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Rape, Conception, and God: Why Mourdock Was Right

- Mon, 2012-10-29 12:36
Richard Mourdock’s comment didn’t imply that God wills rape; instead, it reminds us that God wills a great good in the coming-to-be of any human life, regardless of the evil circumstances surrounding its conception.

For a second time during this seemingly endless election cycle, a Republican politician is being criticized for his remarks on rape and its aftermath. Richard Mourdock, a US Senate candidate from Indiana, opposes abortion after rape, and in explaining his position, he said:

I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

We should note two things that Mourdock did not say. First, his comments do not approach the breathtaking scientific ignorance that characterized Todd Akin’s claims that the bodies of women who experience so-called “legitimate” rape have ways to “shut that whole thing down” so as to avoid pregnancy. Indeed, Mourdock’s comments only make sense given the assumption that pregnancy as a result of rape does occur.

Second, Mourdock in no way implied that the rape was something that God intended. His remarks apply only to the conception, and, as we will see, there is no need to suppose that God intended the circumstances that led to that conception, even if God intended the conception itself.

There may have been some political imprudence in Mourdock’s remarks; perhaps it is not the business of politicians to opine on theological matters. Yet, he was asked a question about a controversial issue, and he gave an honest answer; that is surely admirable. So perhaps the imprudence was his failure to predict how maliciously his comments would be distorted.

The New York Daily News offered the low mark: Pregnancy by rape holy: GOPer.”  A CBS news story spoke of “Mourdock’s remark that rape is something ‘God intended.’” And the Obama campaign predictably described the remarks as “outrageous and demeaning to women,” and called for an apology from the Romney campaign.

Perhaps even more egregious was a Washington Post column by theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, who wrote: “No, God does not ‘cause’ either rape or conception following rape, nor is this ‘God’s intention.’ Rape is a crime.”

To repeat: Mourdock nowhere suggested that God intended the crime of rape, nor did he deny that rape is “horrible.” On this he and Thistlethwaite, as well as virtually everyone else, are in clear agreement. Nor is there any theological disagreement as to the “cause” of the rape: traditional Christian thought is in virtually universal agreement that, as Aquinas puts it, God neither wills moral evil to be done, nor wills that it not be done, but rather He “wills to permit evil to be done.”

In other words, God does not intend the moral evil of rape, but he does foresee that such evils will result from human free choice, a great good that God does intend us to have. But that good would not exist if God made it impossible for us to do wrong, even great wrong, and so God permits such evils to occur.

Conception, Science, and Evil

But Thistlethwaite is quite wrong, and Mourdock entirely right, as to God’s intentions in the conception of the child.

We should first note that Mourdock’s remarks presuppose that there is a child, that is, a living human being, when there is conception after rape. This presupposition is straightforwardly a matter of science: contemporary embryology teaches us that the result of the penetration of ovum by sperm is a new living organism, a distinct member of the species Homo sapiens. No one, clearly, would assert that rape changes the science of the matter; to do so would be a mirror image of Akin’s scientific grotesquery.

But the admission that the conceptus in rape is a human being is fatal for remarks like the following, again from Thistlethwaite: “When you make God the author of conception following rape, you make God the author of sin. This is a huge theological error, and one that Christian theologians have rejected since the first centuries of the faith.”

The great error here, however, is Thistlethwaite’s, for human life, considered in itself, is no sin, no wrong, no evil. As another theologian John Paul II put it, “life is always a good,” a “priceless gift,” to its possessor.

Does this mean that every human life is a gift considered from the standpoint of others? In one sense, no, for the victim of rape can, and often will, see the child as a constant reminder of the evil that was inflicted upon her.

Yet this evil—as also with the “evil” of an inconvenient, untimely, or unprepared-for pregnancy—is not an evil pertaining to the child’s life as such. For that child, from the standpoint of human reason and also from God’s standpoint, life is a good, to be protected and promoted, and never to be intentionally damaged or destroyed. This truth can be recognized by all, even the victim of rape, who can choose not to abort the child precisely out of recognition that the child’s life has priceless value.

If human life is a good, though, then it is not something that God merely permits, for God, again in traditional theistic thought, is the author of all good things. But the case for a more specific divine intention and even intervention in the case of human conception, whatever its origins, is even stronger.

Conception, Science, and God

As William Carroll suggested recently on Public Discourse, “Scientific and philosophical theories that rely only on the conclusions of the empirical sciences cannot, in principle, provide an explanation of a natural order that has consciousness and mind as fundamental features.”

Just as entirely material principles cannot explain their own nature and existence, thus pointing to a transcendent form of causality, so also they cannot explain human mindedness: our capacity to abstract from material particulars so as to know universal principles, and our capacity to choose freely, without being determined by the prior state of the physical universe. Our minds, in short, cannot be entirely composed of material particulars, but must have some immaterial principle that makes possible their unique capacities.

This is not to deny what I have said here and elsewhere on many occasions, that science can tell us when a human being comes into existence as a distinct living animal. But science tells us neither everything about the nature of that human animal, nor about everything that must be the case for a being like us to come into existence on each occasion when a human being is conceived. For the material principles that science studies cannot provide such a complete explanation.

A traditional view among many theists, and asserted explicitly by some faith traditions, is that a special act of divine intervention is necessary for the creation of a human being. For there to be a human being, with the rational capacities possessed by members of our species, then that being must be endowed with an immaterial principle; and that endowment is understood to be the personal act of a divine being who wills the human being to exist as such: who gifts that being with his or her partly immaterial life.

The language of “gift” brings out what is the nature of that divine willing, and returns us to the Mourdock controversy. For the willing involved in the divine creation of the human being is understood by traditional theists to be a form of love: in any traditional conception of God, the divine being has no need of what he creates. Creation is carried out for the good of the one created, and such action for the sake of another is the paradigm of love. So, as I have heard Jennifer Roback Morse put it, each human being is “loved into existence.”

How could such an act not be a matter of divine intention? If a human being comes into existence by a special act of the divine, an act that has as its purpose the existence of this distinct and loved person, how could it not be the case that that was, though in a way only analogous to the human case, divinely intended?

A traditional theist must, therefore, hold that while God intends neither the evil of rape, nor the many and significant evils that are consequent upon that rape, God nevertheless wills and intends a great good in the coming to be of the child of that rape. This is hardly far from common sense: though other, and in some ways crueler, times and cultures have stigmatized the child of rape (or adultery, another evil not willed by God), we would hardly be so cold-hearted. But that itself simply confirms that the child’s life, considered in itself, is good.

Deep reflections on the origins of human life and on God’s providence in the face of evil are hardly to be expected on the campaign trail. But Mourdock’s claims, rather than evincing yet another front in the “war on women,” approach a significant truth: human life is profoundly and even transcendently special, even when, as is too often the case, it is the result of wicked and wrongful acts. Its inviolability rests in that specialness, its sanctity, or dignity, and is not obviated by the distorted choices of men.

Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. He is the editor of Bioethics with Liberty and Justice: Themes in the Work of Joseph M. Boyle.

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Men Don’t Mother

- Fri, 2012-10-26 14:15
Promoting “genderless parenting” contradicts what the facts show us both about the harms of single parenthood and the benefits of having a mom and a dad.

There’s been a strange turn of opinions about fatherhood—at least in recent public debates. Decades of research have now documented the tremendous challenges children face when they grow up without their fathers. But you would never know it by looking at some of the recent public arguments for “genderless parenting.”

So what do the decades of research on fathers say? Boys from fatherless families are twice as likely to end up in prison before age 30. Girls raised in homes without their fathers are much more likely to engage in early sexual behavior and end up pregnant as teenagers—for example, girls whose fathers left home before their daughters turned six are six times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers. Children who grow up without married mothers and fathers are also more likely to experience depression, behavioral problems, and school expulsion.

There is also more abuse in homes without fathers. In studies of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, fathers living with their children emerge as strong protectors—both through watching over their children’s activities and communicating to others that they will protect them. In one study, abuse was 10 times more likely for children in homes with their mother and an unrelated boyfriend.

These differences can partly be explained by the fact that these children are more likely to grow up in poverty. But that too reveals the importance of dads, as married fathers are the primary breadwinners in almost 70% of married families—providing resources that benefit children in a whole host of ways.

In spite of this evidence, some academics and voices that shape public opinion are asserting that fathers are not, in fact, essential. As two researchers recently argued in a top-tier family science publication, “The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.” Though it may be important to have two “parental figures,” their genders and relationship to the child don’t matter that much. Fathers—as well as mothers—are supposedly disposable when it comes to their own children’s development.

Not surprisingly, arguments for “genderless parenting” are often based on a particular view of what defines male and female equality. Depending on the definition, one can do what the other can do, and do it just as well, if given the chance. Thus, mothers and fathers are interchangeable, and one or the other gender is unnecessary and replaceable.

It’s easy to see why these claims seem believable. We all know mothers who are breadwinners, and fathers who perform the traditional female role of providing full-time quality child care. And a body of research shows that fathers have both the desire and capacity to be protective, nurturing, affectionate, and responsive with their children.

But are fathers and mothers really the same? Do mothers “father” and do fathers “mother” in the same way the other would do?

Canadian scholar, Andrea Doucet, has explored this question in her book Do Men Mother? Her extensive research with 118 male primary caregivers, including stay-at-home dads, led her to conclude that fathers do not “mother.” And that’s a good thing. Although mothering and fathering have much in common, there were persistent, critical differences that were important for children’s development.

To begin, fathers more often used fun and playfulness to connect with their children. No doubt, many a mother has wondered why her husband can’t seem to help himself from “tickling and tossing” their infant—while she stands beside him holding her breath in fear. And he can’t understand why all she wants to do is “coo and cuddle.” Yet as Doucet found, playfulness and fun are often critical modes of connection with children—even from infancy.

Fathers also more consistently made it a point to get their children outdoors to do physical activities with them. Almost intuitively they seemed to know that responding to the physical and developmental needs of their children was an important aspect of nurturing.

When fathers responded to children’s emotional hurts, they differed from mothers in their focus on fixing the problem rather than addressing the hurt feeling. While this did not appear to be particularly “nurturing” at first, the seeming “indifference” was useful— particularly as children grew older. They would seek out and share things with their dads precisely because of their measured, problem-solving responses. The “indifference” actually became a strategic form of nurturing in emotionally-charged situations.

Fathers were also more likely to encourage children’s risk taking—whether on the playground, in school work, or in trying new things. While mothers typically discouraged risk-taking, fathers guided their children in deciding how much risk to take and encouraged them in it. At the same time, fathers were more attuned to developing a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual independence—in everything from children making their own lunches and tying their own shoes to doing household chores and making academic decisions.

As she evaluated these differences, Doucet wondered if fathers just weren’t as “nurturing” as mothers. Their behaviors didn’t always fit the traditional definition of “holding close and sensitively responding.” But a key part of nurturing also includes the capacity to “let go.” It was this careful “letting-go” that fathers were particularly good at—in ways that mothers were often not.

Her findings provide empirical evidence for the feelings described on Public Discourse by Robert Oscar Lopez in his recent account of growing up without the influence of his father. Lopez yearned for what kids in traditional families often take for granted—the opportunity to learn how to act, speak, and behave in ways that reflect the unique gender cues provided by the parenting of a father and a mother. Although Lopez would have appeared normal on most sociological indexes (as a well-trained, high achieving student), inside he felt confused. In his own words, he grew up “weird,” unable to relate to or understand either gender very well. And that made it hard to understand himself.

Andrea Doucet ends her report by sharing an illuminating moment from her research. After a long evening discussing their experiences as single dads, Doucet asked a group of sole-custody fathers, “In an ideal world, what resources or supports would you like to see for single fathers?” She expected to hear that they wanted greater social support and societal acceptance, more programs and policies directed at single dads. Instead, after a period of awkward silence, one dad stood and said, “An ideal world would be one with a father and a mother. We’d be lying if we pretended that wasn’t true.” Nods of agreement followed with expressions of approval from the other dads. Although many had had bitter experiences of separation and divorce, they couldn’t help but acknowledge the inherent connectedness of mothering and fathering—and the profound deficit experienced when one or the other is not there.

Arguments for the non-essential father may reflect an effort to accept the reality that many children today grow up without their dads. But surely a more effective and compassionate approach would be to acknowledge the unique contributions of both mothers and fathers in their children’s lives, and then do what we can to ensure that becomes a reality for more children.

Jenet Erickson is an assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

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Neither Darwin Nor God?

- Thu, 2012-10-25 13:29
Distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel rejects both evolutionary materialism and theism as adequate accounts of the origin and nature of human life, proposing instead a naturalistic “nonpurposive teleology.” But naturalistic teleology, just like existence itself, calls for a cause that transcends the created order.

Can we have a comprehensive view of nature if we do not include an adequate account of consciousness, cognition, and value? Central to the orthodoxy of reductionist materialism is that these features of reality are fully explicable in terms of chemical and physical processes: in some theories they are mere epiphenomena of these processes; in others they are simply dismissed as illusions, shown to be so by the great successes of science.

Even those scientists, especially biologists, who resist a reductionist methodology in which physics becomes the fundamental science, nevertheless embrace an ontological reductionism according to which there is nothing more to reality than material components. Richard Lewontin, a Harvard biologist, has made this point explicitly:

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

Notice for Lewontin the choice seems clear: either we accept a materialistic view of the world as a complete account of nature, even if not yet realized, or we must allow some appeal to God to explain the world. In a new book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Thomas Nagel, distinguished professor of philosophy and law at New York University, challenges Lewontin’s dichotomy. He argues that evolutionary biology aligned with reductionist materialism cannot, in principle, offer an adequate account of what nature is and how living organisms have developed historically to the point that there are conscious, intelligent agents able to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong.

Nagel, who tells us that he is an atheist, also rejects various forms of theism that appeal to the intentional agency of God to explain the complexities of nature and human nature. The principal focus of his book, as the subtitle indicates, is his criticism of Neo-Darwinian reductionism which, he says, is “incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe.” This reductive materialism purports to capture life and mind through an extension of Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. “I find this view,” he says, “antecedently unbelievable—a heroic attempt of ideological theory over common sense.” The criticism of materialism is not new; less expected is the criticism of the adequacy of evolutionary biology.

Nagel does not find theism to be more credible as an account of the origin and development of life and intelligence. He is interested in possibilities other than Darwin or God, and he champions a view, “naturalistic teleology,” which he thinks may provide an account of nature that includes mental faculties as constitutive features.

For Nagel, an adequate understanding of nature must explain: 1) the emergence of living organisms from a lifeless universe; 2) the development of these organisms to greater and greater complexity; 3) the emergence of consciousness among some living things and the central role consciousness plays in their lives; and 4) the development of consciousness “into an instrument of transcendence” that can grasp objective reality and objective value. He begins with consciousness and argues that psychophysical reductionism does not do justice to what are really essential features of our world. Reductionism tries to explain consciousness either by reducing mental concepts to the effects of brain states or, in the case of “eliminative materialism,” arguing that mental concepts do not really exist at all.

Nagel appeals to our common sense judgment that human subjectivity is not reducible to physical categories. If we start with a commitment to materialist reductionism, we must reject this common sense judgment. Nagel reverses the argument. He thinks that, starting from the obvious truth of our being conscious agents, inescapable components of reality, we discover an insuperable barrier to psychophysical reductionism.

Moreover, this very reductionism is part of a broader naturalistic view of the world that cannot survive without it.  We need an explanation that accounts for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects. Scientific and philosophical theories that rely only on the conclusions of the empirical sciences cannot, in principle, provide an explanation of a natural order that has consciousness and mind as fundamental features. As Nagel remarks, “materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.” Evolutionary biology explains many things about the development of living beings, but it cannot explain the emergence of evolutionary biology itself.

Moral realism and evaluative judgments (about what is good and bad as objective categories, not merely subjective states) are incompatible with a Darwinian account of evolution’s influence on our faculties for making such judgments. If those faculties are exclusively the result of natural selection, there is no reason to expect that they would lead us to detect “mind-independent moral or evaluative truth.” The ability to detect such truth “would make no contribution to reproductive fitness.” Rather than reject moral realism in the name of evolutionary materialism, as some do, Nagel again reverses the argument: since there is an objective moral order, an extended evolutionary theory that explains moral judgments in physical terms must be false.

Nagel’s arguments that consciousness is not reducible to material phenomena, that there is an objective order of value, and that we do have knowledge of the world are all dialectical. He asks us to recognize, on reflection, their obvious truth. If we accept as a starting point a worldview that has reductive materialism as a first principle, we will not be persuaded by Nagel. One of the benefits of Nagel’s book is that he calls into question this first principle and asks us to consider anew an adherence only to material causes.

In examining possible explanations for the origin of life, Nagel thinks that to say the process was the result of chance events or “directionless physical law” challenges credulity. He also rejects what he calls “creationism,” the view that the origin and development of living things is the result of specific intentional acts of a divine agent. He thinks that it is properly a scientific project to explain the origin of life and of consciousness. The contemporary natural sciences, however, cannot adequately offer such explanations, and when combined with materialist reductionism make claims that are false.

Nagel opts for another possibility, what he calls “natural teleological laws governing the development of organisms over time.” He thinks this “nonpurposive teleology” is different from the other alternatives: “chance, creationism, and directionless physical law.” Naturalistic teleology means that there are organizational and developmental principles that are irreducible parts of the natural order, yet “not the result of intentional or purposive influence by anyone.” The natural order that is the source of unicellular organisms and eventually of conscious, intelligent agents capable of value judgments has to be different from what is described by materialist reductionism.

To describe this expanded sense of nature, Nagel appeals to a naturalistic teleology according to which there is an immanent directedness in nature, a propensity to give rise to beings like us. Here he cites the inspiration of Aristotle. He notes the strong resistance in the scientific culture to any hint of teleology, since it is commonly thought that modern science was born by rejecting such interpretive strategies. Nagel does not deny the importance of evolution as a description of the vast changes that have occurred over time, nor does he denigrate the role of natural selection. Rather, he thinks that there must also be a “cosmic disposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.”  Nagel notes that he offers this alternative as the best he can now imagine, but “without positive conviction.” What he is convinced of, however, is that life, consciousness, and intelligence have not been “formed from scratch by chance plus natural selection.” Indeed, his criticism of Neo-Darwinian reductionism is the most compelling part of his analysis.

“Naturalistic teleology” may advance our understanding of the historical development of living things, but it does not help very much in explaining the way things exist in the world. Here Nagel would be aided by Aristotle’s broader conception of natural things. To think of nature only in terms of its material components is not to grasp nature in its full sense; for this we would need what Aristotle calls “form.” There is more to nature than material components, but the “more” is not a material more. Aristotle is not a dualist; form and matter are not two separate things; they are co-principles of each natural entity. Speaking in terms of form and matter, substance and accident, act and potency allows Aristotle to offer a comprehensive account of nature and change. It also offers him a good way to distinguish between the inanimate and the animate.

Aristotelian natural philosophy can incorporate the many discoveries of the contemporary empirical sciences and offer the new vision for which Nagel is searching. The mind-body problem disappears in the context of Aristotle’s understanding of the rational soul as the informing principle of a human being. To speak of intrinsic propensities in nature, as Nagel does in defending naturalistic teleology, only makes sense, I think, if we accept the full Aristotelian account. Surely, as Nagel realizes, any proposal to integrate Aristotelian thought with contemporary science meets at best skepticism, at worst smug dismissal. A defense of the continuing value of Aristotelian natural philosophy requires significant historical and philosophical analysis. Nagel’s criticism of materialist reductionism can encourage alternative visions, including the Aristotelian.

Nagel tells us he is unwilling to accept a theistic explanation that, according to him, “interprets [the] intelligibility [of nature] ultimately in terms of intention or purpose—resisting a purely descriptive end point.” The kind of theism applied to the study of nature that Nagel rejects is a top-down theism, which starts from the existence of God and seeks to understand the world primarily in terms of God’s intention/purpose. Nagel worries that theism attributes the coming into existence of life, consciousness, and reason solely to divine intervention. Such an interventionist hypothesis amounts “to a denial that there is a comprehensive natural order.”

For Nagel, a “creationist” explanation of the existence of life is the biological analogue of dualism in the philosophy of mind. “It pushes teleology outside the natural order, into the intention of the creator—working with completely directionless materials whose properties nevertheless underlie both the mental and the physical.” He does not think it necessary to appeal to God to support his view that there is an intrinsic directedness to nature and its processes, yet he does note that this view would be consistent with God’s creating nature to be that way so long as there is no “further divine intervention.” But to affirm that God is the complete cause of all that is and that all of reality is the result of divine intention or purpose does not require the kind of interventionist hypothesis that Nagel rejects.

An account of divine agency in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas would allay some of Nagel’s concerns. Aquinas thinks that science begins not from God’s intentions, but with an analysis of nature as we discover it. God creates a universe in which creatures, inanimate and animate, have their own particular natures, their own intrinsic principles of characteristic behavior. There is a real, albeit created, self-sufficiency to nature. This is so because God’s continuing causal activity, which is necessary for the ongoing existence of whatever is, operates on a radically different level from the kind of causality that creatures exercise. In fact, even to speak of a different level of causality fails to capture the radical otherness of divine agency. It is true, as Nagel suggests, that theism understands the intelligibility of the world ultimately in terms of God’s purpose, but this does not require, as he seems to fear, the denial of an intrinsic intelligibility in nature that the natural sciences discover.

Nagel helps us to see the limitations of the natural sciences and the errors of materialistic reductionism. The natural sciences, even expanded to include a kind of naturalistic teleology, do not need to embrace a theistic vision of the world in order to discover truths about nature and human nature. Yet, if one wishes to search for a full understanding of nature—of its very existence and intelligibility—one must enter the domains of metaphysics and theology; one must recognize that it is created and that it requires the continuing creative act of God in order to be. Naturalistic teleology, just like existence itself, calls for a cause that transcends the created order.

William Carroll is the Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science at Blackfriars Hall and a member of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Oxford.

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Public and Religious Education: L’État, C’est Tout

- Wed, 2012-10-24 13:13
There is no good reason to be suspicious of people of faith. There is every reason to encourage them and to be grateful for them, because even by worldly standards they make good citizens. But the State does not want to keep separate from the churches. It wants to absorb them.

A few years ago I attended a most joyful ceremony, held in the chapel of Providence College, where I teach. Sixteen young people were to be confirmed in the Catholic Church; four of those had never been baptized, and would receive that sacrament first. Among them was a student of mine who had been brought to the Christian faith by various instruments of grace working at once: the friendship of a devout roommate, the guidance of a brilliant and generous priest, and his reading of medieval and Renaissance poetry. “I love this place,” cried that priest as we gathered outside the chapel, laughing and cheering.

Providence College, by law, may receive federal money—the fiction of a federally-backed student loan is raised or dropped depending upon political expediency. Thus, it is a loan when it is desirable to enlist the gratitude of the borrower and to hide the taxpayer’s losses, and it is a grant when it is desirable to compel the college receiving the grant to bow to the grantor’s wishes. But another school nearby, the San Miguel Middle School for boys, may not receive public money, nor may taxpayers transfer a portion of their bills to that school to enroll their sons there.

The problem, of course, is held to be the Constitution. San Miguel is a religious though non-sectarian school, under the directorship of the Christian Brothers. It is also a hugely successful school, serving boys from what I well know to be some very rough neighborhoods. They mold the boys into bands of brothers, and hold before them the ideal of the San Miguel gentleman. Ninety percent of the boys graduate from high school, and seventy percent enter college or the military. But the numbers fade into insignificance, when compared with the strong bonds of loyalty and gratitude that the graduates profess.

Now this is a contradiction that cries out for explanation. Providence College does not serve a disadvantaged group, does not create good citizens but presumably accepts them already made, and is if anything more obviously a religious institution than San Miguel is, being affiliated with a specific church. But Providence College may accept the state’s money, while San Miguel may not. Two responses are commonly given. Neither one is morally sound, and neither really does explain the matter. The real explanation, I fear, lies elsewhere.

The first response is this. San Miguel competes with an established system of public schools. Money that should go to the one cannot go to the other. But a public school system exists, one supposes, not for itself, but for the education of children. If that end may be served better, for some students, in some other fashion—and in the case of schools like San Miguel, in a far less expensive fashion—then the raison d’être for the public system fairly demands that the other system be supported.

The alternative is to compel as many young people as possible to attend schools that are dangerous or chaotic, in moral and spiritual ruins; as, for instance, one of the public schools of nearby Pawtucket, where one is hard pressed to find more than a few students in any class who live in the same house with their married mother and father. People whose hearts are wrung for the plight of the poor should be able to find some reasonable construction of the Constitution—easy enough to find—to allow at least for tuition vouchers, while protecting schools against state control.

The second response is more sinister. My student at Providence College was old enough to make up his own mind about religious faith. But the boys at San Miguel are still impressionable children. In other words, a convert here or there at Providence College won’t matter much, but if schools like San Miguel should proliferate, we’d have a problem. But what problem, exactly? Here we see revealed an animus against religious faith. It is all right, in the public schools, to try to form the minds of young people, giving them moral lessons in whatever happens to be the crusade of the day, while bullets fly and drugs are downed and eyes glass over with pornographic images. But it is not all right to spend a dime for San Miguel, if a tenth of a penny will be devoted to reading Scripture.

This animus is irrational. It wasn’t Scripture that fertilized the fields of the Ukraine with the corpses of millions of peasants. Those weren’t Mennonites under Mao who murdered fifty million of their countrymen and called it a Cultural Revolution. Hitler wasn’t obeying the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes, much less the exhortations of an Italian prelate, when he sent six million Jews to their deaths in the concentration camps, and millions of others with them. We did not fight in Korea or Vietnam over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Kaiser Wilhelm did not unleash his bitter and utterly pointless war so that Ein Feste Burg would be sung in Notre Dame de Paris. The tremendous evils of our time have not been watered at Jacob’s well. Islam is the outlier—but the animus has long preceded the emergence of Islam as a threat to the modern west.

It’s irrational for another reason, too. Not only is there no good reason to be suspicious of people of faith. There is every reason to encourage them and to be grateful for them, because even by worldly standards they make good citizens. The boys at San Miguel are not robbing convenience stores. Some of them will carry guns—in the army. They are a lot less likely to father children out of wedlock. Many of them set down deep roots in their school, which becomes for them a community that spans generations; they volunteer for the school, they contribute what they can when they have established themselves in business. If a person hears, on a Sunday, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me,” it is just possible that he will take it seriously enough to reach out to the poor, in love. If a person hears, in the synagogue, that the man who walks uprightly will dwell upon the Lord’s holy hill, it is just possible that he may take the lesson to heart, and that his life will bear witness to the holiness of truth and right dealing.

Yet the animus against religion is natural—if we understand the ambitions of the modern state.

In his autobiography Witness, Whittaker Chambers describes how reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables brought him to communism, even as it was teaching him the Christian faith. The Bishop of Digne became his hero, the man who, in Hugo’s words, “inclined toward the distressed and the repentant,” for “the universe appeared to him like a vast disease; he perceived fever everywhere,” and “without trying to solve the enigma, he sought to staunch the wound.” The good bishop came to Chambers’s mind when he recalled an incident at Union Station, in Washington. He was standing in the ticket line with J. Peters, an underground agent of the Communist Party, when a man came up to Chambers, begging to exchange tickets with him. Chambers felt sorry for him and did what he wanted, whereupon Peters called him a fool, though, he added gently, “The party needs more fools.”

In saying so, Peters the man got the better of Peters the politician. For it was the party’s policy, as Chambers makes clear, to discourage charity. The sting of poverty must move the poor to action. The individuality of the persons involved in a private gift—the love that might bind them—was to be dissolved in the progressive march towards the ideal State. The poor of Providence must not be allowed an alternative; they must feel the sting of the bad schools, so that those same schools may claim greater exactions from the people who might give privately to charities like San Miguel, and so that the State will grow.

It is a mistake to believe that a totalitarian State regulates all the actions of its individual members. The Communist Party, says Chambers, encouraged promiscuity; and certainly the public schools of Providence do not discourage it with any effectiveness. Individuals may well be granted great leeway in habits that destroy the competitors to the State: the family, the community, and the churches. We drive “government” out of the bedroom, by which we mean that common people will have no say in the most determinative matter of their common life, in order the more firmly to entrench the State in the living room, the classroom, the town hall, and the sanctuary. For the State does not want to keep separate from the churches. It wants to absorb them.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

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A War on Religion?

- Tue, 2012-10-23 13:27
In a world where the government believes that the First Amendment’s religious freedoms don’t apply to churches, religious organizations, non-profit and for-profit businesses, health-care providers, and anyone outside the four walls of a church building, we are all at risk.

In today’s increasingly secular society, the threat to religious freedom comes not at the point of a sword, but from imposed values at odds with the truth that there is a Creator who has given us certain inalienable rights that government is supposed to secure, not supplant. People of faith in America may not be seeing squads of soldiers pounding on their doors in the dead of night, demanding that they renounce their faith or be dragged off. But they are being confronted by lawmakers, bureaucrats, regulators, human rights commissions, and even college deans demanding that they submit to so-called “neutral laws of general applicability” that venerate such concepts as toleration, non-discrimination, and “choice.”

“And it’s okay,” say these modern arbiters of twenty-first century enlightenment, “if you don’t want to comply.” But the catch is that you won’t be able to earn a living in your chosen profession, or you may have to pay a fine, or your club or association or church will simply have to meet somewhere else away from the rest of “polite society.”

Yes, today’s barbarians seek not to end the free exercise of religion with a single knock-out blow, but rather to strangle it until it either cries “Uncle” or suffocates.

In this essay I offer a quick overview of how today’s threats to our religious freedom play out in the issues of life, marriage and sexuality, and the freedom of association.

Life

The key targets of the Left with respect to the rights of conscience in the health-care field have been nurses and pharmacists who object to being involved in abortions or providing contraceptives, including possible abortion-causing drugs, because of their deeply held beliefs that pre-born lives are sacred.

In Illinois, just last month, a state court of appeals upheld the right of some pharmacists to refuse to provide the Plan B contraceptive, which is believed to be a possible abortifacient. Although Illinois has a “right of conscience” statute covering pharmacists, you may recall that former Governor Blagojevich issued a mandate ordering pharmacists to provide Plan B, and if they had religious objections to doing so, they should “find another profession.” The Illinois courts disagreed.

In the state of Washington earlier this year, a federal district court found a free exercise violation in that state’s attempt to enact rules that would force pharmacists to likewise provide Plan B and other drugs in violation of their conscience rights. The trial judge noted the close cooperation between the governor’s office, the state pharmacy board, and Planned Parenthood to create a rule whose “predominant purpose” was to “stamp out the right to refuse.”

Nurses with religious objections to participating in abortion procedures at state-owned or state-supported hospitals have also been threatened with loss of their jobs. In one case from Mt. Sinai hospital in Brooklyn in 2009, a nurse was required to assist in an abortion procedure against her conscience, and the federal courts denied her any legal remedy whatsoever. A state lawsuit is pending. In another case arising at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2011 involving 12 pro-life nurses, it took the quick action of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to stop the strong-arming by hospital administrators.

Most disturbing of all, the federal government has now taken a prominent role in threatening religious conscience rights on a nationwide scale. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has issued what has become known as the “HHS mandate”—a definition of the “preventive services” under the 2010 law known as the Affordable Care Act. The HHS mandate requires most employers to provide employee health plans that include coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives—including Plan B, Ella, and other possible abortion-causing drugs—and even abortion counseling. The mandate includes only a weak “religious” exemption from the mandate’s requirements that appears to cover only churches, leaving most other religious institutions, religious non-profits, and secular for-profit businesses under compulsion to comply. Heavy fines await those employers who refuse to comply.

The mandate’s deadlines for compliance (the first of which passed on August 1, 2012) have forced religious employers of all types to initiate lawsuits seeking protection for their conscience rights. Already over 30 lawsuits have been filed involving over 90 plaintiffs. Rather than recognize the overwhelming tide of objections to the mandate’s impact on conscience rights, the Administration has doubled down, filing motions to dismiss these lawsuits on standing or ripeness grounds.

In the case of one secular company, however, the administration’s hardball litigation tactics have proven ineffective. Hercules Industries is a Denver heating and air conditioning company owned by a Catholic family and run according to the owners’ faith principles. The owners object to the mandate’s sterilization and contraceptive requirements, which violate Catholic doctrine. The company was able with ADF’s help to obtain an injunction this past July against the mandate’s enforcement, at least on a temporary basis as the company’s lawsuit proceeds. The government argued that a secular company, such as Hercules, by definition “cannot engage in religion,” even though the owners’ faith principles are evident throughout the company’s corporate documents and policies. Federal district court judge John Kane called the question of a corporation’s religious rights an “issue of first impression,” but if it is resolved in Hercules’s favor, the judge held that the mandate would likely violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1993, RFRA prohibits the federal government from imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion unless it has a compelling interest, and the burden is imposed using the least restrictive means available.

As more employers face compliance deadlines or monetary penalties, and the administration refuses to budge on the mandate, look for even more legal challenges to be filed.

Marriage and Sexuality

In the area of marriage and family, there is no doubt but that the increasing proliferation of so-called non-discrimination laws, civil unions, and same-sex marriage has resulted in the denial of religious liberty. Just ask Catholic Charities, which, since 2006, has chosen to get out of the adoption business in Boston, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Illinois rather than be forced to place children with same-sex parents as required by the laws of those jurisdictions.

In New Mexico, a husband and wife photography business was fined over $6,600 for refusing, on religious grounds, to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. Although New Mexico has neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions, the state’s Human Rights Commission held that the couple violated the state’s non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation, and refused even to consider the couple’s religious liberty claims. That case is currently at the New Mexico Supreme Court after losing in two lower courts, and I’m hopeful that ADF is going to pull out a victory there.

In New Jersey, a United Methodist facility known as Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was similarly charged with violating the state’s non-discrimination laws for refusing to host a civil union ceremony in its beachfront pavilion in 2007. That case is still ongoing, but part of a state tax exemption was also revoked from the facility for its action. Take note of the tax exemption issue. If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land by edict of the Supreme Court next year, watch to see what happens down the road to the 501(c)(3) exemptions of those organizations whose beliefs and practices contradict the new reality.

In Vermont, Illinois, Hawaii and elsewhere, bed and breakfast inns run by people of faith have been targeted for discrimination complaints and lawsuits because the owners have refused to rent rooms or facilities for civil union or same-sex marriage events.

Freedom of Association

The federal courts’ recent treatments of associational freedoms focus on religious groups on college campuses as well as the rights of churches to meet in public buildings and hire their ministers without government interference.

Public colleges and universities have for a long time been a hotbed of political correctness. Whether it’s out and out hostility to religion by professors, or speech codes, or disputes over campus club membership restrictions, there is no end to the possibilities for attacks on religious freedom on campus.

In 2010, the Supreme Court got involved in a case over the associational rights of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the UC Hastings College of Law involving the club’s requirements concerning biblical belief and sexual behavior outside of the biblical definition of marriage. An LGBT group on campus complained, and the university then denied CLS official recognition. Although the facts and legal arguments are too detailed to present here, the bottom line is that the Court upheld what is called an “all comers policy” that the University had imposed on its campus clubs: all comers, regardless of whether they agree with a club’s foundational principles or not, must be allowed to join and even run for leadership positions. Since CLS could go off campus and enjoy all the associational freedom it desired, Justice Ginsburg held, its First Amendment rights were not violated. Being “banished” from campus life now seems to be the price for exercising your freedom of religion.

The Bronx Household of Faith has been in a long-running battle with the New York City Board of Education over the rental of public school facilities on weekends for church services. New York receives about 10,000 requests from community groups each year to rent out school facilities for evening and weekend events. Since the early 1990s, the City has been doing its best to deny churches the right to meet in its schools, alleging supposed “separation of church and state” problems. For about 17 years and counting, ADF has been defending this poor little neighborhood church against the ever-changing policies and arguments of the Big Apple. The church has lost in court on its viewpoint discrimination claim, but policy changes over the years now mean that though the City could still win under the free speech clause, it could lose under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment, according to a federal district court judge’s recent ruling. Stay tuned.

Finally, last January, in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the federal government’s incredibly wrong-headed argument that the First Amendment religion clauses do not protect a church’s ministerial hiring decisions. Chief Justice Roberts charitably referred to the government’s argument as “untenable” and “remarkable.”

Conclusion

In a world where the government believes that the First Amendment’s religious freedoms don’t apply to churches, religious organizations, non-profit and for-profit businesses, health-care providers, and anyone outside the four walls of a church building, we are all at risk. In a world where such people and organizations are relegated to second-class status off campus, or told to find a different line of work, or find a sign on public facilities that says “religion not welcome here,” we have entered an era not of tolerance, but intolerance.

On a hopeful note, we should thank legal organizations like ADF for defending us against the rising tide of laws, regulations, and policies that have the effect of infringing our religious freedoms. But we can’t leave it all up to them. We need to link arms and do the necessary grassroots-level work necessary to shore up our religious freedom at national, state, and local levels.

Bruce Hausknecht is the judicial analyst for CitizenLink, the policy arm of Focus on the Family.

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George Washington’s Legacy as a Foreign Policy Guide

- Mon, 2012-10-22 13:07
Washington’s life suggests that prudence, flexibility, and moderation both in personal and national pursuits of power should guide our leaders in their foreign policy strategies.

In Friday’s essay I introduced five principles for foreign policy established by our first president’s example. Today I explore these principles in greater depth and suggest applications for our twenty-first-century context.

1) Natural Rights and Providence: Pillars of Defense Policy

The Declaration of Independence carefully justifies a war to protect basic natural rights and constitutional government, as a last resort; it also specifies unacceptable forms of warfare concerning civilians, property, and prisoners. This spirit of constitutional republicanism informed Washington’s General Orders of July 9, 1776, which mandated that the Declaration be read to the troops so that they might under­stand “the grounds & reasons” of the war. Washington also made appeals to divine Providence part of his public statements on war. The same General Orders, for example, provided for chaplains and religious services, and called upon the “blessing and protection of Heaven.” And after the war, Washington’s writings always cited the guidance of transcendent ideals, albeit in careful, non-sectarian language. His words suggested that a republic should neither ignore the dynamic between governmental and private morality nor adopt religious zealotry in its policies, at home or abroad.

2) Civil-Military Relations: Basic Tenet of a Stable, Strong Republic

Throughout his decades in public life, from colonial Virginia to establishing a sound national constitution by the 1790s, Washington noted the dangers of both militarism and weakness. He established the republican principle of civil-military relations, which many nations of the world still do not enjoy: a professional military is necessary to protect liberty, but its power can be checked by subordination to laws and civil authority.

Washington himself repeatedly resisted temptations to greater power both during and after the war. In quelling an incipient officer coup against civilian authority that arose at headquarters in Newburgh, New York, in 1783, Washington argued for subordination to the government and then sealed it with a dramatic remark while reading a letter from Congress: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.” The once-rebellious officers, some in tears, unanimously reaffirmed allegiance to civil authority. The main doctrinal manual of the U.S. Army today opens with a reminder of this episode. We still need armed forces with this professional ethos, and leaders—both civilian and military—who will use our power to serve higher principles even at personal or political risk.

3) Moderation: Primary Virtue in Foreign and Defense Policy

Washington is no longer given much credit for being the single most important leader of the constitutional reform movement that, from 1783 to 1789, produced a balanced government capable of handling a nation’s affairs, including war and peace. The great themes of Washington’s presidency under the new Constitution he had sought were that executive power was safe for republicanism, and that constitutional government, not populism or parties, should guide the way through domestic and foreign trials. His general principle guiding foreign and defense policy is moderation, understood as the sober balance among ideas or actions advocated by Montesquieu—the modern philosopher most keen to instruct statesmen in practical judgment.

This moderation is familiar to us today in the more obvious elements of Montesquieuan political science, such as the complexity of viewpoints and balancing of interests inherent in separation of powers and federalism. But there must be the right spirit in the statesmen who will effectively lead such a complex order. Washington had the intellectual confidence to consult a wide range of intelligent advisers, and then to rely upon one over another as he saw fit. He insisted that fashioning sound foreign and defense policies requires proper deliberation and judgment, within and across constitutional branches, about particular situations—a complex, messy process in a constitutional republic, but a path of political moderation and sobriety that avoids extremes of doctrine or momentary passion.

4) Prudence and Flexibility in Executive Power

Washington’s complex approach to formulating foreign and defense policy featured a chief executive who balanced consultation, prudential judgment, secrecy, speed, and flexibility in both grand strategy and tactics. His advocacy of practical judgment over doctrines or “isms” would be merely Machiavellian if the aims guiding that judgment were immoral or amoral, or if the ends were thought to justify any means. The pattern throughout his career, however, was to avoid either an amoral expediency or an impractical moralism.

Washington, like Lincoln and Churchill after him, was guided not by abstract moral principles alone but by prudence that connects larger moral ends with particular actions and policies. As general and president he oversaw secret intelligence missions and other covert operations while stopping short of ruthlessness. In 1835 Tocqueville praised his ability to discern a sound policy in the 1790s when the French Revolution and Europe’s great power contest unleashed a storm of ideas and passions upon the American body politic. A statesman’s hand at the helm was needed, and Tocqueville noted in Democracy in America that “nothing less than the inflexible character of Washington” could check popular opinion “to prevent war from being declared on England.” Tocqueville noted: “The majority pronounced against his policy; now the entire people approves it. If the Constitution and public favor had not given the direction of the external affairs of the state to Washington, it is certain that the nation would have done then precisely what it condemns today.”

Washington’s statesmanship is a high bar to meet, but citizens, pundits, and scholars should judge particular leaders and policies against this broad standard.

5) Theories of Just War and Natural Law: Guiding Sources for Grand Strategy

As president, Washington’s main policies sought an adequate federal army and navy; peace with Indian nations and defense of existing American settlements by force if necessary, but not expansion; and protection of the republic not only from European great powers but also from two rival doctrines about relations with them. In pursuit of these aims, he adopted neither the realism of Hamilton nor the liberal internationalism or idealism advocated by Madison and Jefferson in germ, later by Woodrow Wilson more fully.

Instead, Washington blended principles from the just war tradition developed by classical philosophy and Christianity with the modern natural law and international law theory developed by Grotius, Pufendorf, and Montesquieu. These minds led Washington to apply moderation by balancing the growth of military power with limits to war grounded by natural rights and basic international rights.

The great test of Washington’s principle of moderation stemmed from the upheaval of the French Revolution and the radical democratic theory France sought to impress upon the world. His 1793 Neutrality Proclamation and 1795 treaty with Britain (the Jay Treaty) were to him the best options—or least-worst options—for securing both justice and national interest. Throughout partisan turmoil he defended the Constitution’s principle that foreign policy should bow neither to popular passions nor abstract creeds but should be debated by the branches somewhat insulated from popular opinion, the Senate and president. In an address to Congress he defended the “prudence and moderation” that had obtained and ratified the Treaty, and sought an honorable peace as the basis for America’s future prosperity and strength.

Washington’s maxim “to steer clear of permanent Alliances” is among the best-known ideas of the Farewell Address. Many accounts of his foreign policy confuse it with Jefferson’s later maxim about “entangling alliances,” which fosters the erroneous view that the Address launches a doctrine of isolationism. Instead, his main principle was that a secure, independent nation should surrender to neither interest nor abstract justice, neither passions nor fixed doctrines, but must balance and find moderation among these human propensities. In this prudential spirit, he rises above current disputes to state a general principle of a grand strategy: “a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, command of its own fortunes.”

His main concern was that a nation be independent enough to act wisely and justly; the fundamental principle was to be able to “choose peace or war, as our interest guided by justice shall Counsel.” He long had advocated provision for “the national security”; Theodore Roosevelt praised the maxim from Washington’s First Annual Message that “to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” He thus calls America to “observe good faith and justice towards all Nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it?” He endorses the utilitarian maxim that “honesty is always the best policy,” but also urges America to “give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.”

Republican Prudence for Our Globalized World

In the hope that these principles drawn from Washington’s legacy might spur greater engagement with our founding principles today, I conclude by floating a few suggestions about their relevance for our twenty-first-century dilemmas. Such counsels of republican prudence may seem platitudes—they don’t immediately provide policy advice on Iran, or cyber security, or defense spending—but in their way they are deeply relevant for sorting through policy options and debates.

First, we should observe the great success achieved by placing principle above power, by sticking to moderate policies amid partisan claims, and by carefully matching means to higher ends. The statesman widely held to be the Founding Father, in his own moment of dominance, resisted both the fog of power and the thrill of partisanship by sticking to the virtues and aims that had earned the public trust. Washington’s first principle—adherence to republicanism, natural justice, and transcendent truths about humankind—also makes him confident, in his Farewell Address, that America will be “at no distant period, a great Nation.” Washington’s other principles, and all his policies, rest on this foundation. If such discipline brought about the founding of America, and was at least partially adhered to by his successors as we rose to world power, on what grounds should we ignore it now? Are compromises with this principle—and Washington knew that human affairs always require compromises to some degree—justified by larger support for this principle itself?

Second, his insistence that we avoid both militarism and weakness implicates a range of issues from our defense force structure to public and private diplomacy. Washington’s advice to balance the claims of republican liberty and national defense arises in part from his awareness that the Romans lost their republic to an empire. Patient diplomacy must always be equal to, or supersede, the claims of pride and power in making national policy. This is not to say Washington would place a primary trust in international institutions or law, or in utopias of perpetual or democratic peace, but that we should maintain perspective and balance about our own temptations and motives as well as those of allies and adversaries.

Third, Washington’s specific constitutional ideas also touch policy at home and abroad. We should affirm a complex structure for formulating foreign and security policy as best for balancing liberty and security, and vet policies through both the executive and legislative branches—seeking not the lowest common denominator but the highest possible consensus on means and aims. Washington hoped his moderate principles would “prevent our Nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the Destiny of Nations,” but this presupposed that vigilance about both necessary defenses and the perils of war would animate all elements of the complex political order he founded.

Fourth, Washington’s counsel that executives should employ consultations, prudence, and flexibility in both grand strategy and tactics is difficult to achieve today, since we embrace populism, partisanship, and permanent campaigning more than the founders ever could. One maxim both Thucydides and Washington might offer is to resist the temptation to let current dominance and superior technology narrow our thinking about whether, when, or how to wage war, or about what the consequences or complications might be when a battle or missile strike is long over. Nor, at the other extreme, should we think we can hide behind a wall of technology and security while problems fester and allies falter abroad. We should not confuse Washington’s counsel of independence and moderation for a doctrine of passivity.

Should we generally adopt American internationalism and an assertive presence of both hard and soft power abroad in order to serve our interests and justice, or adopt an emphasis on diplomacy and international law, or a retreat from supposed over-commitments while using hard power only to address glaring, imminent threats? Washington’s counsels do not easily fit this typical menu of discrete, rival doctrines. A Washingtonian view might observe, for example, that a balanced policy of non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and democracy promotion is animated both by interest and benevolent justice—an enlightened self-interest of inextricably blended motives. Such a blend is as characteristic of American self-understanding as Washington hoped it would be.

Our challenges indeed are new in many ways, but the highest consensus of the founders still is the general aim proclaimed by all American presidents and parties—to benefit mankind and ourselves by respecting, as Washington stated, “the obligation[s] which justice and humanity impose on every Nation.” He stated in his Farewell Address that international affairs always requires “temporary alliances” and engagement with foreign nations, while America should try to “cultivate peace and harmony” with all. He might agree that the complexities of our age and our power now compel engagement to a great degree, such as our enduring leadership of the NATO alliance—since America could retain independent judgment for balancing interest and justice while leading (rather than being subordinate in) an alliance. Indeed, his advice on “permanent alliances” concerned doctrinaire thinking as much as alliances, since “permanent, inveterate” antipathies or attachments lay behind such commitments. He instead sought the independence and flexibility necessary to find a sound blend of the possible, the expedient, and the dutiful.

Specific debates on a preemptive strike, or a regime change, or a humanitarian intervention always must be pulled up to that broader calculus, and there is no codebook in the sky that captures just what is right or what will succeed. Washington’s principles thus are difficult and elude snappy slogans, but counsel moderation as we debate contending policy views—calling for both the moral principle to stand up for right and the humility to check one’s own power, to lead alone if necessary but with allies and by persuasion whenever possible. It is precisely the gravity of the threats and opportunities facing America today that justifies recurrence to the thought of such great statesmen as Washington, even if our novel circumstances require new applications of their principles and prudence to our problems.

Paul Carrese is a professor of political science at the U.S. Air Force Academy and a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. The views expressed here are the author’s alone, and not of the U.S. Government.

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First Principles for American Foreign and Security Policy: A Presidential Debate Primer

- Fri, 2012-10-19 05:36
As Americans consider foreign policy and national security issues during a presidential campaign, a refresher on our nation’s first principles provides guidance for assessing current problems and contending views. The first of a two-part series.

Our endless presidential campaign has led some citizens to shut their eyes and ears to the cacophony. However, recent events have reminded many people about our serious differences over national policies and priorities. The adage is that presidential elections are decided on peace and prosperity, especially for an incumbent; and while economic issues have dominated recent debate, suddenly there is room to discuss national security and American foreign policy. The recent terrorist attack on our consulate in Libya on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is now a central political issue. Some voices insist this episode poses serious questions about the Obama administration’s foreign and national security policies, while others insist that a fairly minor episode is being sensationalized for partisan reasons.

How will these issues be discussed between President Obama and Governor Romney during Monday’s debate specifically focused on foreign policy? Serious citizens should pay attention.

To help guide the thoughtful citizen, I offer here comments about the current context of this debate, drawing on George Washington and with an eye toward first principles. While Washington often is considered only a figurehead among our founders, he was, in fact, the single most important leader regarding issues of national defense and foreign policy. He deliberately designed his “Farewell Address” (1796) to offer lasting principles for guiding his beloved republic, including advice and principles on how America should navigate the ever-challenging, often-dangerous arena of international affairs.

Current Debates and a Continued Need for First Principles 

Governor Romney recently delivered his first speech in many months exclusively devoted to foreign and national security policies. Even if Americans often like to forget about foreign affairs and national security—all the more so after eleven years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, with an urge to “come home” and focus on our own troubles—the terrible events in Libya and the attacks on American embassies in other parts of the Islamic world have jolted us back to a sober reality. We are the world’s largest and most influential political, economic, and military power. Our global presence and influence is a consequence of American policies and cultural characteristics that stretch back at least a century, and even earlier.

In other words, we have not left the world alone, and the world is not going to leave us alone. Much of the life that we find familiar and comfortable—of global commerce and relative prosperity at home, relatively cheap energy, the internet and social media, freedom to travel or learn about the globe—these and more are products of American power and influence. Can they be sustained and enjoyed without American international leadership? And, how serious will our citizenry and our leaders be in thinking about our foreign and defense policies to cope with, or shape, this era?

In the past four years both parties have responded to the war-weariness of the electorate. Many Democrats insist that America’s principles require us to respect the views of other states and cultures; we must beware of doing more harm than good by proclaiming ourselves the world’s leader, so we must wind down the current wars and avoid further ones. Many Republicans echo the view that resisted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s assertive American internationalism—often referred to as the Taft wing, occasionally as neo-isolationists—and warn that America should focus on its own defense and interests rather than affairs abroad.

Yet voices still exist within both parties that defend American internationalism and a strong presence in both hard power (military and intelligence capabilities) and soft power (diplomacy, aid, and cultural influence) throughout the world; they particularly urge leadership regarding our important interests and ideals—in the Middle East and East Asia, most controversially.

This range of debate, and these kinds of perplexities, date at least to George Washington’s first term as our first president. Politics usually has not stopped at the water’s edge, either in good times or in crisis. After the Cold War ended two decades ago, America was the superpower with unrivaled military, economic, and cultural might, but we also saw the dawn of a global struggle with terrorism—a global hegemon, yet beset by shadowy threats and unique burdens. Now we face cyber-attacks that could disrupt or seriously damage our communications and power systems. How should we address the persistence of global terrorist networks, and the persistence of powerful authoritarian regimes in Russia and China? How should we win, or responsibly end, the war in Afghanistan? How should we respond to, or shape, events in the ongoing revolution in Arab lands hopefully deemed the Arab Spring? Should we draw a red line to stop a revolutionary Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, and enforce that with military might? Is Europe a capable ally, worthy of our support?

Our debates over the war on terror and other pressing issues have become all the more rancorous in recent decades, given the bad influence of academia and intellectuals who tend to reduce international affairs to doctrines. Realism tells us it’s all about power and interests; liberal-internationalism tells us it’s all about moral principles, international law, and global institutions; the “democratic peace” school urges democracy promotion; neo-isolationists tell us to stop meddling abroad; the list could go on. These doctrines tend to cut us off from the full balance of our first principles, and from a fresh view of new developments. Moreover, they often yield not candid deliberation but contests between armed camps.

A return to first principles may help us to chart policies and strategies more consonant with the better angels of our history and national character, and with our justifiable interests. America was the first polity in history to be deliberately founded on ideas. It would be odd to think that our subsequent rise to global dominance in both hard and soft power somehow justifies amnesia about our original aims.

Washington’s Five Principles for American Foreign and Security Policy

In order to return to first principles, and especially to our founding general and president, we first have to remove a few obstacles. During the Cold War the great scholar Hans Morgenthau urged us to see Washington as a realist, advising consideration only of national power and interests. Washington more typically labors under two graver mis-readings: that his Farewell Address and other writings avow isolationism or passivity, and, that he was just a figurehead. Fortunately, several scholars in recent decades have explained why uncertain times call for revisiting this statesman who was no simple realist or isolationist, who was an intelligent leader both at home and abroad, and who offered sound principles on right, might, and diplomacy that long were cited as the guiding ideals of our republic.

Washington closed his career with a final address to “Friends, and Fellow-Citizens” that he hoped would endure—offering for “solemn contemplation” and “frequent review” principles he thought “all important to the permanency of your felicity as a people.” Leading statesmen and thinkers consulted his Farewell Address up through Henry Cabot Lodge during the First World War, and Morgenthau cited it in the Cold War. Washington’s deeds and words are no cookbook of recipes for today, since the main lessons of the address and the career informing it are architectonic, not specific: America must base its security policy on principle and prudence rather than on power or popularity, and its strength must defend a decent republican politics rather than conquest or glory.

The address encapsulates a comprehensive approach to foreign policy, security, and war, derived from Washington’s decades of service devoted to liberty, constitutionalism, and political moderation. One can glean from the Address a set of guidelines—five broad, overlapping principles for strategic thinking:

1. The priority of a decent republic, rooted in natural justice and guided by transcendent truths about humankind—the end or aim of all national policies;

2. The subordination of military to civil authority, and avoidance of either militarism or weakness—what we now might call a principle of peace through strength;

3. Balancing liberty and security through a complex, moderate constitution that divides responsibility for foreign and defense policy—thus striving for a high-minded national consensus on the best means to our ends;

4. The need for statesmanship rather than mere politics within such a complex order, especially in a presidency balancing deliberation, prudence, and flexibility in both grand strategy and tactics;

5. The search for a grand strategy that balances interest, independence, and justice in foreign affairs through prudent recourse to just war principles and the classic right of nations.

Washington was a practical man of policies and action, but he insisted that these be chosen in light of sound principles and informed judgment. Those seeking concrete ideas on pressing issues of the day, especially during an election, may think these principles vague or useless. Washington knew from hard experience, however, that republics typically falter on strategic thinking, instead seizing on short term problems, adopting favored doctrines of the day, or following popular impulses. He doubtless would admit that we face massive and new problems today. He might remind us, however, that for over two decades he defeated a superpower and managed an international coalition, forged trust among members of his own federation, and navigated ruthless great-power politics—and all with vastly fewer resources at his disposal than America can marshal today.

A closer look at these five principles—the aim of Monday’s essay—can help thoughtful citizens sort through contending views of candidates and campaigns to assess what the next president and Congress should do regarding our important national challenges.

Paul Carrese is a professor of political science at Air Force Academy and a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. The views expressed here are the author’s alone, and not of the US Government.

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