mean, the different localities, to be able to have different policies. And I think the biggest threat to American democracy is just centralizing all the power into DC, because I think that leads to a lot of disenfranchised, or a lot of discontent, amongst people. And so, winning or losing presidential election becomes the biggest challenge, becomes the biggest threat. So yeah, I guess I’m optimistic. So, we’ll also see how things work out. The Senate looks like Republicans may retain it. And so, that’s going to be kind of an interesting dynamic for the next couple of years to see how all that pans out.

Tooley: So, Reinhold Niebuhr’s words of 75 years ago warning against the hubris of victory have some application to this election, although neither side can really claim a huge victory. So, hopefully they won’t be too over abundantly present. But Marc LiVecche, you’re a Niebuhrian of sorts, sometimes, not always, but I think you would agree with his basic warnings here at the conclusion of World War Two. That too often the victors, as they’re anxious to eradicate their enemy and his evils, will replicate some of the evils of that defeated enemy. What say you?

LiVecche: Yeah, of course. Yeah, I mean, this article highlights my love-hate. No, that’s too strong. It highlights my tense relationship with Reinhold Niebuhr. Of course, he’s right, in the main, you get some things wrong in the details. He opens his essay with the provocative. There is no more dismal aspect of human history than the behavior of victors. That seems, especially on the heels of World War Two hours, a little bit overstated. Later on, he says how he mentioned that we have to accept how unjust all punishment is. I don’t know exactly what he means by that, if he means that it’s unjust in the sense of being imperfectly just, then we’re on board. If he means actually unjust, then of course that’s nonsense. But he’s right in the main, victims too have responsibilities. One shouldn’t forget that before they were victors, all these people were victims of Nazism. That doesn’t mean that they can now run roughshod over anyone and everybody who had anything to do with either Nazism or Germany. So, he’s right on that. These civilians that he talks about, the Poles, the Czechoslovaks, they suffered horribly under Hitlerism. It is understandable. I think we could be empathetic and recognize why there would be a certain desire for payback, that seems reasonable. Is it excusable? No. Is it more complicated than simply saying all these victors were pushing out a whole bunch of innocent civilians of German heritage? It’s actually much more complicated than that. Some of course were Nazi sympathizers. Some sided with the German authorities and all of that. So, it’s a complicated picture, but he certainly is right. I mean in France, it was pretty horrific after World War Two. Something like 10,000 executions in the final days of the war and the immediate days afterward. Some of those people probably deserved an ultimate sentence. Some of them probably didn’t. Forgiveness has to follow repentance. Niebuhr doesn’t quite touch on that. It pays to remember that before we simply forgive, there ought to be some movement on the side of the offenders. Once the offenders have demonstrated genuine repentance and have to the best that they are able to prove themselves to no longer be a threat, have made some effort in making amends, at that point, there is an obligation, a Christian obligation anyway, to forgive. To begin to absolve. That’s a spiritual category. There’s not a legal one. That doesn’t mean we can’t still punish. So, it is quite complicated. The one thing that I will say, again that Niebuhr doesn’t touch on, is that the behavior of ally GIs, at least American GIs, was not perfect, but it was comparatively extraordinary. And so, that shouldn’t be forgotten. American GIs by and large behaved magnanimously, and three years later, from when this article was written, of course, the Marshall Plan would begin to kick into effect. And there, again, we see the behavior of victor. So that the behavior of victors is a dismal aspect of human history is just simply not entirely true. But certainly worthy of caution.

Tooley: And seemingly the victory of at least the Western Allies in World War Two was one of the more magnanimous victories in human history.

LiVecche: Right. Absolutely. And you see even there’s this wonderful, Eugene Sledge is well-known for his Pacific War memoir With the Old Breed. He was a first division marine. He’s less well-known for a follow up book he wrote called China Marine. And in China Marine he tells the story of having gone from the Battle of Okinawa and then planning on invading Japan. Because Japan ultimately surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bomb, he didn’t have to invade Japan, for which he was eternally grateful. But instead he and his division were sent to China to help oversee the withdrawal of the Japanese troops, and to be a protective presence in China is all that happened. He tells a story of being in downtown China, the downtown of the village that he was in, and there is a Japanese woman in a rickshaw being taken through town. And because lots of Japanese lived there even prior to the war. All of a sudden, a bunch of the Chinese villagers surrounded the rickshaw and started shaking it. It became very apparent that this woman’s life was in jeopardy. And Eugene Sledge is describing, not knowing what to do, when as he’s trying to decide what to do a big burly marine starts pushing his way through the crowd of Chinese civilians, like parting them like Moses the water. And he goes up to the rickshaw and he pulls the Japanese woman out and he carries her through the crowd to safety. And if you’ve read With the Old Breed, you recognize how horrific the battle was between the Japanese soldiers and the US Marines. It was horrific beyond description. And so, for Eugene Sledge to watch a fellow marine pick up and rescue a Japanese woman to some small threat to himself, he felt was a healing moment because you recognize that even after the animosities, the violent animosities, between the Marines and the Japanese soldiers, there could still exist something like gallantry. That to me is a picture of the magnanimity of victors.

Tooley: Well looking at Daryl Charles’ review of this new book on peacemaking by Christian ethicist and pacifist Stanley Hauerwas. Daryl Charles, of course, is critical of Hauerwas and critical of the author, who is himself a DC pastor. One observation for Daryl Charles is that the author oddly completely ignores an important part of the founding document of the Anabaptist perspective of the Schleitheim Declaration, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, which specifically affirm the God ordained mistake to wield the sword. The Anabaptists, the modern Anabaptists, typically ignore that aspect of their own history. Mark Melton, what are your thoughts?

Melton: Well I mean, coming from a more secular foreign policy background, you know I haven’t really read up on a lot of these different types of specific declarations of these different church groups. I’m more familiar with my own traditional background. So reading this review was interesting to kind of get into the history, like he said, of the Baptist position. And also, I know that Keith Pavlischek, I don’t think he’s written anything for Providence specifically on this. I know he’s spoken at an event for us. And I know he’s written I think a chapter in a book about the more Calvinist reformed response to the Anabaptists. I think it was a book that I have on my shelf. I haven’t got around to reading or kind of delve into that. And so, it’s an interesting review to kind of get into that history.

LiVecche: I think you’re thinking of, as he’s probably done in numerous places, but I think maybe in Philosophers of War, which is Eric Patterson.

Melton: I think you talked about it in your podcast interview with him.

LiVecche: Oh yeah, probably so. Yeah, I mean, he tends to take to the Schleitheim and ram it down the throats of modern-day Anabaptists. They’ve forgotten, they’ve abandoned their own tradition. So, absolutely, they get the world wrong. They misunderstand the ramifications of sin on the world. I think they seem to look at if government is some sort of concession to a broken world, and therefore Christians shouldn’t participate in government, and it seems to me that hospitals are too. I mean, if my understanding of what happened after Eden is that human, definitely human disease, became real things, then this too is remedial. And if I can’t be a soldier, why can I be a doctor? So, I don’t understand that. But yeah, Daryl Charles’ review is, he’s Daryl Charles, he goes after it. I have to remain agnostic as to Dolly Parton’s public provocations. But I absolutely love the way he tells Stanley to get out of town without having to tell Stanley to get out of town. So, it’s beautifully done. It’s a great, it’s a great review. I think he does a good job of critiquing their tradition based on its own tradition. And there’s an awful lot that Christians everywhere, I mean outside of the Anabaptists included, the Catholics, Protestants, we’ve forgotten the origins, the headwaters of our own tradition. Which is why I think Providence does such a good public service.

Tooley: So, hospitals and doctors are also outside the perfection of Christ. And about this, we’re consistent in that regard.

LiVecche: So, to me, crossing guards, trash collectors, who knows who else.

Tooley: Yes. Well, on that note, we probably, and certainly vigorously, affirm crossing guards, trash collectors, hospitals, and doctors as being within the providence of God. Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, thank you for another good conversation in this episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.

LiVecche: You have us. Thank you.