6.19.2008

Idealism and Peace

Apropos to the subject of Christianity and war, so frequently dicussed at Vox Nova, is Fr. James Schall's latest column, "Peace Research". He begins with reflections on human nature and the demand for "peace at any cost":
Behind the war question, sane people recognized that "peaceful means" do not always guarantee justice or even existence. "Peace at any cost" has long been understood to be the virtue of cowards. Scripture is not only full of wars, but unsettlingly reminds us that in all human history will be found wars and rumors of war. This view is stated as a matter of fact. We should not be shocked when it happens in our era or place. It assumes a familiarity with human nature, with the Fall in all its consequences. As a grudging practical principle that never fails to upset the idealists, realistically armed societies are usually those that enjoy the most peace. Those who merely "long" for peace seldom experience it. They may enjoy it, but it is not the result of their own efforts.
He moves on to qualify his definition of peace, because paradoxically, the desire for peace without any qualification can lead to less peace.
Peace is not an object of war. Peace is always a result of something else, primarily justice. But not everyone is inspired by justice. The question of war is thus never far from the question of what goes on in our souls. Wars seldom initially arise with armies. When unjust, they arise in the souls of the intellectual guardians or in those of the citizens, usually as a result of personal disorder. The necessity to protect oneself and others is, then, something that arises from a realistic look at the human condition.
He then briefly mentions how modern philosophy departed from Christian thought. These thoughts beg to be extended. Here are Schall's words:
Modern philosophy often proposed itself as a method to create among us "universal peace." What this philosophy claimed was a superior understanding of human nature. Modern thought strove to replace the Christian realism that expects wars and rumors of war. With modern science, this thought will finally bring about "peace" in this world. Indeed, a principal argument against Christianity was that it was too slovenly about wars. It did not "work" to eradicate them. It read Scripture about their abidingness, so it did not act.
I will attempt a brief extension here.

There is good reason to believe that absolute intolerance for war and inequality is not so much a result of traditional Christian thought as it is an offspring of what I would call the projectionist philosophers [thanks Prof. Corbin!]. Philosophers, beginning with Machiavelli, no longer sought to merely inquire into the nature of reality; rather, these philosophers claimed to have definite knowledge of reality and sought to project their particular vision of it onto the world. These philosophers were not content with our impartial and imperfect knowledge of what is, and so they constructed their own version of what is and attempted to persuade others of it. They were very successful.

Some Christian political thinkers bought into the methods of the projectionist philosophers. They took a Christian truth - liberation from the consequences of sin - too far. Buying into the Utopian temptation, they attempted to write original sin and its consequences out of reality. In the words of the philsopher Eric Voegelin, they attempted to "immanentize the eschaton". This can be seen in the various attempts to plan and organize the perfectly just political community, as if such a thing might exist this side of paradise.

So the argument against them is this: Any truly Christian political thought must take into account what is, and part of what is is original sin and its consequences. Demands for a world without war, or a world without peace are properly called idealistic, because they ignore or minimize the nature and significance of reality. They deny what is and want to force what ought.

So what does this mean? Does this mean we must simply accept war? Well, no. We should expect war, but not accept it. In Father Schall's words, "We do what we can" His conclusion is worth repeating in its entirety. Please excuse this massive quotation, but I really think it is worth drawing attention to these words.
Now, of course, Christianity has never thought that something could not be done about the prevalence of war. Its frequency and heinousness could, with some wisdom, be limited. The notion of "limited" as opposed to "universal peace" strikes me as by far the more feasible and indeed less dangerous goal. "Universal peace" by human means has the overtones of totalitarianism in modern times.

...

These remarkable words of Ratzinger are worth memorizing:
Even a cursory glance at the actual reality of every century suggests that such "signs" [wars] indicate a permanent condition of this world. The world has always been torn apart by wars and catastrophes, and nothing allows one to hope that, for example, "peace research" will manage to ease this watermark of all humanity.
In other words, we do what we can. But when we promise that we can eliminate war by studying peace, we show that we do not understand either Scripture or the human condition.

In the recent past, we have had earthquakes, floods, wars, and sundry other disasters. We can only be "surprised" at such things if we really think that we can totally eliminate them -- if, in other words, we lapse into ideology from practical realism. It is in this latter world where we are to accomplish our salvation, which is not ultimately in this world.
Thoughts? Catholic Anarchist?

1 comment:

Zachary said...

Does this make any sense?

Where am I?