In this episode of Marksism, the editors discuss a 75-year-old article about what the Christian’s cause should be, why the Allies made a mistake in how they ended WWI, Josh Mitchell’s comments about the presidential election.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with a new episode of Marksism with fellow Mark(c)s and fellow editors, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. And today we’re going to discuss three articles from Providence over the last week, starting with an interview with Georgetown University political philosopher Joshua Mitchell reflecting on the results of the US presidential election, but more broadly, how it reflects spiritually and culturally on America. And Josh Mitchell essentially offers a critique of identity politics and its insistence upon absolute justice right now as opposed to a more traditional Christian, or specifically Augustinian, perspective which understands that justice can at best in this world only be partial and incremental. And we have to bear in mind, Josh Mitchell says, Christ parable of the wheat and the tears, that last we would pull up everything we will pull up not just the tears, but also the wheat. Which requires a certain number of patience from a Christian perspective. So, Marc LiVecche, what say you on Josh Mitchell’s warning that we must avoid the expectation of absolute justice in this world?
LiVecche: After the 20th century, if nothing else, Josh Mitchell’s point is proved. He gave a summary definition of the horrors of fascism. I think the Nazis were undoubtedly the biggest players of identity politics the world has ever seen. The totalitarian will, when it’s directed at anything resembling what in the right circumstances might be moral, is twisted and perverted when it tries to, in Voegelin’s terms, immanentize the eschaton to bring this final justice. That’s after history to manifest that final justice. Now in history, in order to do that you have to do all sorts of horrific things to account for the fact that human beings are not everything you want them to be. And those sorts of projects always end in death camps, in mine pits, and so he is absolutely right in his warning. He has credible history to back that up.
Tooley: Mark Melton, as the youngest of the three of us, it seems that young Christians are especially impatient with human frailty and sinfulness, and in their advocacy of social justice expect a consummation of all of their aspirations in this world. You of course are wiser, but what is your perspective?
Melton: One of the things that he talks about in this piece is the strengthening of our social institutions, which I believe is part of the letter that they wrote. And I think that is, it’s a good thing to do. And it’s something that, our American democracy works best when our institutions are strong. And so, that was one of my first thoughts in there. And I think the emphasis on original sin, coming from a background going to Presbyterian and Baptist churches, I’m very familiar with hearing about sending grace almost every week, and so sometimes it’s easy to forget that that’s not necessarily perspective that a lot of people have. And so, I think it’s good to kind of emphasize that where if you forget that don’t believe that humans are sinful or that they’re very highly prone to failure and you believe that people can be perfected, then you’re going to be very disappointed when reality comes around. You kind of realized that’s not going to happen.
Tooley: Echoing Josh Mitchell’s points, as published, this article from 75 years ago from Christianity and Crisis Magazine, Reinhold Niebuhr’s journal, by his colleague at Union seminary. And in fact, later President John C. Bennett, who was a cohort in the School of Christian Realism, who likewise makes the point that our expectations in this world in terms of justice and politics must be measured and incremental and not absolutist. And makes a contrast, again, this is a 1945, that communists see the decisive event in history as having been the Bolshevik Revolution. Obviously, Christians have a different decisive event in history that guides their thoughts and actions, which is Christ’s victory over all evil to his crucifixion and resurrection. So, Marc LiVecche, what did you think about John C. Bennett, and is he kept fully aligned with the vital neighbor or is there some distinctive there for him?
LiVecche: I liked the piece tremendously. I, probably you have minor equivalence with it, one of the things that are most appreciated is the balance that he strikes between not being overly obsessed with a particular human cause, especially a political one, because it was, it’s always going to disappoint you, again, because we’re dealing with the fact that men, that human beings are not everything you would want them to be. So, they will always disappoint you. He takes that on the one side, don’t become obsessed with a single particular human cause, while at the other, he says things like, and yet Lincoln tried resolutely to win that war, right. So, matter matters. History matters, and you have to find a balance between throwing all your hopes into something that can happen within history, and not ignoring the fact that the here and now matters. Joshua Michelle gave us the parable of the wheat and the tears. I think maybe Biblical image for this sort of balance could be found possibly in the rather grim story of David when his son was dying, following with Bathsheba. And while the son is dying, he fasts, and he goes unwashed, and he’s pining for the life of the son. And then he hears that his son dies, and he showers, and he eats, and he sits down, and he begins to go about his day again. And people sort of rebuke him for this. And he points out that while he was alive, there is something I could do. Now that he’s dead, my hope is that I will see him again. Right. And so, there’s this balance, maybe between doing those things that you can do now, but also recognizing that there’s only so much you can do. And that in fact, seen in a certain light, we know that we’re going to win in the end. And that justice will be required and that God’s will will be done. And so, there’s a certain kind of, almost call it an impatient patience, that can be found in that, sustaining hope that isn’t entirely reliant, or not reliant at all really, on the conditions of today. There’s something to be to be said for that. I think he proves his own point in the difficulty of human causes. He seems to take a decidedly one-sided point of view on, it wasn’t a minimum wage, but it was the unemployment benefits. And he takes a few swipes at the Catholics, calling the Vatican an awful lot like the Kremlin, which I found a little bit unnecessary. But it was a good piece, good reminders.
Tooley: Yes, he had several swipes at the Catholics, saying that they conflate the Kingdom of God with their own church, and Protestants were more discerning and wiser sensibly. But this would have been common among mainline Protestants in the 1940s, that somehow the Catholic force was still seen as a somehow nefarious force. Mark Melton, any insights on Christian realist John C. Bennett?
Melton: Well, I think they kind of covered some of like it seems like he’s talking about this point that Christians have so many causes that people couldn’t really pin down. Like well, this is the Christian cause. And today, it seems like I think Christians are kind of more narrowly focused on certain culture war issues, but I think that it’s, obviously 1945, a different situation. And so, it’s interesting kind of going back and reading their perspectives on this and that, and just looking at his list of causes that he thought were very important. Some of them I think we can still relate to. But I’ve, in the introduction, I mentioned Eric Patterson’s peace kind of summarizing what Christian Realism is. And he brings up that a lot of Christian realists would kind of have general guiding principles that could be followed, but there’s a lot of debate over which policies should be pursued, which ones are best, and what are the effects going to be. And so, and I think you see that in this piece. And so, I thought it was good to kind of go back and look at the issues that are considered, and even in Christianity and Crisis, they still talk about specific policy issues. There’s one piece I thought about running this week that I didn’t run. I don’t know if I agree with some of the prescriptions, I might still write an intro and run it in the coming weeks, but you still see that debate over specific policy issues. And so, it’s just interesting to kind of go back and look at these pieces.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche, once again we have moved through one more Armistice Day, Veterans Day, commemorating the end of World War I 182 years ago. You reflected upon the winning strategy of General John Pershing. Tell us a little bit more.
LiVecche: Yeah, that piece I think was originally written maybe for National Security Conference, just looking at the question of fighting to win, what that means, and suggesting that the lessons of Versailles is grounded first in the fact that Germany surrendered on enemy occupied territory. The average German, there were food deprivations and things like that, but no invading force ever touched German soil. All they were hearing from their news propaganda was that they were winning the war, and the next thing they know they have surrendered, and soldiers returned home shortly thereafter. There’s a rather draconian sort of peace forced upon them. And the suggestion being that the Treaty of Versailles led straight to Hitlerism, and the idea being that part of the Just War criteria, of having a war in that piece, is that you have to fight in such a way that it allows a durable peace take shape. And sometimes, in the case of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that means you fight to win. In Pershing’s phrase, going back to World War One, the Germans need to know they’ve been lit, right. When Germans surrendered in the field, commanders, we have on record, were telling their troops, “You can go home with your heads held high.” And Pershing knew this. And he said, “The Germans don’t know that they have lost this war.” And it allowed the method to stab in the back and all sorts of things and then, arguably, the conditions for Hitlerism. So, the whole piece is just predicated on what does it mean to fight when? What does it mean to fight, building a durable peace? Some of that argument was developed in preparation for the arguments that I would later on make about the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. That there is a grace that can be found in so beating your opponent that you take the fight out of them, and now they are ready to talk about peace. So, Versailles taught us that, and I think we took those lessons straight through to the end of World War Two.
Tooley: On that note, Marc LiVecche, Mark Melton, thank you for another episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye bye.