Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow Mark(c) and fellow editor, Marc LiVecche, discussing three items from Providence this week. Starting with an article by our sometimes contributor, and we sometimes refer to him as our token Democrat, Matt Gobush, who shares a reflection on new Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with whom he worked in the Bill Clinton administration over 20 years ago, noting that Blinken is a son of Holocaust survivors and so has a special appreciation for America as a refuge for persons fleeing persecution and as a force for human rights and democracy in the world. So, Matt Gobush is hopeful that the new administration will stress America as a beacon of liberty and will do so without becoming overly idealistic about democracy and human rights and losing touch with the realism of advancing American national interest. So, a fascinating overview of Secretary Blinken. Marc LiVecche, what were your thoughts?

LiVecche: I had to laugh at the beginning of Gobush’s essay, and he acknowledges this is a little bit like deja vu, because I think four years ago, he wrote a similar article for us about the then new secretary of State under Trump…

Tooley: Rex Tillerson, whom we’ve already forgotten.

LiVecche: Which illustrates the point. Rex Tillerson, thank you. A Friday senior moment. Where he had similar hopes for an equally successful career as secretary of State, and those hopes are probably mostly dashed. So, I’m hoping second time’s the charm and he’s right this time. It was a good article. I’m glad he wrote it for us, because I was happy to see his internal perspective. I think what you touched on with Secretary Blinken’s connection with the Holocaust is his stepfather at least was a survivor. There’s a point, an anecdote, that Blinken shares where his father was I think one of 900 students from his school to survive Auschwitz. And then he was on a, I suppose, a death march out of Auschwitz fleeing the Soviet advance, only to be finally recovered by an American armor division where an African American opened the tank hatch and lifted him sort of literally, Blinken says, to freedom. And these sorts of stories have apparently shaped Blinken’s understanding of America, and America as a force for good in the world, and American responsibility, and so, some of the things that Gobush touched on that I’m hopeful about is that Blinken combines in himself both an apt hatred of atrocity, which you would think shouldn’t really be said or need to be said nowadays, but I think we do need to say it, people need to have an apt hatred of atrocity. And by apt, that could serve as a qualifier that it’s one thing to hate atrocity, but it’s another thing to actually be willing to harness state power in order to respond and effectively restrain atrocities or perspective atrocities throughout the world. So, he has that going for him. And then the second thing that Matt touches on that I appreciate and I’m hopeful about, always a little bit worried when it comes to sort of a progressive understanding of these things, is that Blinken is a man of ideas and that he thinks ideas can very often carry the day. And as the chief diplomat, I think this is a healthy place for ideas to really be resident, because I think taken together, good ideas can hopefully serve as a bulwark against the necessity of force. Any Just Warrior is going to support the idea that war may come as a matter of last resort, so there’s all sorts of things that can be tried prior to that. And combining an apt disdain for atrocity with a love of important ideas, with an apparent commitment to American leadership in the world, all that’s a great place to start. There’s this idea I think Matt touches on where both President Biden and Secretary Blinken remind everybody that it’s not just a big army that keeps a country safe, but it’s also moral choices that a country makes, moral commitments that a country makes. Any Christian realist is going to agree with that. We might become a little bit worried that that locution might lead one to forget that the big army is still important and the powerful army is still important. You can’t back up your moral commitments if you don’t have that big army. So, so long as the profession of arms is given its due, then I’m willing to stand in the hopeful camp.

Tooley: There’s another American secretary of State who escaped the Holocaust, Henry Kissinger, who was hardly an idealist but sort of the prototypical realist. The impact of the Holocaust in him was have no illusions about decency in the affairs of men. So, interesting contrast between the Kissinger perspective and seemingly the Blinken perspective.

LiVecche: Yeah, that’s right. And I think that’s why things like Holocaust education continue to remain vital. We’re not going to probably have another significant anniversary of the end of the Holocaust in which we will benefit from the presence of survivors, and so, now we’re going to have to begin relying on the second-generation witnesses, of which Blinken is a part. And so, that becomes increasingly important to not lose that very sober, very realist perspective. Plus, it’s fun, because I can’t even say Blinken without thinking I’m saying Lincoln. And so, it’s a great joy.

Tooley: Well, we posted a review this week for a new book by our somewhat regular contributor Josh Mitchell on identity politics. And in it, Josh shares his perspective, that he’s also published in Providence, that identity politics is partly the fruit of the decline of many of America’s great churches. So, the energy and theology that were transmitted to those churches have now found their homes in politics, and millions of Americans are now looking for atonement and even salvation in politics, with all of the passions that follow those pursuits. And the results are quite negative, needless to say. And they involve looking for the constant scapegoat to alleviate our guilt. Obviously, Christianity provides the ultimate scapegoat and extends mercy and grace to the atonement of Christ, but absent that scapegoat, other more terrestrial scapegoats must be identified. And so, there we are. What were your thoughts on these things from Josh Mitchell?

LiVecche: Yeah, I continue to be very, very pleased with any promotion we can give to Josh Mitchell’s arguments. I think this business about the present crisis being predominantly a religious crisis, I think is spot on. I think it’s absolutely right. You see in identity politics the fruit of the move from sort of a “we” to an “I,” if I’m able to use some of the language that Rabbi Sachs employed. Morality is incumbent upon a sense of “we,” that we are in this together, that people are much more than simply a collection of isolated individuals. It seems that in modern-day America, we are increasingly a collection of isolated individuals. And if not you and me, at least our group, our tribe. We’re increasingly tribal to the negative. I think tribes have a place in human society, I think groups are important. But as we lose the connections between groups, a shared morality, a shared understanding of the Hebraic tradition, a love of the Greco-Roman patrimony that is helped along with the Hebraic tradition that has sustained the West for millennium. As we lose our love of those things, we’ve lost trust, we’ve lost the ability to believe that one another has our own best interests, our common interests, in mind, and you begin to see people circle the wagons around identity groups. And as you lose morality, then you have to replace it with a wall. And I think one of the horrors of this identity movement is that people want to employ the mechanisms of the state to do their bidding. And so, they are looking for dominance. They are looking for relief, on the one hand, but through dominating other people and forcing people to behave in ways that they think fit. And all that, I think, is at heart, as Mitchell says, a religious problem. We’re looking for meaning. We’re looking for something to believe in. We don’t find it in what we have, and one of the things we can do is to blame other people for it and hope that we can throw on the scapegoat our own sense of sin and iniquity. And as the Gospel sort of shows, that’s going to be inadequate, because the human sacrificial system had to continually be re-implemented in order to have the cathartic effect. And it’s not until you find the one true scapegoat that ought to be able to subvert that whole system, we’re just going to continue to be at each other’s throats. So, I think Mitchell’s stuff is important. One of the things I like about it is that he’s not afraid to also engage with some of the topics that maybe more conservative-minded Christians are hesitant to. So, he takes on the race question. I know our reviewer feels he didn’t give enough concrete remedies for it, but I think it’s a great place to start. To acknowledge that look, things aren’t perfect. There is still a need for reconciliation, however far we’ve come, and we need to address that. And he gives some prescription for that. And I think that’s important. I think it’s a book that ought to be able to be read by people across the political, ideological perspective.

Tooley: At least according to the reviewer, the prescriptions he offers are, as you say, dealing with the wounds left by slavery, a rediscovery of America’s identity as a commercial Republic, and also a modest foreign policy. Interesting prescriptions. I’m not sure how one fosters the commercial Republic concept vigorously or how one connects the modest foreign policy directly to identity politics, but it seems to me that a cheap prescription for identity politics is a reawakening of the churches, which perhaps that’s mostly up to the Holy Spirit, but certainly we can contribute our labors with hopes that the churches can be resurrected to create a wider concept of the public good that is not rooted in race or ethnicity or sexuality.

LiVecche: Yeah, that’s right, and that’s not rooted in what seems to be the growing assumption that the only thing that can solve our problems is government power. Liberalism will not work if that’s the mechanism, no matter where you sort of position yourself on the question of liberalism and whether or not some of the present calamities facing the liberal order are bugs or features. The one thing that I think we can agree on is the government is not going to be a solution to this. Liberalism works because the pluralism that’s incumbent in democracies is able to be navigated by people, that people are comfortable with one another as different. So, yeah, what else to say?

Tooley: Well, and finally, Mark Melton, our third Mark who’s not with us today, interviewed Joe Loconte on the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri. Churchill was not the first to coin the phrase, but he did popularize the phrase and was the most prominent statesman to call attention to Eastern Europe having fallen under the domination of the Soviet Union with the conclusion of World War II. Of course, now we have the perspective that the Iron Curtain was not permanent, and you and I are both old enough to have remembered it’s fall. Now remarkably 30 years ago. So, for those who are fatalistically assuming that all human evils are just perpetuated indefinitely, when I was a young person it was inconceivable there might be a time when the Soviets did not dominate Eastern Europe. And yet that epic did close. I suppose if one is a Christian or person of faith, one has confidence that all evils may struck their time on the stage, but eventually the curtain does fall. But what do you say, Marc LiVecche, having your own experience in Eastern Europe?

LiVecche: Yeah, I think that’s well said. We know how the story ends in the broad perspective; we know that the good guys win. In the meanwhile, in history some of these things very often always seem far less certain. There were certainly, as you’ve alluded to, I lived for 12 years in Central Europe and Eastern Europe and met many people who firmly expected that not just them, but their kids, maybe even their grandkids, would live under the thumb of the Soviet Union. They patiently waited. In many cases, it was an active patience. It wasn’t simply sitting on their laurels or hands and waiting. Maybe it could only be something like prayer, but they prayed for rescue. Some of them worked for it. Some of the underground literature, the resistance writing, that existed across Eastern republics were fueled in part by very courageous Bible and book smugglers who smuggled everything from biblical literature to ink and printing press parts in order to create something of a free, if underground, press, again, to promote better ideas than the Soviets were offering. There was a lot of subversive activity that worked to push against totalitarianism. Ronald Reagan declaring what everybody knew to be true that it was an Evil Empire. The American hockey team beating the Soviets in 1980, demonstrating that even on the ice rink, Soviet ideology could be beaten. All sorts of little sparks that continued to sort of fan the hopes of captive people that they would not end their days in captivity but actually free. It was always a complex relationship. I remember in Bratislava there was a monstrous, and in sort of typical Soviet style, looked like a monstrosity, but moving memorial to the genuine losses that the Soviets faced or suffered liberating places like Bratislava, Slovakia from the Nazis. And Slavín has some murals on it. Slavín was a location for Soviet, where the Soviet dead were buried in Bratislava. And there’s a motif that was sort of infamous showing a Slovak kneeling before Soviet troops and he’s got his hands raised up, and the Soviets are removing shackles from the poor Slovak man’s hands. That was one way of looking at it. Most of my friends wondered, though, maybe the Soviet soldier is actually putting them on the Slovak man, right. So, it was a split history for them, but they remained hopeful that it would end. And it did end. And I think Churchill’s speech 75 years ago was a part of that. And so, in good Loconte energy, he explains the importance of that. And I think it was a good interview.

Tooley: Well, hopefully Providence itself speaks with the voice and wisdom of Winston Churchill as we diagnose the evils that confront our world today, but with hope and confidence that justice and righteousness will prevail in the end. Marc LiVecche, thank you for another Marksism conversation. Until next week, bye-bye.