Sunday, August 31, 2008

On a New Grassroots Pro-Life Movement

At the recent Democratic National Convention, Bob Casey made up for the slight against his father in 1992 by speaking at the invitation of Barack Obama. He made their disagreement clear:
“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”
They do not agree on abortion. Yet there is something else that Casey sees in Obama, beginning of course with his very openness to allow Casey to speak. He further elaborated on this at his speech to the Democrats for Life at the convention, another meeting which got a fair amount of press. His main point:
Many pregnant women who face pregnancy, regardless of income and circumstances, for whatever reason are “in crisis,” Casey said. He argued that government and society should show solidarity with such women through government assistance. "We’re not doing that now,” he said. “In my judgment, neither party is doing enough on this issue.”
The question is one regarding offering as complete a package of help to pregnant women and young mothers as they may need in order to raise their child. In other words, to cultivate a child friendly culture, which it certainly is not now.

He continued:
Since current law grants the right of women to have abortions, Casey argued, “We ought to make sure that she also has the option to carry that child to term. We’ve got to help her, okay? This isn’t her problem, it’s our problem.”
My point here is that Casey, at the invitation of Obama, historically made up for what was denied to his father. We live in a different political environment. Recently I debated with a friend as to whether one could in good conscience vote for Obama over McCain. His main concern, as is mine, is, despite all the arguments that link abortion to poverty, despite the claims that abortions were lower during Clinton's administration than during the Bushs', and despite arguments that when balanced out, more innocent lives would probably be lost during a McCain administration than during an Obama one, that still, to simply vote pro-life in this country remains important, if only to preserve abortion as a relevant issue. I see this argument. Abortion is hardly a relevant issue in Europe anymore. The grassroots pro-life movement in the United States has been tremendously successful at keeping it at the forefront of the American mind.

However, this has been in many ways despite, not because of, the alliance of the pro-life movement with the Republican party. I remember back to the early years of the movement, when my dad and Father Thomas and other members of our community were getting arrested for sitting in front of abortion clinics. The days when I was carried to police cars, and dragged through parking lots. When Bishops sat next to university presidents who sat next to homeless people. The movement at that time had vitality. Joan Andrews was a hero like to Martin Luther King Jr. Protestants sat with Catholics, with atheists, with people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. There was ingenuity and vision. There was a richness and vitality to the movement. Much of that is lost. The movement has focused my myopically on federal politics, and the wind went out of much of the early grassroots groundswell, the part of the movement that actually gave it life.

It may be that time again for the movement to re-energize at the grassroots level, and to do so by dropping all political allegiances. The pro-life movement has become too partisan, and has thereby lost its strength. I remember it being more energized under Clinton, if only because it was persecuted. But that is a negative reason. The positive reason is that there are many young people who want to enter the movement. They want to be a part of it, and make a change. But that big picture change will never, I repeat never, take place with one party. It must include both. Obama has shown himself open to allow Casey to speak, to allow Democrats for Life to appear on the national stage. I see far more hope for continued relevance and growth and effectiveness in the pro-life movement if it pushes to work across party lines and builds again at the grassroots level, where the Civil Rights movement was so effective, than if it remains with the Republican right alone. Such a strategy will not work.

Is there a danger of losing relevance if Obama is elected? Will his "progressive" appeal cause the young to lose sight of abortion as an issue? Possibly, but I don't think so. He, even, cannot lose sight of it, and he is opening a new space in his party for a new debate. This is something to take advantage of, not lament. Sticking to the old playing rules by thinking one has to vote for McCain is myopic. As pro-lifers, we do have at least two options, if not many more, and definitely not only one.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama = Kennedy

Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was great. The most important goal of the speech was to demythologize himself. He had to come down from the mountain without stone tablets and instead make it clear that he is running for the earthly office of President of the United States. In doing so, he took away McCain's best talking point. No longer the Messiah come to save us, he cast himself as a Presidential candidate who exhibits the temperament and judgment needed in this time in history. He both inspired and attacked. He gave examples in the abstract and in the concrete. And he invoked his humble background and his perspective growing up as a bi-racial in America. With this speech, Obama finally became what he should have been aspiring to be - the new Kennedy.

I find this election cycle errily similiar to 1960. Kennedy and Obama represent the same call for a new frontier. Neither man had or has the credentials to be reformers, but they did and do have personality to be outsiders. Both men are elegant, calm under pressure and able to successfully avoid appearing as if the Washington game is the only thing they live to do. Both men also had and have a firm grasp on the need to give rhetorical renewal to our politics. Their language was and is hopeful, uplifting and spiritual.

McCain is nervous, and should be so. I think his selection of Sarah Palin is a bold move, but one made out of desperation. It is a gamble, and in politics, those who consider themselves safe do not gamble. The Republican National Convention has some high expectations to meet. We will have to see if the McCain campaign can regroup.

Either way, history will be made no matter what. The control of white men in the executive will be broken.

Mason Slidell

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Katrina, Gustav, Markel, and Other Names

Maybe I chose Markel as my name because he, like Ignatius, experienced his conversion while lying sick in bed.  Father Zossima's elder brother in the Brothers Karamazov, he took ill with consumption while at a young age.  He was of "irritable temperament" and did not believe in God, thinking it all pure silliness.  After taking to bed with sickness, he experienced a profound transformation, one of solidarity with all of Creation in God.  I remember the first time I read the Brothers Karamazov being deeply moved by the section of the sayings of Zossima, and especially by Markel.  I will quote my favorite passage:
The windows of his room looked out into the garden, and our garden was a shady one, with old trees in it which were coming into bud.  The first birds of spring were flitting in the branches, chirruping and singing at the windows.  And looking at them and admiring them, he began suddenly begging their forgiveness too, "Birds of heaven, happy birds, forgive me, for I have sinned against you too."  None of us could understand that at the time, but he shed tears of joy.  "Yes, he said, "there was such a glory of God all about me; birds, trees, meadows, sky, only I lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not notice the beauty and glory."  
"You take too many sins on yourself," mother used to say, weeping.
"Mother, darling, it's for joy, not for grief that I am crying.  Though I can't explain it to you, I like to humble myself before them, for I don't know how to love them enough.  If I have sinned against everyone, yet all forgive me, too, and that's heaven. Am I not in heaven now?"
I continue to be moved by this passage, and subsequent one's on the meaning of solidarity with all Creation and the need to forgive all, since our sins affect all.  

As I reflected on Markel, I also couldn't help but think of other important characters who "came to themselves," as Binx Bolling did, while sick or laid low by an injury.  Binx came to the notion of a search from just such an injury during the Korean war, as did Ignatius at Pamplona. But the character I remember most as I now search through the voluminous War and Peace trying to find the passage I want, is Prince Andrew Bolkonski.   I've found it, or rather, two passages.  In Book X chapter xxxvi of War and Peace, Prince Andrew is hit by an exploding shell.  As he watches the smoking shell in slow motion, he comes to a sudden realization: "I cannot, do not wish to die.  I love life -- I love this grass, this earth, this air."  He experiences a sudden, overwhelming love for all that is, all that exists.  

As he is carried from the field with a gaping injury in his abdomen, he sounds a lot like Markel in his meditations:  
Prince Andrew opened his eyes and for a long time could not make out what was going on around him.  He remembered the meadow, the wormwood, the field, the whirling black ball, and his sudden rush of passionate love for life.
Prince Andrew could not longer restrain himself and wept tender loving tears for his fellow men, for himself, and for his own and their errors.
Later in Book XI, chapter xxxii: 
"Yes -- love," he thought again quite clearly.  "But not love which loves for something, for some quality, for some purpose, or for some reason, but the love which I -- while dying -- first experience when I saw my enemy and yet loved him.  I experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object.  Now again I feel that bliss.  To love one's neighbors, to love one's enemies, to love everything, to love God in all His manifestations."
This is what Prince Andrew discovered, and I too was deeply moved by that passage.  There is something about being laid up, in discomfort, thrown off one's regular rhythm, when one begins to see life differently, and to tap into the Heart of loving solidarity around which the world revolves.  Percy always wrote that people were happier in the midst of catastrophe than when everything was working right.   In moments of disaster they saw and loved clearly.   

I pray at this time that as New Orleans remembers the third anniversary of Katrina, and experiences another need to evacuate as it anticipates the landfall of Gustav on Tuesday, that in this peril and suspense, the capacity of the human soul for a deep and sublime love will shine forth in this city.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Monday, August 25, 2008

Communion Debates Revived

I found this a pretty interesting post from Vox Nova. Does withholding communion from pro-abortion politicians just obfuscate and narrow other serious public causes of scandal by public Catholics? 
Denying the Eucharist to Torture Supporters
Recently, I decided to read the essay by Archbishop Burke in which he lays out the case for applying canon 915 to politicians who support abortion. Although I disagree with his conclusion, he certainly makes his case well. But the point of this post is not to argue the “communion wars”. Rather, it is to address a neglected implication of Archbishop Burke’s reasoning, that canon 915 should also be applied to public figures who support torture, rather than simply restricting it to abortion alone. The implication is quite obvious, yet rarely addressed.

Canon 915 states:

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Archbishop Burke lays out the case that it should be applied to Catholic politicians who publicly, after admonition, “continue to support legislation favoring procured abortion and other legislation contrary to the natural moral law.” He claims that the “gravity of the sin of procured abortion and of the sins involved in the commission of other intrinsically evil acts” means that politicians who support such activities meet the standard of “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”. The reason for applying the discipline is to avoid serious scandal and to safeguard the sanctity of the Eucharist. After a detailed canonical history of the matter, he concludes:

”The discipline applies to any public conduct which is gravely sinful, that is, which violates the law of God in a serious manner. Certainly, the public support of policies and laws which, in the teaching of the Magisterium, are in grave violation of the natural moral law falls under this discipline.”

As I said, the point of this post to not to challenge Archbishop Burke’s conclusion. Rather, it is to tease out the full implications of his conclusion. On these grounds, it seems patently obvious that politicians who support torture obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin, and ought to be denied Holy Communion. After all, as noted by the US bishops in the context of the US political scene, torture is one of the intrinsically evil acts that can never be supported or condoned in the current political environment (the others are abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, racism, and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war). A public figure who supports torture then, by the logic of Archbishop Burke, should be refused Holy Communion.

I also think that the focus on politicians is too narrow, as in our day, “public” has broader connotations. There are many important public figures with no elected position whose voice is still important. I’m thinking of media personalities, pundits, commentators, journalists, people like that. When they speak or write something in defense of an intrinsically evil act, something that violates the natural moral law, then the very same conclusion arises, for “manifest public support” is grounds for applying the discipline. To take the torture example, that would include not only politicians who have supported and voted for Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” but prominent Catholics like the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez who publicly defend these acts, including waterboarding.

Let me end on a note of irony: the newly-formed, but predictable Catholics Against Joe Biden blog spends a lot of time discussing the worthiness of Senator Biden to receive Communion, while simultaneously giving a big shout-out to none other than Kathryn Jean Lopez. Funny they miss that.
Markel, SJ

More Walls

As always, boots on the ground give you different perspectives on different things. I was recently talking with an acquaintance about his time this summer in Iraq working with a non-profit peace organization. He said that one of the down sides of the surge has been a further ghettoization of the cities in Iraq. While more troops on the ground has definitely brought more stability, the reason for it is that huge cement walls have gone up between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods, Kurdish and Sunni neighborhoods. Troops patrol the walls, and there is no interaction that can be helped. Under Baathist rule there is no doubt that ethnic and religious cleansing took place, primarily of the Kurdish people. The result of the surge at this point has not been to heal in any way the primarily religious division that tears Iraq to pieces. Rather, it has reinforced the divisions and is no more than a temporary solution. I was sad to hear his description of the situation and can only hope that our next president will have some new and more innovative ideas.

Markel, SJ

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Good ole Rick Reilly. Seems like he may be on to something. This all definitely dampened my Olympic spirits before the games even began. They've been a little hard to stomach.

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vow Day

I recently finished Ron Hansen's novel Mariette in Ecstasy.  Wow, what a tremendous book.  I have written before about his most recent novel Exiles which was superb.  But this blows it out of the water.  As a Jesuit I recently celebrated the anniversary of my vows, August 15, just around the time when I was finishing the book.  These last words of Mariette struck me particularly:
“And still Christ sends me roses. We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom. And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper, Surprise me.”
That summarized my experience of vows, and still encapsulates the experience of seeking and striving and hearing small words here and there, now and then, at his convenience.

I also recently read these words in Kristin Labransdatter, and again thinking about vows I was struck:
“’Tis thus that folk deal with their children now. To God they give the daughters who are lame or purblind or ugly or blemished, or they let Him have back the children when they deem Him to have given them more than they need. And then they wonder that all who dwell in the cloisters are not holy men and maids.”
Indeed, no one wants to give God anyone anymore, sadly, never mind the blemished or extras who are no longer even brought to birth.  

And then a little further on:
“For if a man had not any yearning after God and God’s being, then should he thrive in hell, and ‘twould be we alone who would not understand that there he had gotten what his heart desired. For there the fire would not burn him if he did not long for coolness, nor would he feel the torment of the serpents’ bite, if he knew not the yearning after peace.”
The yearning remains, and as long as it does, so does the authentic call coming from God's being to man's inner being, deep calling on deep.  Let us continue to pray for vocations.

Markel, SJ

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alain Badiou Reading St. Paul

In this great year of St. Paul, it would do all of us well to be aware of his celebrity status within the philosophical world. Especially within the French speaking philosophical cosmos, the so-called "theological turn" in phenomenology has led to a fascination with the figure of Paul. From Breton to Chretien to Henri to Marion, he has become a father of philosophical thought. Alain Badiou too has tossed in his two cents in a little book entitled St. Paul: the Foundation of Universalism. It is a fascinating little work, especially from a man who has no interest in Paul's christianity per se, being himself, akin to Slavoj Zizek, something of a cultural Marxist interested in what Paul can do for his own project. Here I will lay out what he takes to be the salient aspects of Paul's thought for the contemporary world along with a few objections to his thought. This may take a few days, but hang with me.

In Saint Paul, Badiou reads Paul as a new theoretician of the universal singular. In Paul’s understanding of the Christ event, Badiou discovers a complete break with the past that inscribes within history a new understanding of universality, subjectivity, and human praxis. Here I examine these three distinct readings of Paul by Badiou. Badiou’s Saint Paul is not a linear text. It reads best by dividing the text into two parts: chapters 1-3 and chapters 4-10. Like Paul, Badiou’s text works retroactively: chapter 4 corresponds to chapter 1; chapters 5-6 to chapter 2; and chapters 7-9 to chapter 3. Chapter 10 functions as an application of Paul to his own time and to ours. The Conclusion restates these three fundamental claims by responding to objections. The Conclusion, then, will function for us as a threefold guide for reading the text.

The first objection to Badiou’s project is his understanding of the nature of Paul’s break with the past in the theorizing of a new universality. To cite Paul as the foundation of universalism for Badiou is to understand this in a specific way. In Paul, Badiou discovers a “powerful break” (107). This break, however, is not of the kind of any past form of universalism. “Real universalism” is already present, for example, in the theorems of Archimedes. Claims such as “there is a limitless succession of prime numbers” are universally indubitable (ibid). Furthermore, Paul’s claim, for “us” is a “narrative statement that we cannot assume to be historical” (ibid). But this is not a problem. Paul’s break “has a bearing upon the formal conditions and the inevitable consequences of a consciousness-of-truth rooted in a pure event, detached from every objectivist assignation to the particular laws of a world or society” (ibid). Paul does not base himself upon the production of a universal. Paul’s break is theoretical as opposed to real. For Paul, the conditions for the universal cannot be conceptual, in terms of Archimedes “real” universal theorems. This would entail the work of a philosopher. Rather, the conditions of the universal are set by the pure event, the pure act, which is a “sort of grace supernumerary to every particularity” (109).

For Paul, the event comes forth in relation to two regimes of discourse: that of the Greeks and of the Jews. He introduces his own discourse as a third by distinguishing its operations from that of the Greeks and the Jews as well as by distinguishing it from a fourth discourse that he describes as the mystical, the limit of his own discourse. The Jewish discourse is that of the sign. Its subjective figure is the prophet. This discourse is a “discourse of exception” (41) since the prophetic sign lies beyond the natural totality. It is a discourse of transcendence. The problem with Jewish discourse for Paul is that it functions as not Greek discourse. The “logic of the exceptional sign is only valid for the Greek cosmic totality” (42). The discourse of the Greeks on the other hand is a “matching of the logos to being,” knowledge basing itself on the cosmic order. Its subjective figure is the wise man.

Paul has two fundamental problems with both forms of discourse. The first problem for Paul is that neither one can be universal. Each presupposes the other. The second problem is that for both, “the key to salvation is given to us within the universe” (42). Whether this is understood as nature or as the Torah, salvation is tied to things within the universe whose meanings must be read by the prophet or the wise man. These are both discourses of the Father. It is Paul’s “discourse of the son” that constitutes a break in history, so that it is neither Jewish nor Greek nor a synthesis of the two (43). Badiou points us here back to the well known passage from I Corinthians 1. Christian discourse, he insists, “legitimates neither the God of wisdom…nor the God of power” (47). Both are attributes of God insofar as they are attributes of being. But the event of Christ testifies that “God is not the God of being, is not being” (ibid). This is Paul’s early rejection of onto-theology. In it is a rejection of “knowledge” so complete, that for Badiou, even Pascal falls far short. For Paul, the event is pure beginning. It is “neither an argument nor an accomplishment. There is no proof of the event; nor is the event a proof” (49). It is precisely the lack of proof that constrains faith.

Paul’s understanding of faith and the Christ event precludes any belief in a fourth discourse. For Paul, miracles do exist, but to preach on the basis of them is to submit to the fourth discourse, the “discourse of miracles.” But “Christian discourse must, unwaveringly, refuse to be the discourse of miracles, so as to be the discourse of the conviction that bears a weakness within itself” (51). Paul will not allow the “addressed discourse” to justify itself through an “unaddressed discourse” (52). He will not allow the “ineffable” to justify the Christian declaration. There is a profound coherence here. To invoke the fourth discourse is to relapse into the discourse of sign, since a miracle is a sign. Yet there can be no proof based on anything other than the pure weakness of the event. Inverse intentionality in this case is complete: “It is not the singularity of the subject that validates what the subject says; it is what he says that founds the singularity of the subject” (53). This leads us back to chapter 1 concerning the conditions for a universal singularity. The Christian does not “preexist the event he declares” (14); he is rather constituted by it through an "inverse intentionality" akin to that of Marion and many in the field of "theological" phenomenology.

Markel, SJ

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Art of the Possible

The AP reports:
When Republican John McCain suggested his running mate could support abortion rights and Democrat Barack Obama gave an anti-abortion senator a prime convention role, both were sending a subtle message to centrist voters.

Neither presidential candidate was signaling a seismic shift in the nation's long-running if largely static debate over abortion rights. Still, their actions suggest that both political parties sense that a large, if vaguely defined, middle group of Americans would like to see abortion vanish, but not by legal decree.

Polls consistently show that most Americans strongly dislike abortion yet do not want it outlawed in the early stages of pregnancy.
In other words, it seems that we can confidently think that neither presidential hopeful is concerned with outlawing abortion, overturning Roe vs. Wade, or appointing judges with such an interest. Both are concerned with matching the American sentiment that abortion should be minimized.
Democrats had it both ways in revising their party platform ahead of this month's nominating convention in Denver. Platform-writers said the party "unequivocally" supports legalized abortion, a stronger phrase than the 2004 platform contained.

But they also bolstered the section on reducing the need for abortions. The version awaiting approval in Denver says the party "strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education." It says the party "strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs."
One of the differences will be of course how each party seeks to minimize abortion. No doubt the Democratic party sees better contraception as a solution to the problem, while Republicans often point to abstinence education. Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act may widen such possibilities for those on Medicaid.
Democratic officials also gave a convention speaking slot to Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., who opposes abortion rights. His father, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, was denied a coveted slot at the 1992 convention because of his opposition to abortion rights.

Meanwhile, McCain startled conservatives this week, and pleased some moderates, by suggesting he might pick a running mate who supports abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Many Republicans were unsure what to make of McCain's remarks to the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, in which he said Ridge's pro-choice position would not rule him out as a running mate. While McCain said in 1999 that Roe v. Wade — the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion — should not be overturned, he otherwise has consistently opposed such rights.

He repeatedly has voted against federal funding for abortion and has opposed federal Medicaid funds for abortion even in cases of rape or incest.
Now that much of the moral backbone has dropped of McCain's campaign, third party candidates may look more appetizing than either of the top runners. It may be time for Catholics to send a message that voting for the lesser of evils, whichever side is perceived to be that lesser evil, is still voting for an obvious evil, and that they are unwilling to do so. Spending less time campaigning for McCain and more time counseling in front of an abortion clinic or becoming involved in local politics and education as the grassroots level remains the true future of the pro-life movement. That is where its strength lies.
Some conservative groups howled about McCain's comments this week. The American Family Association asked readers of its Web site what they would do if he had a pro-abortion-rights running mate. More than 5,000 people responded, with 37 percent saying they would vote for McCain as "the lesser of two evils." One percent backed Obama, 16 percent said they would not vote and 46 percent said they would seriously consider a third-party candidate.

Some less dogmatic conservatives were open to the idea. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent guest on McCain's campaign plane, said he opposes legalized abortion but thinks McCain is wise to consider running mates who differ.

"Our party needs to be open-minded" about such a choice, Graham said in an interview this week on the plane. Parties that rigidly support or oppose abortion rights, he said, "are out of sync with where most Americans are."

On the Democratic front, the revised convention platform language was hailed this week by some Republicans who are backing Obama.

Douglas Kmiec, a former Reagan administration official and Roman Catholic, said the new language moves the debate beyond the "legal dead end and a moral dead end" of being for or against Roe v. Wade.

"What this does, most importantly, is to commit the Democratic Party to supply real support for the child, for the woman facing this question," said Kmiec, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University.

Kmiec, who opposes abortion, said no political party platform fits exactly with Catholic teaching. "We pursue the art of the possible, and if we move to protect even a single life, we've done a good thing," he said.
Politics is the art of the possible, whether construed on the federal or local level. If there is not much possible at the federal level, let us consolidate on the local and change hearts.

Markel, SJ

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What Are They Thinking?

Buried under the headlines about the Olympics and John Edwards, disturbing news trickles in about the heated escalations between Russia and Georgia. The New York Times reports this morning that Russia has moved thousands of troops, along with tanks and other equipment, into South Ossetia. This is Russia's largest mobilization of military force since the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The intention seems clear: Vladimir Putin has decided it use this minor land dispute to flex Russia's military might against Georgia and possibly Ukraine, who have grown too close to the West for Moscow's liking. Admittedly, the United States and its allies have very little to threaten Putin. Bogged down in two wars, he is willing to gamble that the American response will be mute and he is right so far.

The responses of John McCain and Barack Obama do not go down easily and provide even more evidence to me that these men could not get my vote in the fall. Obama has once again shown himself to be more style than substance. Within one day he issued three different responses, first he blamed both Russia and Georgia for aggressive tactics, then he blamed Russia alone for aggressive tactics and then he decided not to place blame at all and call for a cease fire. Obama is a foreign policy lightweight himself and is relying on a large staff of advisors who are not of one mind themselves, making for an incoherent public position (does this sound like another President of recent memory?). McCain, on the other hand, is all but ready to begin bombing St. Petersburg. His bellicose statements describe a Russia seeking to recollect former provinces and revive the Evil Empire. McCain's overly aggressive rhetoric reveals a serious lack of realism. Our military is very thinly stretched. We simply could not provide Georgia with military support without the return of a draft. Oh, and may I ask, does McCain really think this merits a war with Russia!

Mason Slidell

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Sorry I've been gone. I've been in far reaches of the planet where none of the interweb tubes are able to reach. On this sad day when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Dorothy Day continues to speak to us eloquently from a speech she gave in 1945:
Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. "True man:" what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; "jubilant" the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.

That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers, scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Eton.

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.

The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon. Scientists, army officers, great universities, and captains of industry-all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb-and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now.

Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgment, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgment on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

"You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." He said also, "What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.
Markel, SJ

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Neo-con Dialogue

I recently came across a fascinating dialogue between Francis Fukuyama and Robert Kagan. Some background if you are unfamiliar with these men. Francis Fukuyama is the author of one of the most influential works of political theory since the end of the Cold War entitled The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992. Fukuyama argued that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the successful, multi-national invasion of Iraq, history has come to an end. What he means is that perpetual competition between political ideologies was over, as all competitors to Liberalism (namely Fascism and Marxism) had failed. In winning the ideological battle, Fukuyama argued that Liberalism would be widely accepted throughout the world in an enlargement of the democratic order. If Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol were the intellectual forefathers of neo-conservatism, then Fukuyama was its living evangelist.

Beginning with the economic deflation of the East Asian "Tigers" and continuing through the second Iraq War, Fukuyama grew critical with his own theory and would come to reject the neo-conservative label. Enter Robert Kagan. Kagan would succeed Fukuyama as neo-conservatism's living intellectual. He has recently published a book entitled The Return of History and the End of Dreams, a title clearly meant to draw connection with Fukuyama's work. I have not had time yet to read Kagan's latest, but I am very interested to see how he reconfigures the neo-con project taking into account the return of international ideological conflict.

In this dialogue from Bloggingheads, the two scholars discuss some contemporary issues in foreign affairs, the future role of China in the international system and the "great powers" thesis.

Mason Slidell