In this week’s episode, the editors discuss some of Providence‘s recent articles—including on Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti and his views on the just war tradition, what a national conservative foreign policy would look like, and how military chaplains can benefit the church.

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 fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Mark LiVecche and Mark Melton. And today we have a scintillating conversation about three pieces that appeared in Providence this week. The first of which was by our contributing editor Joseph Capizzi at Catholic University, a response to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, whose name hopefully I will pronounce correctly, Fratelli Tutti, which has some interesting comments about the church’s Just War teaching. The second piece we will address is by Brad Littlejohn articulating what a foreign policy from the perspective of national conservatism might look like. And then thirdly, we have a piece 75 years old from Reinhold Niebuhr’s journal Christianity & Crisis by Edward Elson, a military chaplain and later pastor to President Eisenhower, who has some very relevant and topical reflections on not only military chaplaincy but also how churches back home can better serve their returning veterans. So, starting with the Joseph Capizzi, I’ll call it a defense and an analysis of the Pope’s encyclical, which was of special concern to Providence because it seems to reject the churches ancient Just War teaching, specifically saying St. Augustine’s perspective on that topic is no longer binding. So, Marc LiVecche, Just War scholar, what say you?

LiVecche: I am out of a job. Now yeah, I think Joe, you could categorize it as a defense of the Pope’s encyclical. I think it’s a, what do you call it, a sort of a hostile agreement, in some ways highly qualified. And Joseph, Just War scholar, he understands that that aspect of Pope Francis’s political philosophy is wanting. But look, he does log some of the more laudable bits of the Pope’s encyclical. The encyclical itself starts off with a, hopefully a universally appreciable aim, which is to identify ways to build a more just and fraternal world in terms of personal relationships, social life, political theory, institutions, that sort of thing. Capizzi points to the seeming urgency of the Pope’s encyclical, and I think the encyclical itself bears out that urgency. I think in an age of COVID the pope became, as we all have, I think very cognizant that human beings do not do well in isolation. That isolation kills. That the more atomized we become in various ways, including because of a pandemic, the more detrimental that is to human life. And so, he calls for all of us to, all of us being you and me and all the nations of the world, to come together and to think thoughts of universal brotherhood as a single human family. And obviously, that’s where he sort of goes off into the more kumbaya aspect of it all. But I think Capizzi is trying to do due diligence and finding the bits of that that ought to be lauded. What’s frustrating about it, and Joe knows this so now I’m speaking more to Francis, is the Just War tradition knows this. The Just War tradition recognizes that the default aspiration is that all of us live together in peace, like it wants that. And in fact, the Just War tradition is all about setting into place and maintaining the conditions required for us to do that. But then it recognizes that it may take two to live in peace, but it really only takes one to refuse that and to instead embark upon a warlike relationship. I think Joseph endorses the Pope’s comment that war is always a failure of politics in humanity. And under surface, I agree with a good stretch it all the way back, and could say like every human disagreement, at some point, results in some sort of a failure. But if it’s true that it only takes one to wage war, and let’s just look at World War II, I mean, goodness gracious. The West outlawed war and then we tried to appease Hitler and none of that took. Hitler was hell bent on war. And to sort of respond to Hitlerism by the application of force doesn’t strike me as a human failure, that looks to me like a human triumph. It was a human success story. It was the Allied cause that we saw anything that resembled fraternity in World War II. So, great aspirations in the Pope’s letter, but again just weak on realism, and I don’t know if you want to get into the little bits of Capizzi’s article that I would quibble with, but I think what I’ve said, Joe knows, I think he recognizes the pope’s shortcomings when it comes to the Just War tradition. So, my reading of the pope’s letter is it’s a mixed bag. He’s got a lot of nice aspirations. It would be really nice if they were anchored in something that begins to approach the real world.

Tooley: Well, as you say, Capizzi embraces the document for its lofty aspiration. He also makes the interesting point that the document in its footnote seems to dismiss Augustine when actually it’s Aquinas who laid out the parameters of Just War teaching, who is not referenced in the document. Mark Melton, any thoughts on Fratelli Tutti?

Melton: So, one of the, obviously I’m not going to be a very deep scholar on the Catholic thought and with Augustine and Aquinas and all the details other than the stuff that we’ve published in Providence. But one of the things that caught my attention in the article was the idea of like every nation, every war has been justified as of late. And I wonder, is that really a new trend? And maybe you all can speak to this, but it seems that for a very long time, even the country that has a nakedly national interest or materialist motive, they still use some type of justification for it. It may not be Just War tradition, but like I was recently kind of reading about Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and in that he justified it by saying, “We’re going to free the Egyptians from the Mamelukes.” And in reality, it was just there to hurt British national interest and hurt them while they were attacking France. And so, there’s within that like I don’t think that’s a new thing. So, I wonder, what do you all think on that? Do you see any continuity between, over the centuries, or was there a time when people didn’t try to justify their war?

Tooley: Every regime that goes to war offers a moral pretext. I can’t think of necessarily a lot of examples of Christian Just War teaching being specifically cited. The document I believe does reference the Persian Gulf War of 1991 where Just War seems to have been important to President HW Bush. But that was more unusual than common. What say you about that Marc LiVecche?

LiVecche: Yeah. I mean, for sure nobody, every society, whether it’s for religious reasons or cultural reasons or whatever, they justify war. I do want to be quick to say that’s not, that doesn’t necessarily indicate the human tendency to justify sins. Right. We also justify the evil things that we do and we say, well for me. And I didn’t have to keep that promise or I didn’t have to leave that woman untouched or whatever. And I’ve got reasons for it. It’s not the same thing, but sure it’s a universal thing to justify the causes of going to war, because we know, at least in the West, modern West, we know that these things require justification. The Just War criteria requires a public declaration of war. And the reason that I think that that’s a prudential justification or a potential requirement is because you have to be able to lay out the case. You have to be able to make it. Capizzi references the Panama invasion, Operation Just Cause. So, the Pope is right, and Joe is right, to remind us that we do abuse on occasion, and this isn’t making a comment on the Panama invasion, but we do on occasion abuse the Just War tradition to give a veneer of justification for our actions. But even when we do that, abuse doesn’t invalidate proper use. We know that the Just War tradition is there to prevent us from going too far. And so, if they want to say that we abused or adjusted our criteria to justify certain wars, fine. But it’s also probably true that because the Just War framework as a moral view has prevented us from going kinetic when we recognize that may be, something less violent will do, diplomacy and the like. So sure, but so what?

Tooley: I need to correct myself, the document, Capizzi references, as you say, the Panama invasion. I don’t know if the document references that, the Persian Gulf War, but that was a rare instance where President Bush was in conversation with the presiding Bishop of his own denomination about Just War teaching. But it strikes me as being a very unusual situation, right. Well, on a related topic, Brad Littlejohn’s articulation of a foreign policy for national conservatism with in which, in essence, he says that we would affirm this point that nation states, sovereign nation states, are a central component for organizing human societies. But he is, as is national conservatism, dismissive of international institutions, saying that instead restraints or nation states will be instilled by their pursuit of a glory power and perhaps honor, and that all nations, even as they pursue their interests, have an intrinsic need to seek the approval admiration of other nation states. What say you, Marc LiVecche?

LiVecche: I joked earlier that surface reading of that could lead one to think of goose stepping, right. So, that could get scary quickly, and it has gotten scary quickly. And we, which is why there’s always the pushback against these calls for a new kind of nationalism. We’ve seen the old kinds of nationalism are still extent throughout the planet, and they scare the hell out of us, and rightly so. The piece, I think if I’m, if I’m understanding where Brad is going with this, and I trust I do, he has the phrase that a “well-formed nation is a moral person, or at least analogous to a moral person.” So, I think that’s the interpretive key, and he points out that the kinds of moral responsibilities that an individual human being has are the same kind of responsibilities that nations have. And I’ve used this rhetoric in my own talks before, and this is where I can get all intersection, which was very exciting. So, I have myself that I have to be concerned about. And we are terribly, as Christians, especially where we are uncomfortable with that because we’re uncomfortable with self- love. Christians get self-love wrong. It’s right to love myself. I know this, in part because God loves me and if, as a Christian, I ought to love the things that God loves and like it or not, I often thought to myself, even as a sinner I am somehow lovable. I warrant love. But then you get, you start to identify the different types of relationships and identities you have. So, I’m an individual, I have to love myself. Also, a father. I have to love my children. I have a special obligation to my children that is different than the obligation I have to you as my friends. So, you begin to try to work out all these interconnecting responsibilities, and it is right to be self-loving. It is right to love those to whom you have special obligations—your own children or your own citizens. All of that is valid. C.S. Lewis has a way of talking about glory for individuals that I think would remove some of the hesitancy, and endorsing what Brad says, so you read the old Arthurian myths about these Christian knights going off on horseback and seeking glory, right. That was their goal. And even as a kid, I don’t know that it was more or less sensitive, but this seems a little strange, a little hubristic for Lewis. The whole idea was that this wasn’t glory for the sake of celebrity, it was glory that came from the attitude of seeking to become that for which you were made. And so, a knight who went out and displayed the virtues of courage and deference to women and all these sorts of things would find glory, and that God is glorified, right. So, you start to look at these different ways of understanding what it means to be glorified and you can get away from the goose stepping, and you can recognize that. Now we’re not talking about a status, but a responsibility. It could be abused, but we’ve already said in this podcast abuse does not invalidate use to seek glory. But seek glory is the attitude. If that’s what Brad is talking about, I’m on board.

Tooley: Mark Melton, current case in point to the regime in China, it obviously wants power. Maybe it wants honor according to their understanding of it. Obviously, it’s not seeking love or admiration. Perhaps it prefers instead fear and respect. But what were your thoughts on Brad Littlejohn’s piece?

Melton: Well, I’m kind of, first thing on what you were talking about with China, I think that they are trying to pursue a version of honor and glory, and even you might even say love, by promoting a certain philosophy that’s kind of more counter to an American individualist democratic vision. And they’re trying to spread that. And I wrote an article last year that kind of talks about that a little bit more. What it is that they’re promoting, and how they’re trying to do it through Belt and Road and other initiatives. And so, it’s very counter to what we would agree to in the West. But in other parts of the world it may, especially on issues like climate change, may gain some followers. But that being said, stepping aside from what China is doing but talking about Littlejohn’s piece, one thing I think is good is that kind of put some meat on the bones of what is national conservatism. For words to have meaning or for worse, to be useful, they need to have some meaning. And for me, a big problem with national conservatism is it means lots of different things to lots of different people. And once it put some, like once you go from like a vague idea to a very specific idea, you usually end up losing followers and you have to kind of regain momentum and reconvince people to rejoin the movement. But one of the things I heard, maybe you all heard different things from people who attended the conference, but that there was a huge variety of what they were talking about. And so, like you have people like John Bolton, I don’t know like what everyone who went to this conference agreed to his definition. And it seems that they, everyone, is moving toward a definition of national conservatism, even in this article, that’s titled toward a national assertive foreign policy. I think the title, but so that all being said, I think it’s good that he put some meat on the bones to actually then you can kind of dissect what is this? Can I agree with this? Can I disagree with it? Can I critique it in different ways? To me it sounds much more idealist then when I have heard anything about it. National conservatism, I thought more of a restraint. I know some people for the past decade or so I’ve talked about restraint and realism. This almost as like restraint and idealism. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe that’s right. A couple of words to put to it, but and almost maybe Christian realist and different aspects of it. So, yeah. One thing I might, if I can pitch a question to you all, if we have time. He talks about how superstates have many drawbacks because they cannot have meaningful representation. And so, over the past like 10, or 11, say 10 or so years, we’ve had very increased partisanship in America. And for decades, increased centralization of power in the central administrative state. So, does America risk becoming too centralized and, if so, there’s a risk becoming a superstate that he described here?

Tooley: Well, very possibly. Maybe we will take that up at our next Marksism, maybe you can write a piece on that for next week?

Melton: I think federalism for me is the way to prevent that.

Tooley: Right. To our final topic. Just very briefly, 30 seconds for each of you, Edward Elson, military chaplain, went on to become pastor to President Eisenhower, National Presbyterian Church, significant force in Washington, DC for many decades, wrote a wonderful piece 75 years ago on the importance of the military chaplaincy, but often the assumption that military chaplains returning home had to be transitioned or taught by civilian clergy, as though they were in some way deficient. And he thought perhaps the opposite should be the case. It also makes the point that churches, in order to effectively minister to returning veterans, they were going to have to offer a masculine ministry that does not depend on pale pastels, and it seems like a timeless point for Christianity, doesn’t it Marc LiVecche?

LiVecche: Yeah, it’s timeless. Absolutely, especially in light of some of the, over idealisms of things like Fratelli Tutti. Yes, we need a more masculine religion. Sure. You know, that accomplices both sexes. He’s absolutely right. The returning chaplains have a lot to share with the church, and he does a great job of articulating what those lessons are. They are the realists; they see the world as it is. But he’s also great and saying that look at this, this has to be both a practitioner and expert collaboration. They have to work together. The church’s responsibilities, and not just to the chaplains, it’s to the parents in their parish, because we are, he felt back then they weren’t parenting. Well, what would he think of today? We need to morally form young people in our churches with a religion that is robust enough to help them understand what is required in the world, to be able to defend the innocent, to punish evildoers, and to help take back things that have been wrongly taken. That’s a Christian task we need to be prepared for. If our churches don’t do that, I don’t know who will.

Tooley: Mark Melton, quickly, are you receiving masculine ministry in McLean Presbyterian?

Melton: I would, I mean sure. So, one of the things I thought about with this piece was the idea of the cloistered pastor who is sitting in his chair writing up this very verbose language isn’t going to reach the veteran. And one of the things I wrote in my introduction to the piece is that that person isn’t going to reach the lay person either. Like the fact that these veterans and chaplains, and not just with military jobs, but also, I know I’ve learned from like prison chaplains in the past and other people who have served in very tough situations of when you go through difficult times, that it increases your faith. It increases your ability to reach different people. People who haven’t gone through those same type of struggles have a harder time relating to people when there’s death in the family, or there’s tragedy, loss of job. If you have a pastor who has never gone through something like that it doesn’t mean it’s going to be harder for them to really relate. And so, and I know from my own personal experience, like I talked about my grandfather in this, who was a military chaplain and also World War II veteran, I’ve experienced that firsthand.

Tooley: Mark Melton, Marc LiVecche, thank you for another episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.