Guests on Volume 102: Daniel M. Bell, Jr., on recovering the view that the just war tradition is more about the shaping of character and virtue than a checklist for political leaders; Lew Daly, on how the discussion concerning faith-based initiatives raised larger issues about the identity of social groups in American society; Adam K. Webb, on whether the traditional personal and communal virtues in premodern village life must be abandoned for poverty to be alleviated; Stratford Caldecott, on how denying the reality of beauty is linked to a denial of the coherent meaning of Creation; James Matthew Wilson, on Jacques Maritain’s pilgrimage to faith and his subsequent development of a rich philosophy of beauty; and Thomas Hibbs, on the similar projects of painters Georges Rouault (1871-1958) and Makoto Fujimura (b. 1960), and how they each resisted various confusions in modern art.
“For the just war as public policy checklist, character is irrelevant. Anybody can pick up the checklist and use it, and as long as they can check it off, they can claim to be a just warrior. It doesn’t matter if just yesterday, they didn’t care about justice, they didn’t care about their neighbors, they couldn’t care less about love and seeking peace. Anybody, any scoundrel can use it.”
— Daniel M. Bell, Jr.
Daniel M. Bell, Jr. discusses the just war tradition, a tradition which is often invoked by figures who, upon closer inspection, tend to lack a robust understanding of its history and criteria. Bell observes that the just war tradition, historically, arose out of the Christian community trying to grapple with and understand how the Church, as a community, could love one's neighbor even when it comes to war; he contrasts this historical understanding, rooted in the faith and practice of the Church, with just war theory as a contemporary politician's policy checklist to justify one's decision for war in the context of the modern nation-state and international law. As a public policy checklist, it is detached from the lived Christian moral tradition that sees the questions of war as being in continuity with the everyday ethical questions faced in a particularly Christian communal life of loving one’s neighbor and answered in accordance with the work of the Spirit accomplished in the character of the Christian community living out the faith in practice as disciples of Jesus. Bell argues that just war is not, from this perspective, a tradition that can be coherently or wisely divorced from the ethical life and character of the practicing Church and suddenly invoked on the eve of war by politicians, which is how it is often used today. Bell discusses why this is by drawing upon the recorded experiences of actual soldiers in war and the conditions he observes allowed them to fight justly and refuse the temptations to commit atrocities in the trauma and fear of battle. Bell moves on to discussing the development of the consideration of war as a necessary evil, and suggests that this involves a denial of the doctrine of sanctification. Drawing on early Church writers, Bell discusses how the counterintuitive claim that just war is a form of love even toward our enemies can be understood by modern Christians.
“Can the government, can the welfare state, really take on the total risk of society in ways that it might have to as other structures -- as other risk pooling structures like the family -- are eroded and scattered by the labor market?”
— Lew Daly
Lew Daly talks about the origins and trajectory of faith-based initiatives and related movements. His book discusses the relationship between faith-based groups, individuals, and the State when it comes to a shared goal of providing public goods; Daly observes how the political and legal framework in the U. S. has a difficult time addressing groups and communities due to the liberalism inherent in it. Since individuals are the only entities with an ontology in a liberal framework, almost all groups can only exist as a arbitrary collection of and have rights that are merely derivative of individuals. Perhaps the only group with an ontology as such is the nation-state, and the consequences of this lack of institutional recognition of groups such as families has been to reduce them to mere contractual relationships and enervate them. Daly suggests that moving towards a recognition of the social ontology of additional groups and communities would be true to life and a fruitful, even necessary, way of moving forward. Daly examines the intellectual genealogy of faith-based initiatives in the works of Abraham Kuyper and Leo XIII.
“They didn’t want to lose their independence to government cadres anymore than they wanted to lose their independence to big business.”
— Adam K. Webb
Adam K. Webb, Resident Associate Professor of Political Science at the Johns Hopkins Nanjing Centre in China, discusses what he’s learned about the possibilities of sustaining community life within the globalization of late modernity. He contrasts many of the values and virtues of local village life in the Peruvian village he studied over the course of a decade with the values inherent in the political and economic forces rural Peru is encountering in the modern world. Villagers have experienced much of urban life in their pursuit for employment, a pursuit which is not total and often finds villagers back in their original communities. Webb comments on the encounter of the village elders with outside modernizers and of the difficulties, possibilities, successes and disappointments. He examines the question of to what extent a certain kind of desirable economic development is compatible with the generational and traditional values of Peruvian villagers, what things can change, and what things do not have to change. His comments range from observations of the social structure of the village to the social and economic incentives contained within the practices of the Peruvian village. Drawing from thinkers like Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton who held to a robust understanding of human nature and flourishing in their thinking about economics, he illustrates possibilities and guidelines for a way forward.
“We were put here in the midst of this beautiful Creation essentially to give thanks, to recognize it as gift, respond to it accordingly, and to live the life of gratitude, thanksgiving, and return which is really the life of love which is rooted in the Trinity as the life of God himself.”
— Stratford Caldecott
Stratford Caldecott reflects on how beauty is linked to the inherent meaning in Creation. He talks about some of the concerns that led him to elaborate on this issue, especially his experiences of nominalism in the education system growing up. He notes that the steady disenchantment of the world has caused people to become insecure when it comes to matters of beauty and faith. If the world is meaningless apart from the meaning we impose on it, then faith and beauty become a matter of will rather than something objective and inherent within the structure of Creation. Caldecott discusses the implications of recovering the true character of Creation as a gift of love for our life of understanding.
“He and his future wife Raissa Maritain effectively made a suicide pact; they said that if this turns out to be true; if the universe is really as empty and merely material as our teachers say it is, then we’re going to end it all.”
— James Matthew Wilson
Literary critic James Matthew Wilson discusses the aesthetics of Jacques Maritain. He begins by describing the curious tendency within the last thirty years to believe that American culture can be restored by means of electoral politics; this observation instigated a series on the relation of aesthetics to rationality and culture in which he discusses the three aspects of beauty in Maritain’s aesthetics: integrity, proportion, and clarity. Wilson reviews the life of Maritain and how he came to Christian faith from rationalist materialism; the way in which Maritain came to faith set the trajectory of Maritain's elucidation of the significance of aesthetics and art to understanding reality and living a meaningful life.
“I think both of them are taking seriously this sense of the artist and individuals in our culture as dislocated from the tradition, and so the tradition can’t simply be assumed and enacted, it has to be recovered and refreshed.” — Thomas Hibbs
Thomas Hibbs speaks about the art of painters Georges Rouault and Makoto Fujimura. He was asked to write a pamphlet introducing an exhibit juxtaposing paintings by the two artists, and he comments on the development of the artistic themes within the exhibit, entitled Soliloquies. Fujimura was greatly influenced by Rouault, and both Fujimura and Rouault were influenced by Jacques Maritain. Hibbs notes that much of their work was concerned with how to create art in a world where the symbols and patterns and language describing reality is desiccated by reductive tendencies and forces. Their art answers the question by locating the brokenness and misery of the world within the Passion of Jesus Christ where suffering is revealed to be both truly suffering and beautifully intelligible in the context of God's redemptive purposes and work.