Religious Studies Discussion 2
Table of Contents
Summarize the key ideas of each of these texts and explain how they shed light on our study of American religious diversity. Point out some key citations and explain the most important thing you learned from these readings and how these readings helped you achieve the educational goals of our course
- US Bill of Rights, UN DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, and UNESCO on Diversity and Tolerance; Dignitatis Humanae, and Nostra Aetate
- Clash of civilizations, Civil Religion (Reader, pp288-289), and Dominus Iesus
- Dynamics of Prejudice (Reader, pp.32-39; 111-114; 295-309)
- “Die Judenfrage” (Reader, pp.178-209)
- The Irish case (Reader, pp.169-177)
- Idolatry (Cantwell Smith, Reader, pp.259-266) and Tolerant Gods ( by Wole Soyinka, text on moodle)
- Sacred Texts, Christian and Islamic vision of Religious Tolerance (Reader, p.44, and moodle)
- The Real Kant, Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism and the Columbus paradigm (Reader, pp.93-103; 352-358; and pp.282-289)
- “Calore-Colore” Paradigm (Reader, pp. 323-346) and scholarship on ATR, and scientific theories or mythologies of otherness (pp, 111-128; 295-346)
- AAR article on Egyptology and “Egypt and Israel”
Choose 3 questions from the list above :
the papers should be clear and professonal, answer questions and explain the points that you wants to explain with examples from SACRED TEXTS (BIBLE AND KORAN). I want the writer to do the papers professionally, and to be neutral and non-racist, I want him explain that the examples of the Koran show the positive side, which is commensurate with the topic you will write, And, if possible, that there is a positive similarity between the Koran and the Bible. I already provide additional file can help the writer and you can looking for Koran and Bible to use it
Assignment 5 Summarize the key ideas of each of these texts and explain how they shed light on our study of American religious diversity. Point out some key citations and explain the most important thing you learned from these readings and how these readings helped you achieve the educational goals of our course 1!US Bill of Rights, UN DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, and
UNESCO on Diversity and Tolerance; Dignitatis Humanae, and Nostra Aetate
2!Clash of civilizations, Civil Religion (Reader, pp288-289), and Dominus Iesus
3!Dynamics of Prejudice (Reader, pp.32-39; 111-114; 295-309) 4!“Die Judenfrage” (Reader, pp.178-209) 5!The Irish case (Reader, pp.169-177) 6!Idolatry (Cantwell Smith, Reader, pp.259-266) and Tolerant Gods ( by
Wole Soyinka, text on moodle) 7!Sacred Texts, Christian and Islamic vision of Religious Tolerance
(Reader, p.44, and moodle) 8!The Real Kant, Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism and the Columbus
paradigm (Reader, pp.93-103; 352-358; and pp.282-289) 9!“Calore-Colore” Paradigm (Reader, pp. 323-346) and scholarship on
ATR, and scientific theories or mythologies of otherness (pp, 111- 128; 295-346)
AAR article on Egyptology and “Egypt and Israel”!
ON THE CONCEPT OF CIVIL RELIGION
(RELIGION AND POLITICS) THE BIBLE, CHRISTIANITY AND THE REJECTION OF PATRIOTISM THE BOOK OF WISDOM 11, 20-26; 12,1. …you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight. For with you great strength abides always; who can resist the might of your arm. Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Christianity vs Patriotism (a Christian is a citizen of the world!) The “Epistle to Diognetus,” defined early Christians as follows: “But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and Barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, And every fatherland is foreign.” Hugh J. Schonfield, The Politics of God, New York: Bantam Books, 1970; p.201.
DEFINING AND UNMASKING PATRIOTISM (Voltaire, Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Hans Kung, Max Weber, Chinua Achebe, Conrad) Finally the philosopher Voltaire clarified the reasons why Patriotism is dangerous.
“He who burns with ambition to become aedile, tribune, praetor, consul, dictator, cries out that he loves his country, and he loves only himself. Every man wants to be sure that he can sleep at home without another man arrogating to himself the power to make him sleep elsewhere. Every man wants to be sure of his fortune and his life… There cannot be a state on earth which was not first governed as a republic: it is the normal course of human nature… When we discovered America we found all the tribes divided into republics…Is it better today for one’s country to be a monarchical or a republican state? This question has been debated for 4,000 years. Apply for a solution to the rich, they all prefer an aristocracy. Question the people, they want democracy. Only kings prefer a monarchy. How then is it possible that nearly the whole world is governed by monarchs? Ask the rats who proposed to hang a bell round the cat’s neck… It is sad that, to be a good patriot, one is often the enemy of the rest of humanity. The elder Cato, that good citizen, when speaking in the senate, always said: ‘Such are my views, and let Carthage be destroyed.’ To be a good patriot is to want one’s city to be enriched by commerce and powerful in arms. It is obvious that a country cannot gain unless another loses, and that it cannot vanquish without causing unhappiness. So it is the human condition that to wish for the greatness of one’s fatherland is to wish evil to one’s neighbours. The citizen of the universe would be the man who wishes his country never to be either greater or smaller, richer or poorer. (Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary. Penguin Books, 1972; pp.327-329). A human being who strives for something great regards everybody he meets on his way either as a means or as a delay and hindrance – or as a temporary resting-place. The lofty goodness towards his fellow men which is proper to him becomes possible only when he has reached his height and he rules. Impatience and his consciousness that until that time he is condemned to comedy – for even war is a comedy and a concealment, just as every means conceals the end – spoil all his association with others: this kind of man knows solitude and what is most poisonous in it.” (Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil, §273) Nietzsche on Patriotism and its consequences “Every people has its own tartuffery and calls it its virtues…” We “good Europeans”: we too have our hours when we permit ourselves a warm-hearted patriotism, a lapse and regression into old loves and narrownesses, hours of national ebullition, of patriotic palpitations and floods of various outmoded feelings. More ponderous spirits than we may have done with what in our case is confined to a few hours and is then over only after a longer period: one takes half a year, another half a life, according to the speed and power with which he digests it and of his “metabolism….If a people is suffering and wants to suffer from nationalistic nervous fever and political ambition, it must be expected that all sorts of clouds and disturbances – in short, little attacks of stupidity – will
pass over its spirit into the bargain: among present-day Germans, for example, now the anti-French stupidity, now the anti-Jewish, now the anti-Polish, now the Christian-romantic, now the Wagnerian, now the Teutonic, now the Prussian (just look at those miserable historians, those Sybels and Treitschkes, with their thickly bandaged heads – ), and whatever else these little obfuscations of the German spirit and conscience may be called…. About the Jews, for example: listen. – I have never met a German who was favourably inclined towards the Jews; and however unconditionally all cautious and politic men may have repudiated real anti-Jewism, even this caution and policy is not directed against this class of feeling itself but only against its dangerous immoderation, and especially against the distasteful and shameful way in which this immoderate feeling is expressed – one must not deceive oneself about that.” (Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil,).
Refinement of Shame: “Men are not ashamed to think something dirty, but they are ashamed when they imagine that others might believe them capable of these dirty thoughts…Pharisaism is not degeneration in a good man: a good part of it is rather the condition of all being good.” (Nietzsche’s Aphorism in Beyond Good and Evil).
The Prince (by Nicolo Machiavelli) Chapter XVIII: Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man. This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are
not bound to observe it with them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince legitimate reasons to excuse this nonobservance. Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best. But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived. One recent example I cannot pass over in silence. Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind. Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite. And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it. For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result. For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.
One prince of the present time, whom it is not well to name, never preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and to both he is most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him of reputation and kingdom many a time.
THE HIDDEN TRANSCRIPTS OF NATIONALISM
In often unconscious moral arrogance – and truly not only in America, but also in Switzerland, in Israel and elsewhere – it is presupposed that only one’s own politics and one’s own institutions are following moral principles as a matter of course: all selfish aims (and often scandalous circumstances) are veiled by moral speeches. National self-righteousness can lead to a political claim to leadership not only on the basis of obligations to democracy, freedom and human rights but also the basis of the alleged superiority of one’s own civilization and culture, as a model for the world. Blind zeal, intolerance, oppression and even military intervention can be the consequence of such national self-righteousness. That American democracy in particular has combined the pursuit of national interests with the propagation of values and ideals has indubitably led to ambivalence, indeed to hypocrisy: on the one hand sharp criticism on the part of the USA of the power politics and colonialism of the Europeans, and on the other the expansionist power politics of the USA itself in its own hemisphere, from Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Caribbean to Guam and the Philippines in the West Pacific. Here, though, it is declared to be ‘manifest destiny’, given by God himself (‘God’s own country’ can be as self-righteously nationalistic as the ‘God with us’ of the German army in 1914). Reagan’s and Bush’s interventions – open in Grenada and Panama, ‘covert’ in Chile and Nicaragua – confirm that we are still far from President Wilson’s visions. Küng, Hans, A Global Ethic for Global Politics and Economics. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); pp.35-36.
PATRIOTISM AND THE RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY OF COLONIAL EMPIRES
Max Weber (1804-1891): “When a man who is happy compares his position with that of one who is unhappy, he is not content with the fact of his happiness, but desires something more, namely the right to this happiness, the consciousness that he has earned his good fortune, in contrast to the unfortunate one who must equally have earned his misfortune. Our everyday experience proves that there exists just such a psychological need for reassurance as to the legitimacy or deservedness of one’s happiness, whether this involves political success, superior economic status,… or anything else. What the privileged classes require of religion, if anything at all, is this psychological reassurance of legitimacy.” Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993). Joseph Conrad: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea-something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.” Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness, in Adler, Mortimer J., ed., Imaginative Literature. Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1994); p.137
Chinua Achebe: “Colonization may indeed be a very complex affair, but one thing is certain: You do not walk in, seize the land, the person, the history of another, and then sit back and compose hymns of praise in his honor. To do that would amount to calling yourself a bandit. So what do you do? You construct very elaborate excuses for your action. You say, for instance, that the man in question is worthless and quite unfit to manage himself and his affairs. If there are valuable things like gold or diamonds which you are carting away from his territory, you proceed to prove that he doesn’t own them in the real sense of the word – that he and they just happened to be lying around the same place when you arrived. Finally, if worse comes to the worst, you will be prepared to question whether such as he can be, like you, fully human.” Chinua Achebe in African Commentary, vol.1, n0.2, Nov.1989.
CHRISTIANITY, PATRIOTISM AND COLONIALISM (An example of Post-colonial epistemology, by V.Y. Mudimbe)
“Three major figures, from the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth, determined modalities and the pace of mastering, colonizing, and transforming the “Dark Continent”: the explorer, the soldier, and the missionary… Of all “these bearers of the African burden,” the missionary was, paradoxically, the best symbol of the colonial enterprise. He devoted himself sincerely to the ideals of colonialism: the expansion of Civilization, the dissemination of Christianity, and the advance of Progress. With equal enthusiasm, he served as an agent of a political empire, a representative of a civilization, and an envoy of God… As A.J. Christopher rightly observed “missionaries, possibly more than members of other branches of the colonial establishment, aimed at the radical transformation of indigenous society… They therefore sought, whether consciously or unconsciously, the destruction of pre-colonial societies and their replacement by new Christian societies in the image of Europe.”…
The missionary played an essential role in the general process of expropriation and, subsequently, exploitation of all the “new found lands” upon the earth. As G. Williams puts it, if in many areas his presence “helped to soften the harshness of European impact on the indigenous peoples whose lands were invaded and exploited,” his “fervour was allied, rather than opposed to commercial motive.” The scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century took place in an atmosphere of Christian revival: the age of Enlightenment and its criticism of religion had ended…
The more carefully one studies the history of missions in Africa, the more difficult it becomes not to identify it with cultural propaganda, patriotic motivations, and commercial interests, since the missions’ program is indeed more complex than the simple transmission of the Christian faith. From the sixteenth century to the eighteenth, missionaries were, through all the “new worlds,” part of the political process of creating and extending the right of European sovereignty over “newly discovered lands. In doing so, they obeyed the “sacred instructions” of Pope Alexander VI in his bull Inter Caetera (1493): to overthrow paganism and establish the Christian faith in all barbarous nations. The bulls of Nicholas V – Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) – had indeed already given the kings of Portugal the right to dispossess and eternally enslave Mahometans, pagans, and black peoples in general. Dum Diversas clearly stipulates this right to invade, conquer, expel, and fight Muslims, pagans, and other enemies of Christ wherever they may be. Christian kings, following the Pope’s decisions could occupy pagan kingdoms, principalities, lordships, possessions and dispossess them of their personal property, land, and whatever they might have. The king and his successors have the power and right to put these peoples into perpetual slavery. The missionaries, preceding or following a European flag, not only helped their home country to acquire new lands but also accomplished a “divine” mission ordered by the Holy Father, Dominator Dominus. It was in God’s name that the Pope considered the planet his franchise and established the basic principles of terra nullius (nobody’s land), which denies non-Christian natives the right to an autonomous political existence and the right to own or to transfer ownership.
V.Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa. Gnosis, Philosophy, and the order of knowledge. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988); pp.45-47.
CIVIL RELIGION, GERMAN PATRIOTISM AND NAZISM Lesson from German “Religious” Patriotism
The blending of Christianity with modern nationalisms, and precisely the involvement of theology in ideologies of “national destiny” and “national identity” reveals a striking parallelism between American nationalism and that German nationalism which led to totalitarianism and holocaust. Germany emerged in modern times as the paradigmatic example of Christian national self-understanding. The early twentieth century witnessed what pastor Reinhold Dietrich called “the Christianizing of Germanness and the Germanizing of Christianity.” The process of Germanizing Christianity led to the outright identification of Christianity with German national aspirations to greatness. The twentieth century followed in this the previous movements of Romanticism and Renaissance created in reaction to French dominance and the patriotism generated by the struggle for the unification of a land which was then divided in almost three hundred small kingdoms. In his Philosophy of world history, well before Adolf Hitler, Hegel had identified Christianity and the apex of world history with the destiny of the German nation. After him, other philosophers like Heidegger, Biblical scholars like Kittel, and theologians concurred.
It is worth noting that “theological nationalism” did not grow simply as the result of State control over powerless churches. During the nineteenth century, for example, it is at the very moment Germany was developing various programs for loosening state control of churches that the notion of a special German Christianity grew more popular, and with it the notion of the uniqueness of the German people in the world and in God’s plan of salvation. Friedrich Schleiemacher articulated that view more explicitly around the notion of “Volk.” “Each volk,” he wrote, “was designated to illustrate a special aspect of the image of God, in its own peculiar setting and by its own specially determined position in the world.” This view gave birth to a German religious patriotism that linked Germany, the Bible, Martin Luther, and the duty to bring a particular brand of Christian piety to the rest of the world. A German theology of Election was born to replace Israel in God’s favor. During the First World War, German pastors compared their congregations to the “chosen people” of the Old Testament and referred to the nation as “the Israel of the New Covenant.” Johann Kessler, a Lutheran pastor in Dresden, move forward to formulate an explanation of such a new theology of election:
We believe in a world calling for our nation. A nation that God has equipped with such gifts of the Spirit and such depths of mind, that he called to be a bearer of the gospel in the days of the Reformation… God has great things in store for such a nation… We are the tools with which God will construct his Kingdom today. We are the soldiers with which he will win his victory. Reference:
Corrigan, John, et al., Jews, Christians, Muslims: A Comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998); p.459.
CIVIL RELIGION AND THE RELIGIOUS PATRIOTISM OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE Spain: Patriotism, Conquest, Genocide and Evangelization Christopher Colombus interpreted his own work of exploration in explicitly religious terms: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John… Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven in the prospect of the salvation of the souls of so many nations hitherto lost.” John Corrigan, Frederick M. Denny, Carlos M.N. Eire, Martin S. Jaffee, Jews, Christians, Muslims: A comparative Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998); p.192. At the time of the so-called discovery of America, a time dominated by Catholic kings of Spain and Portugal, Spain had just completed its liberation from Islam by expelling in 1492 from its territory both the remnants of the Muslim occupation that had lasted almost seven hundred years, and the Jewish community. The ‘discovery’ of America completed the glory of Spain, then regarded as ‘the country where the sun never sets.’ Spanish patriotic fever reached its highest level. The sense of being God’s special country, the bastion and bulwark of a triumphant Christendom was confirmed by the Pope who declared the kings of Spain the most Christian kings and gave them the divine right to conquer, dispossess and enslave the enemies of Christ. Thus Spain combined its dream of possessing the land of the Golden Fleece (gold, silver, and all kinds of wealth), its quest for glory, power, and wealth, with the “glorious Crusade” spirit of its militaristic patriotism, and its self-image and self-definition as the chosen people. Conquest came to be viewed as Spain’s divine mission, its “mandate from heaven.” But how could a Christian and healthy mind preach a God of love and peace, while engaging in the violent conquest of foreign lands and genocide? Spaniards with a conscience could not avoid this question. However as the case of conquistador Hernan Cortes shows, an elaborated justification of war and looting was well articulated through the demonization of Native Americans and their religions. This was made possible by the dogmatic understanding of Christianity as the only true religion.
Speaking about his own experience, Hernan Cortes, one of the early and most famous
‘conquistadores’ explained in his own words how Spaniards managed to reconcile their love for Christ, their imperialistic spirit of Conquest, and the genocide of Native Americans: “Many times I have played in my thoughts with such difficulties [the war with the Aztec people] and I must confess that sometimes I felt quite restless in my thoughts. But, looking at it from other angles, there are many things that give me courage and satisfaction. In the first place, the dignity and holiness of our cause, because we fight for the cause of Christ when we fight against idol worshippers who, as such, are enemies of Christ since they worship demons instead of the God of kindness and omnipotence, and we wage war both to punish those who persist in their idolatry and to open to those who have accepted the authority of Christians and of our King… But other thoughts come also to my mind: that is, the benefits that we can obtain if we come out victorious, because there are many other reasons for fighting these wars… There are some who fight for land and things, others for power and glory… And many times find satisfaction for their ambitions when, having defeated their enemies, they control the lands and the cities… But it is not only one of these causes but all of them at the same time that move and constrain us to continue this war.” (These words by Hernan Cortes are quoted by Gines de Sepulveda in his Cronica Indiana) Jose Miguez Bonino, “Theology of Latin America” in John Parratt, ed., An Introduction to Third World Theologies. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); p.17.
PAX ROMANA, PAX BRITANNICA, AND PAX AMERICANA Lesson from Pax Romana When Roman emperors conquered France, Germany, and other parts of Europe, they did so in order to enrich Rome and Romans through the economic exploitation of the conquered people. But since it is in the nature of people to love freedom and revolt against foreign domination, Rome could only maintain its alleged “peace” (PAX ROMANA) through a constant warfare and the use of maximum violence. As a result an entire culture of violence dominated the empire and the capital itself. It was through brutal wars that a fifth to a sixth of the then world’s population was brought under Roman Jurisdiction in the last two centuries B.C.E. Violence became even a normal way of entertainment. All forms of violent public entertainment took place in the cities of the Roman empire. An “atmosphere of violence, even in peace” was maintained by public execution of prisoners, fights to the death between hundreds of gladiators, and the “indiscriminate slaughter of domestic and wild animals”. The popularity of these bloodbaths is attested by the huge colosseums in cities of the empire. Public killings were a common spectacle of Roman life. And yet, despite all that Romans regarded themselves as the most civilized people in the world and the most peace loving people.
From a theological point of view, Pax Romana here constitutes a critical hermeneutical device. The case of the Roman Empire and Pax Romana is the most instructive and the most similar to the situation we live in today for many reasons. It was in the light of the impact of Pax Romana on people’s lives that the Church fathers articulated their theology of the rights of the poor. We also find already at that time our current term of “global village.” According to Aristide (+138), people believed then that “the whole universe has become one single city.” This was rendered possible by the fantastic Roman roads throughout the whole empire which facilitated the communication and movements of peoples, the way our technology does today with planes, cars and the internet. Communication was possible not only because of roads and means of transportation by sea and by land, but also because of peace and security imposed by Roman soldiers everywhere. Philon of Alexandria writes that land and seas are secure, cities peaceful and prosperous, mountains and valleys are cultivated, numerous ships are everywhere on the sea transporting the products of the whole universe.1 In other words, Pax Romana meant also economic prosperity, global trade, and an end to famine for the citizens of Rome through the abundance of food drawn from the occupied territories. The political and economic globalization were followed and sanctioned by a “global theology” which presented the Roman empire as a divine providence for the betterment of the human condition in the world. In the light of the current debate over the benefits and dangers of globalization, and in the light of the very nature of globalization in the cold-war and the post-cold-war era, the “Pax Romana” predicament constitutes a good starting point for an African reflection on human rights in the global world. This is because the Roman Empire was the first major “global village” which produced an impressive “global theology” and a major ideology justifying political and economic globalization.
1 Philon d’Alexandrie, Legatio ad Caium, 2,8.
There is a striking parallelism between the discourse of globalization and the violation of human rights throughout history, from ancient Roman Empire to our post-cold-war era. Also striking is the underlying theological discourse that legitimized and quasi sanctified Pax Romana and now is slowly proclaiming the morality of capitalism and the messianic calling of the leading powers of world politics and global economy. As Ched Myers pointed out, the ideological strategy of Roman colonialism at the time of the high empire was a notably successful attempt to bring a large number of different ethnic groups and their political units under a single government, accomplished largely through a network of personal alliances with the ruling classes throughout the empire.2 Most importantly, this political ideology was backed and legitimized by the Christian theology of “Manifest Destiny” which promoted the divine vocation of Rome to rule the world in peace, guaranteeing its citizens freedom and security by military might.3 More significant for our current context is that the Roman Republic and its empire rested upon ideological foundations similar to those twin pillars of the modern nation-state: democracy and nationalism.4 Roman Emperors were convinced of the righteousness of their mission, their divine right to rule the world. Wars of conquest in Germany, France or Belgium became a civilizing mission, a pacification of barbaric tribes. The emperors themselves became the “sons of God.” As Fears pointed out, Roman officials developed a highly sophisticated propaganda in order to justify their rule. Not only the celebrations of imperial anniversaries, but also public festivals of all sorts and most importantly religious feasts contributed to the proclamation not only of the virtues of the Emperor but also the virtues of the Roman Empire itself. What is interesting from a religious standpoint is that although some bishops fought against the abuses of Roman emperors, especially those who persecuted Christians, most theologians, especially in Post-Constantinian era, came to share the vision of Pax Romana spread by the imperial propaganda. Christianity took over the role of ancient Roman civil religion and articulated a state theology linking the Christian vocation to universality with the triumph of Roman Empire. This theological ideology is exemplified well in Origin’s proclamation of the necessity of the Roman empire for the spread and victory of Christianity. Happy to move easily from city to city proclaim the Gospel, Christians, even before the constantinization of the Church, acknowledged the advantages of Pax Romana, considering the Roman rule as a gift from heaven because it made it possible for the evangelization to spread throughout the “whole world.” Proud Christians proclaimed with Tertullian,
We are from yesterday, and yet we have already filled up the whole world with our presence. We are everywhere, in every place which belongs to you, cities, houses, camps, palaces, the senate, the forum… We leave to you only your temples.5
2 Myers, Ched, Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus ( Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988); pp.80-81.
3 Myers, Ched, Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus ( Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988); p.81. 4 Myers, Ched, Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus ( Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988); p.81. 5 Tertullian, Apologétique, 37,4.
Saint Ireneus of Lyon sums up the prevailing sentiment by calling explicitly for the praise of Roman miracle:
the presence of Rome has given unity to the world. All human beings must acknowledge the services rendered by Rome to the whole humanity by making contact between people easy and by allowing everybody to enjoy together the blessings of peace.”6
In this context Rome’s right to conquer appears as the will of God. In 185 C.E., Origin declared the Roman empire God’s instrument for the spread and victory of Christianity, arguing that the existence of many separate kingdoms would have been a major obstacle to the spread of the religion of Jesus to the whole civilized world.7 In other words, Roman “globalization” appeared as a providential necessity. Likewise, Eusebius of Caesarea, the emperor Constantine’s court-theologian, inscribed Christian theological universalism in the frame of the cultural, economic, and political universalism of Roman empire:
No one who reflects upon the matter can fail to be convinced that it was no mere accident that the majority of the nations of the world never came under the unifying rule of Rome until the time of Jesus. For his wonderful visitation of humankind coincided with Rome’s attainment of the acme of power… And no one can deny that it was not without God’s help that this should have happened at the very same time that the teaching about our Saviour took its rise. Consider the difficulties involved in the disciples’ journeying, had the nations been under separate governments and therefore not having any dealings with one another. But with those separate governments abolished, the disciples could accomplish their projects in safety. The supreme God has smoothed the way before them, controlling the animosities of those hostile to true religion through fear of a strong central government.8
6 Irenée de Lyon, Adversus Haereses, IV, 30, 3, (Sources chrétiennes, 100), p.779.
7 Bausch, William J., Pilgrim Church: A Popular History of Catholic Christianity (Mystic: Twenty-Third publications,1989); p.23
8 Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica III, 7, 30-3; cited by Maurice Wiles, God’s Action in the World, SCM Press, 1986, p.59. Alan Race, “Christianity: 2000 years of Iventiveness.” Encounters 6:1 (2000); p.12.
But it is more Saint Augustine who provided a major theological sanction of Pax Romana. At first it appears that Augustine articulated a paradoxical thought on the topic of the kingdom of God. Using his manichean education, Augustine started by articulating a radical dualism between the earthly City and the City of God. The early city, which represents human kingdoms, is in Augustine’s view evil while the Kingdom of God is good. The opposition between these two cities is likened to the opposition between earth and heaven, Babylon and Jerusalem. Citizens of the City of God do not really belong to this evil earth; they live as exiles on earth, as pilgrims on the journey toward Heaven. Eventually, after the last judgment, they will live forever in the love of God, while the citizens of the worldly City who love evil and the glory of the world rather than the eternal values will endure eternal punishment in Hell. Augustine’s distrust for men’s kingdoms was inspired by concrete historical events. First the Roman Empire had provided various examples of emperors driven by the libido dominandi, and the cruel Nero and Caligula stood as the very embodiment of the ugly face of the human will to power. Moreover Augustine, who lived in the last days of the Roman Empire of the West, heard about the cruelty of the “Barbarians” who were threatening the Roman Empire. One would then expect Augustine to classify the Roman Empire in the category of the “Evil City” and to promote Christian indifference and non-involvement in politics and in the Roman army. But when it came to Roman Empire, in which he had himself a privileged position, Augustine’s political theology took a different turn. He embraced the notion of “Pax Romana” and gave it a theological foundation. Using the powerful metaphor of Jerusalem the city of peace, Augustine started with the notion of peace to make a distinction between good human governments and bad ones. According to Augustine, in the City of God, eternal peace reigns. Therefore, the political regime which guarantees peace in the world is an anticipation of God’s Kingdom and therefore is legitimate. Applying his theology to the Roman Empire, Augustine saw Emperor Augustus as some kind of rough anticipation of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.9 Even though he saw Nero as the embodiment of evil and even perceived the libido dominandi as a major trait of the Roman character which started with the murder of Romulus, Augustine still maintained a pretty favorable image of the Roman empire. He interpreted the initial murder of Romulus as a kind of the repetition of the murder of Abel, and therefore a simple sign that human nature is not perfect. As Dominique Colas pointed out, despite the strong polarization between the City of God and the worldly City, Augustine did not preclude an associative nexus of the two.10 The Roman Empire remained for him the lesser evil and the anticipation of the kingdom of God on earth. As in the case of later colonial empires, Augustine criticized the Roman empire in order to reform it, but never doubted its fundamental mission to spread peace and civilization throughout the world. In other words, Barbarians, as Periclès already said centuries earlier with regard to Greek democracy, had nothing to fear in being under the leadership of “Pax Romana.”
9 Colas, Dominique, “Civil Society: From Utopia to Management, from Marxism to Anti-Marxism” in Mudimbe, V.Y., ed., Nations, Identities, Cultures(Durham: Duke University Press, 1997); p.33. 10 Colas, Dominique, “Civil Society: From Utopia to Management, from Marxism to Anti-Marxism” in Mudimbe, V.Y., ed., Nations, Identities, Cultures(Durham: Duke University Press, 1997); p.33.
As this analysis shows, missionary theology developed in Roman Empire saw the empire as the providential tool for the spread of Christianity around the globe. This notion of “Pax Romana” was to be applied to European colonial empires, beginning with the Renaissance, which saw Martin Luther and some Popes developing a theology in syntony with the colonial enterprise, defined since then as a civilizing mission. The phenomenon of globalization in the modern era seems to offer the same situation. Like the ancient Pax Romana, colonial and post-colonial globalizations command a similar optimism even in theological circles. And again, during the Renaissance and the Humanism of the era of “discoveries” theologians and popes supported the empires of Spain and Portugal, those same empires responsible for the genocide of Native Americans and many other people around the globe. During the Renaissance, given the political preeminence of Catholic Portugal and Spain, the best right of conquest was formulated by Catholic theologians and popes themselves. It is well known that during the Renaissance Popes, who generally behaved as Renaissance Princes, were fully engaged in the process of “discovery” and “possession” of the “new lands,” as well as in the traffic of slaves. The theological rhetoric of the empire moved hand in hand with the political rhetoric of the civilizing mission and invented the notion of the “right to colonize” long before the Victorian era. As many scholars have pointed out, along with Keller, Lissitzyn, Mann, and Mudimbe, from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth, missionaries, well before Livingstone, were part of the political process of creating and extending the right of European sovereignty over “newly discovered” lands through all the “new worlds.” It should be noted that during the Renaissance the Catholic kings of Portugal and Spain, proclaimed “the most Christian kings,” received from the “sacred instructions” of the Popes themselves the right to dispossess and enslave black people, Indians, Muslims, and other “enemies of Christ.” In his bulls, Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455), Nicholas V gave the kings of Portugal the right to dispossess and eternally enslave Mahometans, pagans, and black peoples in general. Continuing the tradition of his predecessor, in his bull Inter Caetera (1493), Alexander VI commanded European Kings to overthrow paganism and establish the Christian faith in all barbarous nations. What the Catholic Church did by providing the Catholic Iberian Conquistadores with an ecclesiastical sanction for their ownership of the foreign lands of Africa, Asia and America also found Protestant expression in England. The English believed they were appointed by divine providence to found a new Israel in a new Promised Land, which they would rule and subject to the Lordship of the true God.11 This brings us to Pax Britannica and Pax Americana.
11 Boff, Clodovis and Pixley, George V., The Bible, The Church and The Poor. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989); pp.191-192.
CIVIL RELIGION, PATRIOTISM AND PAX BRITANNICA In 1914 Europe held a grand total of 85 percent of the world as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, and commonwealths. No other set of colonies in history was as large, so totally dominated, or as unequal in power as this western metropolis. But it was not the whole Europe which colonized the world. Africa was colonized by 7 powers. England alone reigned supreme above other colonizers. On June 22, 1897, the same year the Lebensraum doctrine was born in Germany, the British expansionist philosophy reached its peak with the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne. Proud to be the greatest empire in the whole human history, England gathered in London for the celebration representatives of all the peoples and territories subjugated by the British, almost a quarter of the earth and its inhabitants, to pay tribute to the Queen. The Journal Cosmopolis which was aimed at cultivated people all over Europe and published untranslated texts in French, German and English compared the Queen to Darius, Alexander the Great, and Augustus. Indeed, ruling almost a quarter of the earth, the British empire considered itself greater than the Roman empire itself. England had then an overwhelming military and economic power. Its navy was not only superior, it had the supremacy over the high seas. Unable to comprehend their great success, British in their great humility turned to God and concluded that if they had reached these results unparalleled in history, it is only because these successes were themselves due to “the grace and favor of Almighty God.” British condemned French, Russian and German expansionism, but considered their own empire as the Kingdom of God and their colonization as a divine right. At that time England effectively dominated the world economy: the city of London was the world’s financial center and was alone capable of financing the industrial expansion. England was not merely taking the resources of other nations but also enriching them with its stupendous productivity. Most of the products of that industrial world were made by British industries. Britain then produced about two-thirds of world’s coal, half its iron, five-seventh of its steel, half of its factory-produced cotton cloth, 40 percent (in value) of its hardware, and a little less than one-third of its manufactures. As Edward Goldsmith pointed out, in 19th and early 20th century it was Britain that was preaching free trade to the rest of the world and for the same reasons as the present time. Free trade emerged in British foreign policy and worldview as the fundamental tool for the expansion of the industrial revolution and was indispensable to the very survival of Britain as both an economic and political superpower and to the very existence and happiness, and self identity of the British people. England preached free market when it was sure to dominate it and use it to extend its control of the world. Likewise the US which invented computer and internet and generated the “digital revolution” of information age is now the center of world economy, with New York as the financial capital of the world and the dollar as the standard of all currencies. References: Nettle, Daniel, and Romaine, Suzanne, Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); p.151. Lindqvist, Sven, Exterminate All the Brutes. (New York: The New Press, 1996); p.11.
PAX AMERICANA AND MANIFEST DESTINY IDEOLOGY Civil religion: “a religion without God or Christianity without Christ.” To better understand the American self-definition as a “Promised Land” we have to understand the role that civil religion plays in our country. What is civil religion in the American context? What are its dogma, symbols, rituals, and creed? What do the devotees of Civil Religion believe in? A good start is to look at the role of the flag and the symbols on the dollar bill, to watch a football game, and to listen carefully to national anthem and any political speech by American officials. Here we find a Church at work, with its sacred symbols and ceremonies, its rites and rituals, its high priests and saints, its martyrs and heroes. Prima facie, this Church seems like any other Church focused on the Worship of God or Jesus. But at a close scrutiny, it appears that this is a church of a different kind. A Church preoccupied not with salvation in Heaven, but with the well-being hic et nunc, a Church in search of prosperity and posterity. Here the slogan “In God We Trust” and “In Gold We Trust” are merely two natural faces of the same coin. Such a church is secular, materialistic, and highly political, all the while sanctified by the garbs of spirituality. One finds here, in Bob Kaiser’s words, a Church of “people caught up in self-worship,” self- glorification, self-aggrandizing, and self-righteousness. Such a kind of Religion, as Kaiser rightly observed “represents a danger for the entire planet.” Civil Religion is a spiritual self-delusion… “In the United States,” Tocqueville said, “religion … is mingled with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism, whence it derives a peculiar force… Religion has been at the center of our major political crises, which are always moral crises – the supporting and opposing of wars, of slavery, of corporate power, of civil rights, of sexual codes, of ‘the West,’ of American separatism and claims to empire… Most of what is good and most of what is bad in our history is rooted in our public theology. Every movement to make America more fully realize its professed values has grown out of some form of public theology, from the abolitionists to the social gospel and the early socialist party to the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King and the farm worker’s movement under Cesar Chavez. But so has every expansionist war and every form of oppression of racial minorities and immigrant groups…. In conducting their foreign policy, most states give overwhelming priority to what are generally termed the “realist” concerns of power, security, and wealth. When push comes to shove, the United States does this too… War makes nations, and, as S.M. Grant has observed, ‘Warfare lies at the heart of the American national experience… At the end of the nineteenth century, America emerged as a global power… To maintain its status and security it would presumably have to compete in a hard-nosed manner with the other great powers in the world, as it had not had to do and had been unable to do during most of the nineteenth century…The relation between realism and moralism thus became the central issue of American foreign policy in the twentieth century, as Americans, in McDougall’s words, redefined their country from “promised land” to “crusader state. Civil religion converts Americans from religious people of many denominations into a
nation with the soul of a church. But apart from its being American, what is that church? It is a church that has included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, other non-Christians, and even agnostics. America’s civil religion is a nondenominational, national religion and, in its articulated form, not expressly a Christian religion…Washington becomes Moses, Lincoln becomes Christ. While the American Creed is Protestantism without God, the American civil religion is Christianity without Christ… In the past when children recited daily the American’s Creed” in schools, they performed a religious exercise as truly as if they began their day by saying, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty’ or ‘There is no God but God… Since the Civil War, Americans have been a flag-oriented people. The Stars and Stripes has the status of a religious icon and is a more central symbol of national identity for Americans than their flags are for peoples of other nations. Probably never in the past, however, was the flag as omnipresent as it was after September 11. It was everywhere: homes, businesses, automobiles, clothes, furniture, windows, storefronts, lampposts, telephone poles. In early October, 80 percent of Americans said they were displaying the flag, 63 percent at home, 29 percent on clothes, 28 percent on cars. Wal-Mart reportedly sold 116,000 flags on September 11 and 250,000 the next day, “compared with 6,400 and 10,000 on the same days a year earlier.” The demand for flags was ten times what it had been during the Gulf War; flag manufacturers went overtime and doubled, tripled, or quintupled production. The flags were physical evidence of the sudden and dramatic rise in the salience of national identity for Americans compared to their other identities…The post-September 11 flags symbolized America, but they did not convey any meaning of America. Some national flags, such as the tricolor, the Union Jack, or Pakistan’s green flag with its star and crescent, say something significant about the identity of the country they represent. The explicit visual message of the Stars and Stripes is simply that America is a country that originally had thirteen and currently has fifty states. Beyond that, Americans, and others, can read into the flag any meaning they want. The post-September 11 proliferation of flags may well evidence not only the intensified salience of national identity to Americans but also their uncertainty as to the substance of that identity. As ambiguous as it may be the American flag is also the potent symbol of the American civil religion which is also as ambiguous as the flag that symbolizes it. In comparison to Europe, America is often presented as the most religious nation in the West, some even say in the World. But what is the nature of this American religion and what kind of God is worshipped in Civil Religion? American civil religion is summarized in the American Creed which includes belief in private property, individualism, democracy, liberty, equality, human rights and the rule of law. The Core of American religious Creed as Huntington pointed out is made up of the Anglo-Protestant culture with its political Creed of Liberty, Democracy, and one might add, the fundamental belief in Market economy or Capitalism, and Patriotism. This has been made explicit in the current presidential race where in various political rallies, thousands of people hold signs that read “We Believe in America.” This is also a belief in material prosperity, a faith in the gospel of wealth so beautifully expressed in the phrase “In God we Trust” which stands on American dollars. Here the “In God We Trust” is coterminous with “In Gold We Trust.” Thus faith in God is wonderfully reconciled with faith in Capitalism. This also means that whatever hinders the ability to increase wealth in a free market is considered not only antithetical to freedom, but also antithetical to the will of God. Indeed, people are ready to die for wealth and for the country that produces such wealth than for Jesus Christ. America was founded as a Protestant society, and for two hundred years almost all Americans were Protestant. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, America was seen as a Protestant country by others, and America was identified as Protestant in textbooks, maps, and literature.
With the substantial Catholic immigration first from Germany and Ireland and then Italy and Poland, the proportion of Protestants declined fairly steadily. By 2000, about 60 percent of Americans were Protestants. Protestant beliefs, values, and assumptions, however, had been the core element, along with the English language, of America’s settler culture, and that culture continued to pervade and shape American life, society, and thought as the proportion of Protestants declined. Because they are central to American culture, Protestant values deeply influenced Catholicism and other religions in America. They have shaped American attitudes toward private and public morality, economic activity, government, and public policy. Most importantly, they are the primary source of the American Creed, the ostensibly secular political principles that supplement Anglo-Protestant culture as the critical defining element of what it means to be an American. Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004. Being an American. What does this entail (according to “American Patriots”) ? To be an American one has to be Patriotic. And this means:
1. to believe in the principles of the American Creed: – private property, – individualism, – democracy, liberty, equality, human rights – and the rule of law.
2. and to live by the Protestant Ethic: – to be self-reliant, – hardworking, – and morally upright.
3. to speak English language 4. to take pride in American identity
– to Worship Capitalism – to believe that private property is always sacred – to worship the Flag, – to venerate the Founding Fathers, – To venerate the “soldiers” (martyrs and saints) and to support the Military totally,
without criticism – To support US Foreign Policy without criticism. – To believe that the US is nO.1 country in the world in all aspects, and that it must
remain so for ever; and to believe that any other country that wants to become n.1 is evil and goes against the will of God.
– to believe that the US is the kingdom of God, the most religious and compassionate nation on earth, the nation of “chosen people” which only does good in the world, promoting freedom, peace and democracy, helping economically the poor, and never committing any crime or evil toward other nations, never supporting dictators, and never assassinating foreign leaders, never exploiting economically poor nations. Although voices denouncing mischiefs in
foreign policy and misbehavior in the conduct of war against foreign lands exist, they are rejected as lies, as antipatriotic and hostile to the well-being of the chosen nation. Those who raise criticism are viewed as people that “hate America.”
– To believe that the US is essentially a peaceful country, the country of “peace loving people and leaders” who go to war only when they are forced to by evil dictators, and to liberate people oppressed by their own brutal tyrants.
Despite its official policy of religious tolerance (“to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”), the United States has harbored many kinds of antagonisms among its religions. Some are deeply rooted in Western culture and were merely imported to the New World. Others are native, reflecting tensions unique to the American experience. Robert N. Bellah and Frederick E. Greenspahn, eds., Uncivil Religion: Interreligious Hostility in America. (New York: Crossroad, 1987) Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004; pp.79-80. THE SORROWS OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE 1. Warning from Johnson Chalmers (2 texts) Text 1. The Costs and Consequences of American Empire Instead of demobilizing after the Cold War, the United States imprudently committed itself to maintaining a global empire…. Certainly the one subject beyond discussion is the fact that, a decade after the end of the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of American troops, supplied with the world’s most advanced weaponry, sometimes including nuclear arms, are stationed on over sixty-one base complexes in nineteen countries worldwide, using the Department of Defense’s narrowest definition of a “major installation”; if one included every kind of installation that houses representatives of the American military, the number would rise to over eight hundred. There are of course, no Italian air bases on American soil. Such a thought would be ridiculous. Nor, for that matter, are there German, Indonesian, Russian, Greek, or Japanese troops stationed on Italian soil… Not so long ago, the way we garrisoned the world could be discussed far more openly and comfortably because the explanation seemed to lie at hand – in the very existence of the Soviet Union and of communism(…).Many Americans would have argued that, given the Cold War, such incidents were an unavoidable cost of protecting democracies against the menace of Soviet totalitarianism. With the disappearance of any military threat faintly comparable to that posed by the former Soviet Union, such “costs” have become easily avoidable. American military forces could have been withdrawn from
foreign bases, long ago. That they were not and that Washington instead is doing everything in its considerable powers to perpetuate Cold War structures, even without the Cold War’s justification, places such overseas deployments in a new light. They have become striking evidence, for those who care to look, of an imperial project that the Cold War obscured. The by-products of this project are likely to build up reservoirs of resentment against all Americans – tourist, students, and businessmen, as well as numbers of the armed forces – that can have lethal results (….). All this is almost too obvious to state – and so is almost never said. It is simply not a matter for discussion, much less of debate in the land of the last imperial power. Perhaps similar thinking is second nature to any imperium. Perhaps the Romans did not find it strange to have their troops in Gaul, nor the British in South Africa. But what is unspoken is no less real, nor does it lack consequences just because it is not part of any ongoing domestic discussion. I believe it is past time for such a discussion to begin, for Americans to consider why we have created an empire – a word from which we shy away – and what the consequences of our imperial stance may be for the rest of the world and four ourselves. Empires are costly operations, and they become more costly by the year. For any empire, including an unacknowledged one, there is a kind of balance sheet that builds up over time. Military crimes, accidents, and atrocities make up only one category of the debit side of the balance sheet that the United States has been accumulating, especially since the Cold War ended (…). What we have freed ourselves of is any genuine consciousness of how we might look to others on this globe. Most Americans are probably unaware of how Washington exercises its global hegemony, since so much of this activity takes place either in relative secrecy or under comforting rubrics. Many may, as a start, find it hard to believe that our place in the world even adds up to an empire. But only when we come to see our country as both profiting from and trapped within the structures of an empire of its own making will it be possible for us to explain many elements of the world that otherwise perplex us. Without good explanations, we cannot possibly produce policies that will bring us sustained peace and prosperity in a post-Cold War world. What has gone wrong in Japan after half a century of government-guided growth under U.S. protection? Why should the emergence of a strong China be to anyone’s disadvantage? Why do American policies toward human rights, weapons proliferation, terrorism, drug cartels, and the environment strike so many foreigners as the essence of hypocrisy? Should American- owned and -managed multinational firms be instruments, beneficiaries, or adversaries of United States foreign policy? Is the free flow of capital really as valuable as free trade in commodities and manufactured goods? These kinds of questions can only be answered once we begin to grasp what the United States really is. If Washington is the headquarters of a global military-economic dominion, the answers will be very different than if we think of the United States as simply one among many sovereign nations. There is a logic to empire that differs from the logic of a nation, and acts committed in service to an empire but never acknowledged as such have a tendency to haunt the future (….). One man’s terrorist is, of course, another man’s freedom fighter, and what U.S. officials denounce as unprovoked terrorist attacks on its innocent citizens are often meant as retaliation for previous American targets precisely because American soldiers and sailors firing cruse missiles from ships at sea or sitting in
B-52 bombers at extremely high altitudes or supporting brutal and repressive regimes from Washington seem invulnerable… The most direct and obvious form of blowback often occurs when the victims fight back after a secret American bombing, or a U.S.- sponsored campaign of state terrorism, or a CIA-engineered overthrow of a foreign political leader. All around the world today, it is possible to see the groundwork being laid for future forms of blowback. American officials and the media talk a great deal about “rogue states” like Iraq and North Korea, but we must ask ourselves whether the United States has itself become a rogue superpower. In November 1998, Tom Plate, a columnist on Pacific Rim affairs for the Los Angeles Times, described the United States as “a muscle-bound crackpot superpower with little more than cruise missiles for brains.” That same month a senior State Department specialist on North Korea, when asked by a right-wing journalist what it was like having to deal daily with a totally crazy regime, replied, “Which one?” Another former State Department official protested that military might does not equate with “leadership of the free world” and wrote that “Madeleine Albright is the first Secretary of state in American history whose diplomatic specialty, if one can call it that, is lecturing other governments, using threatening language and tasteless bragging of the power and virtue of her country.” It is possible to think of other secretaries of state who fit this description, going back to John Foster Dulles, but Albright does not even have the Cold War to justify her jingoism. We Americans deeply believe that our role in the world is virtuous – that our actions are almost invariably for the good of others as well as ourselves. Even when our country’s actions have led to disaster, we assume that the motives behind them were honorable. But the evidence is building up that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, the United States largely abandoned a reliance on diplomacy, economic aid, international law, and multilateral institutions in carrying out its foreign policies and resorted much of the time to bluster, military force, and financial manipulation. The world is not a safer place as a result. Those who support a singular American hegemonic role in world affairs argue, as did Mark Yost, an editor of the Wall Street Journal, “It’s all but assured that the number of nuclear powers abroad would increase significantly with the withdrawal or reduction of U.S. forces.” But in May 1998, with American forces deployed as widely as in the final days of the Cold War, the worst case of nuclear proliferation since the 1960s occurred in South Asia. Both India and Pakistan tested multiple nuclear devices, committing their countries to perfecting nuclear weapons and developing the missiles needed to deliver them – in essence, setting off a full-scale nuclear arms race in South Asia (…). In February 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, defending the use of cruise missiles against Iraq, declared, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future.” I have tried to lay out some important aspects of America’s role in the world that suggest precisely the opposite. The nature and shape of this role grew out of the structural characteristics of the Cold War itself and the strategies the United States pursued to achieve what it considered its interests during that period and after. The United States created satellites in East Asia for the same reasons that the former Soviet Union created satellites in Eastern Europe. For over forty years, the policies needed to maintain these client states economically, while protecting and controlling them militarily, produced
serious unintended consequences, most of which Americans have yet to fully grasp. They hollowed out our domestic manufacturing and bred a military establishment that is today close to being beyond civilian control. Given that the government only attempts to shore up, not change, these anachronistic arrangements, one must ask when, not whether, our accidental empire will start to unravel. (…) The United States should seek to lead through diplomacy and example rather than through military force and economic bullying. Such an agenda is neither unrealistic nor revolutionary. It is appropriate for a post-Cold War world and for a United States that puts the welfare of its citizens ahead of the pretentions of its imperialists. Many U.S. leaders seem to have convinced themselves that if so much as one overseas American base is closed or one small country is allowed to manage its own economy, the world will collapse. They might better ponder the creativity and growth that would be unleashed if only the United States would relax its suffocating embrace. They should also understand that their efforts to maintain imperial hegemony inevitably generate multiple forms of blowback. Although it is impossible to say when this game will end, there is little doubt about how it will end…. The United States likes to think of itself as the winner of the Cold War. In all probability, to those looking back a century hence, neither side will appear to have won, particularly if the United States maintains its present imperial course. Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000; pp.IX,4-9; 216-217; 229)
Text 2. THE SORROWS OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE
Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an ever growing list of foreign countries. (Why do they hate us? Was a common plaint heard on talk shows, and the most common answer was “jealousy.”) But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non- Americans already knew and had experienced over the previous half century – namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination. Indeed, the wings of the American empire have a global reach: as of September 2001, the Department of Defense acknowledged at least 725 American military bases existed outside the United States. Actually, there are many more, since some bases exist under leaseholds, informal agreements, or disguises of various kinds. And more have been created since the announcement was made. The landscape of this military empire is as unfamiliar and fantastic to most Americans today as Tibet or Timbuktu were to nineteenth-century Europeans… As distinct from other peoples on this earth, most Americans do not recognize – or do not want to recognize – that the United States dominates the
world through its military power. (We often say that “our young men and women in uniform” are deployed around the globe to protect our freedom. We do not bother to ask why). In the first post-Cold War decade, we mounted many actions to perpetuate and extend our global power, including wars and “humanitarian” interventions in Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Colombia, and Serbia, while maintaining unchanged our Cold War deployments in East Asia and the Pacific. In the eyes of its own people, the United States remained at worst an informal empire. After all, it had no colonies and its massive military forces were deployed around the world only to maintain “stability,” guarantee “mutual security,” or promote a liberal world order based on free elections and American- style “open markets.” Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire. Our country deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations and just under a dozen carrier task forces in all the oceans and seas of the world. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another. Our globe-girding military and intelligence installations bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. On task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales… It is worth noting that the new American empire has been a long time in the making. Its roots go back to the early nineteenth century, when the United States declared all of Latin America its sphere of influence and busily enlarged its own territory at the expense of the indigenous people of North America, as well as British, French, and Spanish colonialists, and neighboring Mexico. Much like their contemporaries in Australia, Algeria, and tsarist Russia, Americans devoted much energy to displacing the original inhabitants of the North American continent and turning over their lands to new settlers. Then, at the edge of the twentieth century, a group of self-conscious imperialists in the government – much like a similar group of conservatives who a century later would seek to implement their own expansive agendas under cover of the “war on terrorism” – used the Spanish-American War to seed military bases in Central America, various islands in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines With the Second world War, our nation emerged as the richest and most powerful on earth and a self-designated successor to the British Empire. But as enthusiastic as some of our wartime leaders, particularly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were for the task, the American people were not. They demanded that the country demobilize its armies and turn the nation’s attention to full employment and domestic development. Peace did not last long, however. The Cold War and a growing conviction that vital interests, even national survival, demanded the ‘containment” of the Soviet Union helped turn an informal empire
begun during World War II into hundreds of installations around the world for the largest military we ever maintained in peacetime.
During the almost fifty years of superpower standoff, the united States denied that its activities constituted a form of imperialism. Ours, we were told, were just reactions to the menace of the “evil empire” of the USSR and its satellites. Only slowly did we Americans become aware that the role of the military was growing in our country and that the executive branch – the “imperial presidency” – was eroding the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic. But even at the time of the Vietman War and the abuses of power known as Watergate, this awareness never gained sufficient traction to reverse a Cold War – driven transfer of power from the representatives of the people to the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the rationale for American containment policies , our leaders had become so accustomed to dominance over half the globe that the thought of giving it up was inconceivable. Many Americans simply concluded that they had “won” the Cold War and so deserved the imperial fruits of victory. A number of ideologists began to argue that the United States was, in fact, a “good empire.” And should act accordingly in a world with only one dominant power. In his speech in Crawford, Texas (August 31, 2002), President George W. Bush declared loudly that “our nation is the greatest force for good in history.” American may still prefer to use euphemisms like “lone superpower,” but since 9/11, our country has undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible. It suddenly became “un-American” to question the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism,” let alone a war on Iraq, or on the whole “axis of evil,” or even on the sixty or so countries that the president and his secretary of defense announced contained al-Qaeda cells and so were open targets for unilateral American intervention. The media allowed themselves to be manipulated into using sanitized expressions like “collateral damage,” “regime change,” and justified what the Pentagon was doing. At the same time, the government was making strenuous efforts to prevent the new International Criminal Court from ever having the option of considering war crimes charges against American officials… If World War I generated the ideological basis for American imperialism,
World War II unleashed its growing militarism. It was then, as retired Marine Colonel James Donovan has written, that the “American martial spirit grew to prominence. World War II saw the nation’s highest military participation ratio (MPR) – that is, percentage of people under arms – of any of America’s wars. With some 16, 353,700 men and women out of a total population of 133.5 million serving in the armed forces, World War II produced an MPR of 12.2 percent.
With Woodrow Wilson, the intellectual foundations of American imperialism were set in place. Theodore Roosevelt and Elihu Root had represented a European-derived, militaristic vision of imperialism backed by
nothing more substantial than the notion that the manifest destiny of the United States was to govern racially inferior Latin Americans and East Asians. Wilson laid over that his own hyperidealistic, sentimental, and ahistorical idea that what should be sought was a world democracy based on the American example and led by the United States. It was a political project no less ambitious and no less passionately held than the vision of world Communism launched at almost the same time by the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution. As international-relations critic William Pfaff puts it, “the United States was still in the intellectual thrall of the megalomaniacal and self-righteous clergyman-president who gave to the American nation the blasphemous conviction that it, like he himself, had been created by God ‘to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty.”
American leaders now like to compare themselves to imperial Romans, even though they do not know much Roman history. The main lesson for the United States ought to be how the Roman Republic evolved into an empire, in the process destroying its system of elections for its two consuls (its chief executives), rendering the Roman senate impotent, ending forever the occasional popular assemblies and legislative comitia that were at the heart of republican life, and ushering in permanent military dictatorship. P.15. Much like the United States today, the Roman Republic had slowly acquired an empire through military conquest. By the first century B.C., it dominated all of Gaul, most of Iberia, the coast of North Africa, Greece, the Balkans, and parts of Asia Minor. As the Canadian essayist Manuel Miles observes, “There is no historical law prohibiting a republic from possessing an empire. There is a trend toward autocratic takeovers of imperial republics, however, especially after they reach a certain stage of growth. Even now this process is underway in the USA – the President, like the first Roman emperors, decides when and where to wage war, and his Senate rubber stamps and extorts the funding for his imperial adventures, just as the original came to do in the time of Caesar and Octavian.” Johnson Chalmers, The Sorrows of Empire (New York:Metropolitan Books, 2004) 2. Kissinger’s warning: The Road to Empire leads to domestic decay
Some Americans, exulting in their country’s power, urge the explicit affirmation of a benevolent American Hegemony. But such an aspiration would impose on the United States a burden no society has ever managed successfully for an indefinite period of time. No matter how selfless America perceives its aims, an explicit insistence on predominance would gradually unite the world against the United States and force it into impositions that would eventually leave it isolated and drained. The road to empire leads to domestic decay because, in time, the claims of omnipotence erode domestic restraints. No empire has avoided the road to Caesarim unless, like the British Empire, it devolved its power before this process could develop. In long-
lasting empires, every problem turns into a domestic issue because the outside world no longer provides a counterweight. And as challenges grow more diffuse and increasingly remote from the historic domestic base, internal struggles become ever more bitter and in time violent. A deliberate quest for hegemony is the surest way to destroy the values that made the United States great. Henry Kissinger, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century. (New York; Simon and Schuster,2001), pp.288-289. 3. Brzezinski’s Warning: “Democratization is inimical to imperial mobilization.” – “To date, efforts to spell out a new central and worldwide objective for the United States, in the wake of the termination of the Cold War, have been one-dimensional. They have failed to link the need to improve the human condition with the imperative of preserving the centrality of American power in world affairs… The U.S. policy goal must be unapologetically twofold: to perpetuate America’s own dominant position for at least a generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework that can absorb the inevitable shocks and strains of social-political change while evolving into the geopolitical core of shared responsibility for peaceful global management” (pp.214-215). – “The key question for the future is “What will America bequeath to the world as the enduring legacy of its primacy?” The answer depends in part on how long that primacy lasts and on how energetically America shapes a framework of key power partnerships that over time can be more formally institutionalized. In fact, the window of historical opportunity for America’s constructive exploitation of its global power could prove to be relatively brief, for both domestic and external reasons. A genuinely populist democracy has never before attained international supremacy. The pursuit of power and especially the economic costs and human sacrifice that the exercise of such power often requires are not generally congenial to democratic instincts. Democratization is inimical to imperial mobilization. In Broadly speaking, until the middle of the seventeenth century, Spain was the paramount European power. By the late fifteenth century, it had also emerged as a major overseas imperial power, entertaining global ambitions. Religion served as a unifying doctrine and as a source of imperial missionary zeal. Indeed, it took papal arbitration between Spain and its maritime rival, Portugal, to codify a formal division of the world into Spanish and Portuguese colonial sphere in the Treaties of Tordesilla (1494) and Saragossa (1529). Nonetheless, faced by English, French, and Dutch challenges, Spain was never able to assert genuine supremacy, either in Western Europe itself or across the oceans. Spain’s preeminence gradually gave way to that of France. Until 1815, France was the dominant European power, though continually checked by its European rivals, both on the continent and overseas. Under Napoleon, France came close to establishing true hegemony over Europe. For the next century, until World War I, Great Britain exercised global maritime domination as London became the world’s principal financial trading center and the British navy “ruled the waves.” Great Britain was clearly paramount overseas, but like the earlier European aspirants to global hegemony, the British Empire could not single-
handedly dominate Europe. Instead, Britain relied on an intricate balance-of-power diplomacy and eventually on an Anglo-French entente to prevent continental domination by either Russia or Germany.
The overseas British Empire was initially acquired through a combination of exploration, trade, and conquest. But much like its Roman and Chinese predecessors or its French and Spanish rivals, it also derived a great deal of its staying power from the perception of British cultural superiority. That superiority was not only a matter of subjective arrogance on the part of the imperial ruling class but was a perspective shared by many of the non-British subjects. In the words of South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela: “I was brought up in a British school, and at the time Britain was the home of everything that was best in the world. I have not discarded the influence which Britain and British history and culture exercised on us.” Cultural superiority, successfully asserted and quietly conceded, had the effect of reducing the need to rely on large military forces to maintain the power of the imperial center. By 1914, only a few thousand British military personnel and civil servants controlled about 11 million square miles and almost 400 million non-British peoples. In brief, Rome exercised its sway largely through superior military organization and cultural appeal. China relied heavily on an efficient bureaucracy to rule an empire based on shared ethnic identity, reinforcing its control through a highly developed sense of cultural superiority. The Mongol Empire combined advanced military tactics for conquest with an inclination toward assimilation as the basis for rule. The British (as well as the Spanish, Dutch, and French) gained preeminence as their flag followed their trade, their control likewise reinforced by superior military organization and cultural assertiveness. But none of these empires were truly global . Even Britain was not a truly global power. It did not control Europe but only balanced it. A stable Europe was crucial to British international preeminence, and Europe’s self-destruction inevitably marked the end of British primacy. In contrast, the scope and pervasiveness of American global power today are unique. Not only does the United States control all of the world’s oceans and seas, but it has developed an assertive military capability for amphibious shore control that enables it to project its power inland in politically significant ways. Its military legions are firmly perched on the western and eastern extremities of Eurasia, and they also control the Persian Gulf. American vassals and tributaries, some yearning to be embraced by even more formal ties to Washington, dot the entire Eurasian continent. America’s economic dynamism provides the necessary precondition for the exercise of global primacy. Initially, immediately after World War II, America’s economy stood apart from all others, accounting alone for more than 50 percent of the world’s GNP…. In brief, America stands supreme in the four decisive domains of global power: 1. military, it has an unmatched global reach; 2. economically, it remains the main locomotive of global growth, even if challenged in
some aspects by Japan and Germany (neither of which enjoys the other attributes of global might);
3. technologically, it retains the overall lead in the cutting-edge areas of innovation; and culturally, despite some crassness, it enjoys an appeal that is unrivaled,
especially among the world’s youth. American television programs and films account for
about three-fourth of the global market. The language of the internet is English, and an overwhelming proportion of the global computer chatter also originates from America, influencing the content of global conversation. Lastly, America has become a Mecca for those seeking advanced education, with approximately half a million foreign students flocking to the United States, with many of the ablest never returning home. Graduates from American universities are to be found in almost every Cabinet on every continent. The style of many foreign democratic politicians also increasingly emulates the American. All of which gives the United States a political clout that no other state comes close to matching. It is the combination of all four that makes America the only comprehensive global superpower…
In the long run, global politics are bound to become increasingly uncongenial to the concentration of hegemonic power in the hands of a single state. Hence, America is not only the first, as well as the only, truly global superpower, but it is also likely to be the very last… That is so not only because nation-states are gradually becoming increasingly permeable but also because knowledge as power is becoming more diffuse, more shared, and less constrained by national boundaries. Economic power is also likely to become more dispersed. In the course of the next several decades, a functioning structure of global cooperation based on geopolitical realities, could emerge and gradually assume the mantle of the world’s current ‘regent,’ which has for the time being assumed the burden of responsibility for world stability and peace. Geostrategic success in that cause would represent a fitting legacy of America’s role as the first, only, and last truly global superpower… In the years to come, no single power is likely to reach the level of 30 percent or so
of the world’s GDP that America sustained throughout much of this century, not to speak of the 50 percent at which it crested in 1945. Some estimates suggest that by the end of this decade, America will still account for about 20 percent of global GDP, declining perhaps to about 10-15 percent by 2020 as other powers – Europe, China, Japan – increase their relative share to more or less the American level. But global economic preponderance by a single entity, of the sort that America attained in the course of this (20th) century, is unlikely, and that has obviously far-reaching military and political implications. Moreover, the very multinational and exceptional character of American society has made it easier for America to universalize its hegemony without letting it appear to be a strictly national one. For example, an effort by China to seek global primacy would inevitably be viewed by others as an attempt to impose a national hegemony. To put it very simply, anyone can become an American, but only a Chinese can be Chinese – and that places an additional and significant barrier in the way of any essentially national global hegemony. Accordingly, once American leadership begins to fade, America’s current global predominance is unlikely to be replicated by any single state. Thus, the key question for the future is “What will America bequeath to the world as the enduring legacy of its primacy?”… Democratization is inimical to imperial mobilization. Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its geostrategic imperatives. New York:Basic Books, 1997; pp.19-24; 209-215.
4. Kevin Phillips’ warning: Plutocracy is not Democracy The Fallacy of “Market Theology” and the pitfalls of “Market idolatry”
As the twenty-first century gets underway, the imbalance of wealth and democracy in the United States is unsustainable, at least by traditional yardsticks. Market theology and unelected leadership have been displacing politics and elections. Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime – plutocracy by some other name. Over the coming decades, American exceptionalism may face its greatest test simply in convincing the American people to continue to believe in its comfort and reassurance…
We have seen the speeches and metaphors of conservative politicians, bankers, and journalists hailing markets as economic voting machines and corporations as the democratic selectees of the marketplace. One notable Republican called politics underfunded (by private contributions) because Americans spent more on antiacids alone. Such choruses swelled during the 1990s like an economic version of Handel’s Messiah:
The market and the people are one and the same. Hallelujah. Buying, selling, and consuming is true democracy. Hallelujah. Popular will is expressed through the law of supply and demand. Hallelujah. Populism is market economics. Hallelujah. Opposition to the verdict of the market is elitism. Hallelujah. The Nations and Peoples shall rejoice. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
In such a climate, market insistence began to encroach on representative government. The World Trade Organization, for example, in laying down enforceable legal standards that emphasized uninhibited flow of capital and goods, exalted markets over legislative criteria, including local democratic priorities. Ultimately, the guideposts of a market-based society never seem to progress beyond tautology: policies that advantage markets are good and efficient because they advance markets. The raw logic of a blurring between marketplace and polity, however, boils down to a disturbing simplicity: one dollar, one vote. Inequality is the natural law of the cash-driven marketplace. The more you have, the more you can buy. Buying is good. The more you can buy, the more validating your acts. The next jump is the more perverse. Merge politics with the marketplace and buying becomes the game: one dollar, one vote, ten dollars ten votes. Even in America, nineteenth-century voting often had a property qualification. No holdings, no ballots. Property owners sometimes had a plural franchise – the right to vote in several places. Texas billionaire H.L. Hunt published a book in the 1950s advocating that citizens’ voting power be proportionate to the taxes they paid.
Absurd as this sounds, morphing politics into a marketplace is simply a backdoor to the house Hunt hoped to build. If the essence of democracy is to buy, sell, own, or consume, then political contributions are protected expressions. However, as Charles Lindblom wrote in Politics and Markets (1977), because purchasing is the critical act of the marketplace, business enjoys a privileged position, as does wealth. Democratic politics, by contrast, provides the framework in which ordinary people – voting is their critical act, not purchasing – make up for the disproportionate power represented by organized money. Which brings us back to where we began: the analogy between today’s market Darwinism and the social Darwinism of the Gilded Age. “There is absolutely nothing to be said,” Theodore Roosevelt observed, “for government by a plutocracy, for government by men very powerful in certain lines and gifted with a ‘money touch,’ but with ideals which in their essence are merely those of so many glorified pawnbrokers.” Whether twenty-first century Americans can again revitalize politics, stymie plutocracy, and confine market theory to commerce depends on how successfully the critical distinctions between capitalism and democracy can be brought back into focus. Markets, in short, must be reestablished as adjuncts, not criteria, of democracy and representative government…
We can begin with a simple premise: Democracy and market economics are not the same thing. Worse, the attempts to confuse and conflate them in pretended equivalence stood out at the millennium as a destructive aspect of U.S. politics. The rollbacks of democracy have accompanied the elevation of markets – the fulfillment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the European Union (launched as a common market) and the World Trade Organization, as the ascent of the Federal Reserve Board as the protector and liquidity provider of financial and securities markets. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the two Roosevelt would probably have been appalled. Politics and government down through the ages, while often brutal and grossly deficient, have been the subject matter of Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Machiavelli, Locke, and a few of America’s own great names. Markets, by contrast, descend from the fairs of late medieval Europe, church-permitted safety valves for gambling, money-lending, and other forms of license. The idea that they have turned into a vehicle for human governance lacks any base beyond the occasional financial publication. Wealth has been a product of both: market and politics. To historians Will and Ariel Durant, “Concentration of wealth is a natural result of concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history. The rate of concentration varies (other factors being equal) with the economic freedom permitted by morals and the law… democracy, allowing the most liberty, accelerates it.” But just as inevitably, they added, wealth is partially redistributed, whether violently or peaceably. Thus the innate tensions between wealth laudation, which favors concentration, and democracy, which promotes distribution. In the United States of the turn of the century, wealth has concentrated with the help of the corruption of politics on one hand and the suasion of market idolatry and economic Darwinism on the other. The saving grace is that societies
seem to have their own related rhythm, their larger pattern of rise and fall, as Toynbee and other historians have suggested… Thus the prerequisite that capitalism and democracy, while easily overlapping and allied, must be kept separate. They cannot be confused. 5. The age of “Shutting out Rationality.” Since September 11, a number of anti-theoretical terms have been in vogue in the United States. They include ‘evil’, ‘freedom-loving’, ‘bad men’, ‘patriot’ and ‘anti-American’. These terms are anti-theoretical because they are invitations to shut down thought. Or indeed, in some cases, imperious commands to do so. They are well-thumbed tokens which serve in place of thought, automated reactions which make do for the labour of analysis. Such language is not necessarily mistaken in suggesting that some events are evil, or some men are bad, or that freedom is a capacity to be prized. It is just that the force of these terms is to suggest that there is absolutely no more to be said. Discussion must at all costs remain on the level of the ready tag, the moralistic outcry, the pious rejoinder, the shopworn phrase. Theory – which means, in this context, the taxing business of trying to grasp what is actually going on – is unpatriotic. It is the prerogative of soft-spoken, long-haired intellectuals, most of whom are no doubt in cahoots with al- Qa’ida. This is a pity, since unless the United States is able to do some hard thinking about the world, it is not at all certain that the world will be around for that much longer. This would certainly save us all the unpleasant necessity of hard thought, since there would then be nothing to think about; but there are probably less drastic ways of making thinking less rebarbative. It is true, of course, that some Americans have never quite grasped this esoteric concept of ‘the world’, believing as they do that it is situated somewhere just south-east of Texas. There are those Americans who have no idea of how others see them; those who have no idea but do not care anyway; and those who have yet to hear that there are other people out there in the first place. Those who support the American imperium dismiss all forms of criticism as diseased symptoms of anti-Americanism. For them, all criticisms of the United States spring from a pathological aversion to Sesame Street and baconburgers. They are expressions of smouldering envy on the part of the less fortunate civilizations, not reasoned criticisms. This is of course a marvelously convenient tactic to shut out rationality and morality as far as the behaviour of the new Rome is concerned. (…) For yet others, in the White House and State Department, the world consists among things of an obscure, downtrodden species known as ‘allies’, which means those who are to be arm-wrestled on board when you need them to help you kill people and pay for rebuilding their shattered cities, and ditched when you don’t. It is also that assortment of foreign nations who are to be bullied, bribed and blackmailed into abandoning their own
supremely trivial interests and falling docilely into line behind the self-appointed Messianic saviour of the globe. A Messianic saviour, oddly enough, which regards the giving of aid to the destitute and desperate as a sordid, embarrassing burden rather than a cause for national pride, and which in any case drains far more from the impoverished world by its grossly unfair economic practices than it would ever dream of bestowing upon it. Not everyone, either, relishes being lectured about freedom by an American political establishment for which such freedom means lending military and material support to a whole range of squalid right-wing dictatorships throughout the world, while maiming and destroying the citizens of other regimes which dare to threaten its own geopolitical dominance, and thus its profits. One is not overimpressed by governments which prate of human rights and announce that the prisoners whom they are busy torturing in their Cuban concentration camp are ‘bad’ even before they have been put on trial. The desire to rule the world used to be considered the paranoid fantasy of sad, emotionally retarded men with inadequate love lives and dandruff on the shoulders of their jackets. Nowadays, it is the declared aim of a nation which regards itself as God’s gift to anti-imperialism. (…)The United States has an exalted image of itself, and would be a far more morally decent place if it did not. A touch of skepticism and self-debunkery would work wonders for its spiritual health… Intoxicated by their own self-image, American officials can perceive nothing beyond themselves, and will thus find themselves in the most dreadful danger. They will become the enemies of civilization in the very act of seeking to preserve it. Like the protagonists of tragedy, they are caught up in some inexorable self-undoing, as their very strength comes to prove their most disabling defect. Few prospects could be more admirable in this respect than that of the millions of Americans who, in the face of this reckless, world-hating hubris, continue steadfastly to speak up for humane values, with the spirit of independence, moral seriousness, sense of dedication and devotion to human liberty for which they are renowned among the nations. If it is un-American to reject greed, power and ruthless self-interest for the pitiable frauds that they are, then millions of Americans must today be proud to call themselves so. Terry Eagleton, After Theory.
War Prayer By Mark Twain
Mark Twain submitted this piece to Harper’s Bazaar during the Philippine War at the turn of
the last century. It was rejected as being unsuitable and was first published after his death
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the
war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were
beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers
hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread
of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the
young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new
uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering
them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed
mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps
of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclone of
applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the
pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked God of Battles,
beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which
moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen
rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its
righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their
personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that
Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the
church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial
dreams – visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing
charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke,
the fierce pursuit, and surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heroes,
welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their
dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons
and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or failing,
die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old
Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst
that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes
and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation –
“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”
Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate
pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was
that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble
young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless
them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His
mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help
them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable
honor and glory-
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main
aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached
to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his
shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness, With all eyes
following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he
ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there, waiting. With shut lids the
preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last
finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us
victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled
minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the
spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a
deep voice he said:
“I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote
the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has
heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your
desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say,
its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for
more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.
“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought?
Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the
ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this
– keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! Lest
without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray
from the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are
possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain
and can be injured by it.
“You have heard your servants prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of
God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor – and also you
in your hearts – fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God
grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘ Grant us the victory, O Lord our
God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those
pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for
victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must
follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell
also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words.
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be
Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of
our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers
to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale
forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the
shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes
with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hears of their unoffending widows with
unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to
wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst,
sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit,
worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our
sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their
bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain
the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love,
of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever- faithful refuge and friend of
all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”
(After a pause) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the
Most High waits.”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said. Available at http://www.religiousconsultation.org/War_Prayer.htm November 7, 2005 The Lies of War
Dissecting the “Just War” Euphemisms and Building an Ethics of Peace
By Daniel C. Maguire
I dedicate my comments today to a ten year old Afghan boy, Mohammed Noor. He was having his Sunday dinner when an American bomb struck. He lost both eyes and both hands. Who, with this child in mind, would dare sing “God bless America,” the hymn that would make God a co-conspirator with American war-makers. The sightless eyes of this child should haunt us to the end of our days and sear on our souls the absolute need to not just pray for peace, but to do something to make it happen.
The Prussian officer Karl von Clausewitz famously saw war as an entirely rational undertaking, a “continuation of policy….by other means.” The sanitizing implication, as Barbara Ehrenreich noted, was
that war involves “the kind of clearheaded deliberation one might apply to a game of chess…..no more disturbing and irrational than, say a difficult trade negotiation-except perhaps to those who lay dying on the battlefield.”1 The disguisers of war, who have framed it in such non-toxic tones, have so successfully defanged and anointed “war”with respectability that we use it in all sorts of innocent and lovely contexts: “the war on poverty,” “the war on cancer,” “the war on illiteracy,” etc. War can be armchair spectator entertainment. It is acceptable for people to become “Civil War Buffs,” or “Revolutionary War Buffs.” If people were to announce themselves as “prostitution buffs” or “rape buffs”their perverted absorption is such human disasters would raise eyebrows.
Was is so suffused into the sinews of our cultural imagination that it crops up in the gentlest of contexts. Walter Sullivan in his prize-winning book, We are Not Alone, writes beautifully of the intelligence of dolphins. He alludes to the possibility that we may some day be able to communicate extensively with them and train them for complex tasks. This tantalizing prospect took him immediately to war. Dolphins could be used “by one government to scout out the submarines of another…to smuggle bombs into enemy harbors..serve on underwater demolition teams…[be taught to] sneak up on hostile submarines and shout something into the listening gear.” He notes worries, however, that the dolphins might demur, that “they might prove to be pacifists.” 2 Their non-human consciousness might be less amenable to violence.
Our haughty species should be slow to speak demeaningly of “descending to the level of animals.” The human being, says Erich Fromm, “is the only mammal who is a large scale killer and sadist.” He cites evidence that if we had the same aggressiveness as chimpanzees in their natural habitat, our world would be a kinder place by far.3
“War”… what is it really?
The reality that “war”euphemizes is state sponsored violence. That description opens the door to an honest moral evaluation of what it really is we are talking about. We are talking about violence, and violence kills people and wrecks the earth and the ethical question before us is whether that kind of destruction can ever be called “just.”
What contributed to the facile acceptance and even sanctification of war was the venerable and all too unchallenged “just war theory.” Putting the word “war” alongside the word “just” helped to baptize war, making it seem rational and good as long as certain amenities are observed. The reality it covers is sneakily hidden from view since the abused word “war” is no longer descriptive of the mayhem and slaughter we are wreaking when we “go to war.” If the “just war theory” were called the “justifiable slaughter theory” or “the justifiable violence theory,” it would at least be honest. Maybe the slaughter and the human and ecological destruction we are contemplating are justifiable, but at least we would be honest in admitting what it is we are justifying. It would be language without legerdemain.
Military strategists, and ethicists embedded with them, drape an even thicker tissue of lies around military violence. They like to call it “the use of force.” That sugar-coats it handsomely. “Force,” after all, is nice. A forceful personality, a forceful argument-these can be quite admirable. But an atomic bomb hitting the population centers of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the brutal leveling of Falluja in Iraq or of settlements in Palestine needs a more honest word than “force.” “Force”, like war, is a malicious euphemism. It averts our eyes from the horrors described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Some two million children have died in dozens of wars during the past decade…This is more than three times the number of battlefield deaths of American soldiers in all their wars since 1776…Today, civilians account for more than 90 percent of war casualties.”
The Policing Paradigm
The real and honestly stated question is this: is state sponsored violence, involving as it does slaughter and environmental destruction ever justifiable? It is quite possible that it may be. I will argue that it might be justified to respond to actual (not imagined) threats and attacks. However-and this is key-it can only be justified the same way that violent action by police is justified: in a communitarian context within an enforceable framework of law. Justifications for war, however, are often shady rationalizations for the failure to build peace. It would be more truthful to say that war tends to be the pit we fall into by avoiding the tedious unglamourous work of peace-making and justice-building. Maybe some slaughter to prevent greater slaughter might have been necessary in 1994 in Rwanda because there was no international interest in supporting the peace and reform efforts in Rwanda in the years preceding that. But that failure should not be hidden by facile “just war”arguments for the “use of force.” The allegedly “justified war” is usually the mask of an unconscionable failure to do the advance work of peace and to hide the total embarrassment of statecraft that state-sponsored violence tends to be.4
The policing paradigm for justifying state(s) sponsored war is brilliantly enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. That Charter was meant to put an end to the vigilante approach to war illustrated by Adolph Hitler as well as by the “preemptive war” policy of George W. Bush. In the civilizing view of the United Nations, state sponsored violence could only be just in a communitarian setting under the restraints of enforceable international law. The United Nations was founded to make this possible. Nations, such as the United States, long accustomed to vigilante warring, have frustrated the United Nations and its Charter. This is a sad irony since The United States was a principal shaper of this policing paradigm for justifying war.
Richard Falk writes: “World War II ended with the historic understanding that recourse to war between states could no longer be treated as a matter of national discretion, but must be regulated to the extent possible through rules administered by international institutions. The basic legal framework was embodied in the UN Charter, a multilateral treaty largely crafted by American diplomats and legal advisers. Its essential feature was to entrust the Security Council with administering a prohibition of recourse to international force (Article 2, Section 4) by states except in circumstances of self-defense, which itself was restricted to responses to a prior ‘armed attack’ (Article 51), and only then until the Security Council had the chance to review the claim”5
This noble, civilizing moment in human moral history, has been trashed and all of us must shoulder and bear blame. No wonder Pope John Paul II called George Bush’s vigilante invasion of Iraq “a defeat for humanity.”
The prime challenge to contemporary ethics is to rethink and reframe the morality of war. Let’s face it: Catholic moral theology has never risen to the challenge put to it by Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. He said that in our age, “it is irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights.”6 The Second Vatican Council called for “an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude.”7 The U.S. Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace,” appealed for “a fresh reappraisal which includes a developed theology of peace.” 8 It is a scandal that these appeals to Catholic moral theology have gone almost unheeded, while an inordinate and embarrassing amount of attention has been paid to what I call “the pelvic issues” of masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion.
In his powerful new book, The New American Militarism, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Catholic and a retired officer, now professor at Boston university notes how the Protestant religious right pushed for the
American invasions of Iraq and even for the concept of preventive or preemptive war. Writing as “a Catholic author” he says that “the counterweight ought to have been the Roman Catholic Church…[which] was eminently well-positioned to put its stamp on public policy.” It failed to do so. He puts major blame on the hierarchy. I put it on American Catholic theology and uninvolved Catholic citizens. 9
Bred to Violence
Language and thought never rise out of a sociological vacuum. Theory, except in moments of true creativity, is autobiographical. Our stories ensoul our words and frame our discourse. A strong penchant for self-destructive violence toward one another and toward the rest of nature seems tragically kneaded into our history-formed collective personality. Maybe the apocalyptic voices are the realists. Georg Henrik von Wright says with chilling calmness: “One perspective, which I don’t find unrealistic, is of humanity as approaching its extinction as a zoological species. The idea has often disturbed people. . . . For my part I cannot find it especially disturbing. Humanity as a species will at some time with certainty cease to exist; whether it happens after hundreds of thousands of years or after a few centuries is trifling in the cosmic perspective. When one considers how many species humans have made an end of, then such a natural nemesis can perhaps seem justified.”10 Vaclav Havel warns that if we endanger the Earth she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value-that is, life itself. Lynn Margulis joins the grim chorus saying that the rest of Earth’s life did very well without us in the past and it will do very well without us in the future. Not all religious scholars rush in with gospels of consolation. If we are the “missing link” between apes and true humanity, as Gerd Theissen puts it, our species is morally prenatal and yet armed to the teeth, with the end of our existence stored and ready in our nuclear silos and other species dropping around us like canaries in a doomed mine.11
Some scholars think our passion for war is innate and irrepressible. Thus L.F. Richardson in his 1960 study on the statistics of violent conflicts searched for the causative factors of war and concluded that wars are largely random catastrophes whose specific time and location we cannot predict but whose recurrence we must expect just as we expect earthquakes and hurricanes.12 This leads a writer in American Scientist to see the nations of the world as banging “against one another with no more plan or principle than molecules in an overheated gas.”13 Supportive of these dismal views, is the study that says humans have been at peace for only 8 percent of the past 3,400 years of recorded history.14
The contemporary scene, as well as history, lend credence to this bleak picture. As of January 2002 there were 38 ongoing significant conflicts, with 24 other conflicts precariously suspended, as, for example, the conflict between England and the Irish Republican Army. Again, in a signal to religious thinkers, religion is listed as at last partially causative in 16 of the 38 ongoing conflicts.15 Religion is often the problem, not the solution. Since 1945 there have been 135 wars, most of them in the poor world (often misnomered “developing”) and they killed more than 22 million people, “the equivalent of a World War III.”16
Is There Any Hope?
Is there any hope for this blundering species that dares to call itself sapiens, or are we destined to drown in the blood of our own belligerence. We have created the end of the world and stored it in our nuclear silos, planes, and submarines while double basting our planet with heat trapping carbon dioxide.. Having extinguished many species we are technically poised to extinguish our own.
And yet there is hope. As Vaclav Smil writes, the historical “success of our species makes it clear that humans, unlike all other organisms, have evolved not to adapt to specific conditions and tasks but to cope with change. This ability makes us uniquely fit to cope with assorted crises and to transform many events
from potentially crippling milestones to resolved challenges.”17
Hope may be drawn from both the present and the past. There are stirrings today of what has been called a “moral globalization.”In happy irony, the U.S. atrocity being wreaked on the children and people of Iraq has, like new growth from fetid decay, birthed a fervid and growing cry for peace. In the largest call for peace in human history, on February 15, 2003, demonstrations in 80 nations around the planet pleaded with the American giant not to embark on this lie-laden venture into killing. In the past two years, sixteen tribunals of conscience have met in Barcelona, Tokyo, Brussels, Seoul, New York, London, Mumbai, Istanbul, and in other cities The purpose of these tribunals, in the words of Arundhati Roy has been to show “faith in the consciences of millions of people across the world who do not wish to stand by and watch while the people of Iraq are being slaughtered, subjugated and humiliated.”18
Also encouraging are the heroic Israeli soldiers, dubbed the “refuseniks,” who are asserting in an historic way that conscientious objection is also the right of soldiers. The idea of the soldier as automaton, with no more conscience than a fired bullet, is the keystone of military culture and these soldiers are challenging it in a revolutionary way, saying they will no longer participate in the occupation and humiliation of the Palestinian people. In the spirit of the prophets of ancient Israel they are asserting that soldiers are persons not pawns. Jail will be their portion, but veneration is their desert. Some U.S. soldiers are beginning to assert the same, saying that blind obedience is as immoral as slavery. (See www.swiftsmartveterans.com)
I draw hope also from the Manresa Project that really believes the justice and mercy will kiss and that peace may be born of their embrace. There is that-and more-in the present to pour a blood transfusion of hope into our veins.
No More “Superpowers”
Failure also, in an ironic twist, is teaching peace. The United States, the alleged “superpower” lost its first war in Vietnam and now, for the first time in its history, it is losing two wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is nothing in these two debacles that merits the name of victory or even an understanding of what “victory” could possibly mean. These are wars that are not winnable but are only losable. The fact that the alleged “superpower” is having a streak of losses to guerilla-based insurgencies is very suggestive of the power shifts that are in play. First of all, it shows that war has mutated. Guerillas with the unmatchable trinity of advantages-invisibility, versatility, and patience-have “put to rout” the “arrogant of heart and mind”and the supposedly weak have “brought down monarchs from their thrones,” (Luke 1:51-52) if I may quote Mary, the radical mother of Jesus.
Secondly it is a wake-up call for Americans re their declining democracy. As Yale professor of international relations Bruce Russett says, democracies “more often win their wars-80 percent of the time” The reason is “they are more prudent about what wars they get into, choosing wars that they are more likely to win and that will incur lower costs.” 19 That doesn’t describe our 6 billion dollar a month tragic fiasco in Iraq or our Afghanistan and Vietnam quagmires.20 It appears we now go to war like autocracies do. The ingredients of a democracy are missing: a free and seriously critical press, broad participation in any war effort by the citizens, and proper declaration of war according to the Constitution. Congress has not declared war according to Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution since World War II. Instead they violate the Constitution by ad hoc resolutions that hand over their war-declaring powers to a single man, the president….just what the founders said they did not want.21 As professor David Kennedy writes, today “thanks to something [called] the ‘revolution in military affairs,’…we now have an active- duty military establishment that is, proportionate to population, about 4 percent of the size of the force that won World War II…..and today’s military budget is about 4 percent of gross domestic product, as
opposed to nearly 40 percent during World War II.”22 Add an indifferent public minimally inconvenienced by the war fought by the children of the poor, a group of ruthless ideologues in high office, and you have autocratic war making-and three lost wars in a row! Democracy is like swimming: you keep working at it or you sink.
The Power of Non-violence
There is some good news: happily in our day, the myth of the inutility of non-violent power and non- violent resistance is being debunked. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela showed the power of non-violent resistance. Almost bloodlessly dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos and at least seven Latin American despots have been driven out. As Walter Wink writes, “in 1989-90 alone fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolutions…”23 Gene Sharp lists 198 different types of nonviolent actions that are on the historical record, but neglected by historians and journalists who prefer to report on the flash of war.24 “Britain’s Indian colony of three hundred million people was liberated nonviolently at a cost of about eight thousand lives…France’s Algerian colony of about ten million was liberated by violence,.but it cost almost one million lives.”25
Compare these successful cases of non-violent resistance with the American quagmires in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq or the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ask: who are the realists, the prophets of Israel, Jesus, the Buddha, and Gandhi or the Pentagon and Likud warriors?
Also helpful is the fact that the American empire is being exposed for what it is even as it enters into its decline. The essence of empire is “the domination and exploitation of weaker states by stronger ones.”26 All this is present in spades in the American Empire. We have 800 military installations in 130 countries and our Special Forces operate in nearly 170 nations. We spend more on the military than the next eighteen nations combined. If nations won’t let us in, we invade them militarily or we tell them we’ll boycott them out of our market. We take up 20 percent of Okinawa’s arable land for our bases and if they protest, they are threatened with being denied access to our purchasing power. What we cannot buy we conquer; it is amazing that anyone could miss the fact that when oil-hungry Americans invade oil-rich Iraq, there is oil on their minds. We have overthrown twenty-five governments since 1945, but would take a dim view if any nation tried to overthrow ours.27 We flood the world with our culture and technology. Rome, the empire that killed Jesus, would be jealous of us but Jesus who died fighting empire and was killed by one would have a different view.
All empires mask their true purposes with noble pretense: to promote the revolution of the proletariat, to take on, in Kipling’s phase, “the white man’s burden,’ to promote une mission civilatrice, to spread democracy and freedom, and now to “fight terrorism,’while defining terrorists as any who resist by means foul or fair the intrusions of empire. Terrorism is the killing of innocent people to persuade their government to do what we want. Classical examples of “state terrorism”-the worst kind-were the American bombing of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two events, among so many more, established us as a terrorist nation. Peter Ustinov, actor and playwright aptly said: “terrorism is the war of the poor and war is the terrorism of the rich.”
Empire is always animated by hubris. American hubris is being undermined by embarrassing data. Of the 22 richest nations of the world, we are first in wealth and last in developmental assistance; i.e., among those 22 rich nations we are the stingiest. The United States devotes a smaller percentage of national income to development assistance than nearly any other developed nation-less that one-tenth of one percent (.1 percent), compared tp .97 percent for the Danes, .89 percent for the Swedes, .55 percent for the French, and .31 percent for the Germans. Even in absolute terms, if we exclude U.S. aid to Israel and
Egypt,[which is largely military aid used in Israel to oppress Palestinians and in Egypt to suppress democracy] the United States-with 265 million people-spends less on development assistance than Denmark, a nation of five million.”28 Meanwhile, recall, we villainously squander six billion dollars a month making war on oil-rich Iraq.
Successful empire depends on the illusion of moral and cultural supremacy. That illusion is being vaporized by our bellicosity and penury. The emergence of hard truth is always good news.
The Renewable Moral Energies of Religion
As John Henry Cardinal Newman reminded us, people will die for a dogma who will not stir for a conclusion. Nothing so activates the will as does the tincture of the sacred. This can be negative as well as positive. The poet Alexander Pope reminds us that the worst of madmen is a saint gone mad, and remember that in the past religion has always been invoked and coopted in support of war.
Three hundred years before Jesus was born, a powerful prince Ashoka in India had dominated much of India by military force. After his last big battle, he walked among the dead in the battlefield where a hundred thousand men had fallen and instead of feeling triumph he felt revulsion. He converted to Buddhism and for the next thirty seven years, he pioneered a new mode of truly compassionate government. He left a legacy of concern for people, animals, and the environment. He planted orchards and shade trees along roads, encouraged the arts, built rest houses for travelers, water sheds for animals and he devoted major resources to the poor and the aged and the sick. As Duane Elgin says in this hope- filled book Promise Ahead: A vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future, “Ashoka’s political administration was marked by the end of war and an emphasis on peace.”29 His governmental officers were trained as peacemakers “building mutual good will among races, sects, and parties.”30
The result? His kingdom lasted more than two thousand years until the military empire of Britain invaded India. Britain’s empire based on “superpower thinking,” did not last, nor did that of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon or Hitler. Historian H.G. Wells said that among all the monarchs of history, the star of Ashoka shines almost alone. But it need not shine alone. You can almost hear the prophets of Israel crying out to us: “Have you ears and cannot hear? Have you eyes and cannot see?”
The Biblical Demurral
The ancient world cynically declared what seemed to be the natural law of social evolution: si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). In this view, in the tough world we live in, war is the only way to peace. The biblical writers entered a major dissent to this logic. They say: si vis pacem, para pacem! If you want peace you have to prepare it and build it. “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). You have to plan it, and work at it.. Peace does not happen because people individually are nice. You can’t just pray for it. It is a social, economic, and political arrangement that must be aggressively and ingeniously forged. As the rabbis put it, “All commandments are to be fulfilled when the right opportunity arrives. But not peace! Peace you must seek out and pursue.” 31You will not stumble upon it by luck. Like a city, it will come to be only if it is constructed brick by brick.
Abraham Heschel states the dramatic fact: the Israelites “were the first [people] in history to regard a nation’s reliance upon force as evil.”32 Nothing in their setting was conducive to this insight. The sociology of knowledge is hard pressed to explain how these simple tribes, surrounded by superior and hostile forces, could dream a dream of peace, unmatched to our day-but increasingly seen as
indispensable common sense. The Israelites did not just criticize the security-through-arms illusion; they offered an alternative. Peace can only be the fruit of justice. That is what Isaiah said: justice is the only road to peace, a text that all by itself deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. (Isa. 32:17)
The Hebrew Bible does not resort to hints and indirection when it speaks of peace. This epochal breakthrough of moral brilliance is blunt and loud. Also, the writers are not speaking about an internal, spiritual peace of soul as subsequent centuries of Jewish and Christians would rather have it. They are neck high in politics and economics and are out to condemn precisely the reliance of nations on arms. Their position is that trust in arms for safety will not work and represents a moral failure and a collapse of imagination. Unlike Tacitus who thought that the gods were with the mighty, the prophets insist that kill- power is not sacred. God is not with the militarily mighty; indeed, God abhors them and will abandon them, not bless them when they neglect justice and seek peace by war.
The message is drummed home: violence does not work; it bites back at you. As the Jewish Christian Paul put it: “If you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.” (Gal. 5:14) The Bible blasts military power.
“Neither by force of arms nor by brute strength” would the people be saved (Zech. 4:6). “Not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Sam. 2:9; RSV). Military power will be discredited. “The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might” (Mic. 7:16). “Some boast of chariots and some of horses, but our boast is the name of the Lord.” Those who boast of these state-of-the-art weapons “totter and fall, but we rise up” (Ps. 20:6-7). “Their course is evil and their might is not right” (Jer. 23:10; RSV). The song of the military (usually translated as ruthless) will be silenced, and fortified cities will become heaps of ruin (Isa. 25:5, 2). Reflecting Israel’s history, the prime weapons of oppressive royalty, horses and chariots, are despised (see Exod. 14:9, 23; Deut. 20:1; 2 Sam. 15:1; 1 King 18:5; 22:4; 2 Kings 3:7; 18:23; 23:11). As Walter Brueggemann puts it: “Horses and chariots are a threat to the social experiment which is Israel. . . . Yahweh is the sworn enemy of such modes of power.” 33 God orders Joshua to disarm. “Hamstring their horses and burn their chariots” (Josh. 11:6).0
“There is no peace for the wicked” (Isa. 57:21). The inverse of that is that if you do not have peace, it is your fault. You took the wrong approach. “Because you have trusted in your chariots, in the number of your warriors, the tumult of war shall arise against your people and all your fortresses shall be razed” (Hos. 10:13-14). For leaders to ask their people to trust arms for deliverance is “wickedness” and “treachery” (Hos. 10:13). Arms beget fear, not peace. You cannot build “Zion in bloodshed” (Mic. 3:10). Therefore, “I will break bow and sword and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth, so that all living creatures may lie down without fear” (Hos. 2:18). Notice, the distrust of arms is seen as a norm for “all living creatures,” not just for Israel. War delivers peace to no one. There are many modes of power; in biblical perspective, violent power is the most delusional and least successful.
Pacifism vs. Passive-ism
The Jesus movement continued the biblical protest against kill-power as the path to security. “How blessed are the peacemakers; God shall call them his children.” (Matt 5:9) One text, however, has muddied the Christian contribution, making it appear that Jesus was against resistance to evil. What he opposed was violent resistance but he himself was an active non-violent resister to empire and it was precisely this that got him killed. (It is remarkable that his movement survived longer than Rome.)
We need to attend to this widely misunderstood text: Matt. 5: 38-42.. “You have learned that they were told, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who
wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. If a man in authority makes you go one mile, go with him two.” As professor Walter Wink says, this text has been interpreted so badly that it became “the basis for systematic training in cowardice, as Christians are taught to acquiesce to evil.”34 It has been used to urge cooperation with dictators, submission to wife battering, and helpless passivity in the face of evil. Associating Jesus with such pusillanimity is an outrage.
Wink puts the meaning back into these texts. “Turn the other cheek” was not in reference to a fist fight. The reference is to a backhanded slap of a subordinate where the intention was “not to injure but to humiliate.” Abject submission was the goal. Turning the other cheek was the opposite of abject submission. Rather it said: “Try again….I deny you the power to humiliate me.” The striker is a failure, his goal not achieved. His “inferior” is not cowering but is trivializing the insult.35 Gandhi the Hindu understood: “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation in everything humiliating.”36 This is courageous resistance, not passivity.
Similarly, the person being sued for his clothing is an example of a frequent horror in Jesus’ day. The poor were strapped with debts and through debt would lose their land, their homes, and even their clothing. As Wink explains, if a man is being sued for his outer garment, he should yield it and then strip himself naked and say, here take my inner garment too. “Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarments as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor’s outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other.”37 Nakedness was taboo in that society and the shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27) This again was not submission, but as Wink calls it, deft lampooning. It was non-violent resistance.
Going the second mile… By law, the Roman occupiers could force a person to carry a soldier’s heavy pack, but only for a mile. The mile limitation was a prudent ruling to minimize rebellion. There were two gains for the Roma soldier in this. He could hand over his 85 to 100 pound pack and gear and he could reduce the occupied person to a pack animal. But when they reach the mile marker-and the soldier could be punished for forcing more than a mile-the victim says “Oh, no, I want to carry this for another mile!” Again Wink: “Imagine the situation of a Roma infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been regaled at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.”38
Again, this is not submission but an assertion of human dignity by the apparently powerless. Jesus knew that violent resistance to the Roman empire was fruitless and recent history in his own region showed that. It was like the Danes during World War II who did not try to fight the German army, but allowed them in. Then everyday their king would lead a quiet walk through the city of Copenhagen with the citizens in good order behind him. It was peaceful, but it said to the occupiers” “You do not own us and you have not captured our spirits.” This had to effect even the minds of the occupiers, as nonviolent resistance always seeks to do. The same spirit showed through when the Danes got word from a friendly German officer that the Germans were coming for their Jews. Using everything that could float, the Danes transported their Jewish compatriots over to neutral Sweden saving most of them.
What Jesus was saying was “don’t retaliate against violence with violence because it will get you nowhere, but you must oppose evil in any way you can.” Even Gandhi said that if there were only two choices in the face of evil, cowardice or violence, he would prefer violence, but there is the third option of ingenious, persistent, creative non-violent resistance, and this, in biblical terms, is “the way of the Lord.”
This message is concretized in an important book produced by 23 Christian ethicists. It’s title is Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War38 It is a very readable book written to inform the consciences of citizens so that they can meet their prime duty, to be the conscience of the nation and move war-addicted governments toward peacemaking.
Citizenship in religious terms is not a privilege; it is a vocation, a vocation with serious learning duties attached. Failure to respond to those duties is corrupt. The Christian scriptures are ingenious in seeing that omission tells more of our moral spirit than commission. The Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:29-37) does not condemn the “robbers” (whose sin is obvious) but focuses on “the priest” and “the Levite” who ignored the plight of the half dead victim and “passed by.” Self-indulgent citizens who are politically ignorant are “the priest” and “the Levite.” Beguiled by “bread and circus” they treat governmental evil as none of their daily business.39 Their consciences are politically dead. They may be pious and “religious” people just like “the priest” and “the Levite,”, but they are the goats not the heroes of Jesus’ Good Samaritan story.
A Conclusion on Tears
The tearless are the enemies of peace because they do not respond appropriately to the evils that peace- making must address. Tears, after all, are very Christic. In that beautiful text, Jesus looked at the city, and he wept, heartbroken over the fact that we do not know the things that make for peace.(Luke19:41:42) Jeremiah said unless your eyes run with tears you will come to a terrible ruin.(Jer. 9:18-19) I was amazed, as a young Catholic boy, when I saw on the back of the Missale Romanum a prayer for the gift of tears. And it said, “Oh God, strike into the duritiam, the hardness of my heart and bring forth a saving flood of tears.” And as a little boy, I thought, “Who wants tears, when you grow up you don’t have them anymore, especially if you are a man?” And that precisely is the problem. If you are without tears, it is a tragedy. You are not Christic. You are not Christian. “How blest are you who weep…”(Luke 6:21) Jesus wept. He looked at that city and said, “If only you knew the things that make for your peace, but you don’t.” And he broke down sobbing.
Let us update that text. Let us hear Jesus say, “America, America, if only you knew the things that make for your peace, if only you could see that the answer is not in your weaponry and economic muscle. If only I could, like a mother hen, wrap my wings around you, wings of justice and peace and compassion, if you could use your great talent and wealth to work to end world hunger, world thirst, world illiteracy, no one would hate you, no one would crash planes into your buildings, you would know Shalom. That’s the promise of Isaiah 32:17. Plant justice and compassion, and then and only then will peace grow. Then you could burn those chariots in a holy fire and you would be secure.”
There is an illness in this land of ours that makes the Bible’s peace-making message “a hard saying.” I’ll call it ICS: Imperial Comfort Syndrome. When you are living in an extremely advantaged imperial situation, basking in unearned and purloined privileges as we are in the United States, we become very comfortable. This particular illness, ICS, does not result in fever or in cold chills. It’s symptoms are tepidity and a dull, crippling kind of depression. It causes such things as this: in many recent elections as many as 60% of eligible American voters didn’t even show up. That is the sickness of ICS: Imperial Comfort Syndrome. For an searing indictment of it, I would take you to Revelations 3:15, 22, and let us rend our hearts and listen. The author puts these words into the mouth of God. “I know all your ways. You are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were either hot or cold. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth… Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches.”
1 Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997) 7. ������2 Walter Sullivan, We Are Not Alone, (New York: Signet Book, 1966), 245. ������3 Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), 105. ������4 See Stanley Hauewas, Linda Hogan, Enda McDonagh, “The Case for the Abolition of War in the Twenty-First Century,” forthcoming in The Annual of The Society of Christian Ethics. This paper argues brilliantly that “war possesses our imaginations, our everyday habits, and our scholarly assumptions.” ������5 Richard Falk, “Why International Law Matters,” The Nation, March 10, 2003, 276, #9, 20. ������6 John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963: AAS 55, p. 291. ������7 Walter M Abbott, S.J., General Editor, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), “The Church Today,” 80, p. 293. ������8 The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, May 3, 1983, # 24. ������9 Andrew J. Bacevich, Th New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2005), 250-51. ������10 Quoted in Goran Moller, Ethics and the Life of Faith: A Christian Moral Perspective, (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1998), 35. ������11 Gerd Theissen, Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 122. ������12 L. F. Richardson, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, (Pacific Grove, California: TheBoxwood Press, 1960.) Quoted in Vaclav Smil, “The Next 50 Years: Fatal Discontinuities,” in Population and Development Review 31 (2): June 2005, 225. ������13 B. Hayes, “Statistics of Deadly Quarrels,” American Scientist 90. 2002, 15. ������14 R. Paul Shaw and Yuwa Wang, Genetic Seeds of Warfare: Evolution, Nationalism, and Patriotism (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 3. ������15 “The World At War-January 2002,” The Defense Monitor, XXXI, No. 1, January 2002. ������16 Michael Renner, Critical Juncture: The Future of Peacekeeping, Worldwatch Paper 114, May 1993. ������17 Vaclav Smil, art. Cit., 208. ������18 Quoted in Richard Falk, “The World Speaks on Iraq,”, The Nation, 281 # 4, August 1/8, 2005, 10, ������19 Glen Stassen, Editor, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), 106. ������20 Cf Linda Bilmes, “The Trillion-Dollar War, The New York Times, August 20, 2005. Projecting out to theyear 2010 Bilmes shows that the cost of the war will reach the 1.372 trilllion mark. ������21 Robert Previdi, “America’s Path to War,” The Long Term View, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Vol 6, #2, 92-105. ������22 David M. Kennedy, “The Best Army We Can Buy,” The New York Times, July 25, 2005, A 23. ������23 Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Minneapolis: Facets Books: Fortress Press, 2003)1-2. ������24 Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Sargent, 1973); See also Ronald J. Sider and Richard E. Taylor, Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1982). ������25 Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence, 52. ������26 Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Holt, 2004), 28 ������27 See William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 2000), and Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Holt, 2000). Johnson’s book, written two years before September 11, 2001, predicted “blowback” (a CIA term) from Osama bin Laden due to U.S. Middle-East presence and policies. ������28 Laurie Ann Mazur & Susan E. Sechler, Paper No. 1, “Global Interdependence and the Need for Social Stewardship,” 1997, Rockefeller Brothers Fund. ������29 Duane Elgin, Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future (New York: Harper Collins, 2000) 117. ������30 Ibid. ������31 Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action? (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1986) 35. ������32 Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), 166. ������33 Walter Brueggemann, Revelation and Violence (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1986) 25-26. ������34 Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Disarmament and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 175. ������35 Ibid., 175-77. ������36 Mahatma Gandhi, in Harijan, March 10, 1946, quote in Mark Juergensmeyer, Fighting with Gandhi (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 43. ������37 Ibid., 178-79. ������38 Glen Stassen, Editor, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press,1998. ������39 See Daniel C. Maguire, A Moral Creed for All Christians (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 17.
Boston Globe, September 15, 2008
U.S. Messianic Fundamentalism
By James Carroll
SEVEN YEARS ago last Thursday came the attack, but the American mistake came
three days later. That was when President Bush, standing in the soaring space of
the National Cathedral and invoking God, declared his purpose: “to answer these
attacks and rid the world of evil.”
When the global war on terrorism was conceived in expressly religious terms, with
a Christian God declared to be not only an ally but a sponsor, the administration
was carrying out an essential part of the plan of Osama bin Laden. Bush is criticized
for many things, but his most grievous failure lies in having fallen into bin Laden’s
Beginning on Sept. 14, 2001, US foreign policy was yoked to a certain brand of
messianic fundamentalism. Although discussed openly in eschatologically-minded
religious institutions, the link between state power and radical Christian fervor
remained blurred both in Bush’s mind and in political discussion, yet it was defining.
Key administration figures signed on for the good-versus-evil crusade, the enemy
was defined in explicitly religious terms – “Islamofascism” – and end-of-days
religion began showing up as a mode of building unit cohesion in the US military.
God was assigned a place in the chain-of-command, and prayer, mainly in the
name of Jesus, became a function of government.
Bin Laden wanted to be taken as the world-defender of Muslims; he wanted a war
with the Great Satan as a purification of the House of Islam; he wanted the clash of
civilizations. It worked, but only because a particular religious vision animated
American responses. Here are that vision’s main characteristics:
Manichaean, with primitive notions of an absolute divide between good and evil –
the saved on one side, the damned on the other.
Apocalyptic, convinced that redemption comes through violence.
Millennial, taking prospects of bloodshed and mayhem as God-predicted tribulations
from which the born-again will be rescued.
Otherworldly, so ready to denigrate life on earth as to risk its destruction, whether
quickly through war or slowly through pollution.
Israel-obsessed, with the Jewish state openly seen as instrumental in God’s plan for
the coming Last Judgment (while downplaying expectations of universal Jewish
As the Bush crusade wore on, ever more clearly a failure, the American public
became uneasy with its religious overtones. There was less talk of defeating evil,
and of God as a US ally. Yet because questions of faith are politically loaded, and
because public figures, too, have a right to freedom of conscience, there was,
equally, little or no public reckoning with the way such Bush-sponsored state-
religiosity had empowered bin Laden around the Muslim world, recruiting his legions
to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But by the time of this year’s presidential campaign, Christian fervor as a mode of
foreign policy was so discredited that, even among Republicans, the otherwise
compelling candidacy of Mike Huckabee went nowhere. John McCain gives
necessary lip-service to piety, but is not driven by it.
This is the context within which arise grave, and as yet unanswered questions
about Sarah Palin. It seems clear that her nomination as the Republican vice-
presidential candidate has generated such enthusiasm in large part because of her
ties to politicized evangelicalism. Normally, the content of her beliefs would be no
more a subject of proper political inquiry than, say, John Kennedy’s Catholicism
was. But when conservative Christian leaders openly transformed their faith-based
networks into a partisan political movement, with drastic consequences at home
and abroad, the political-religious convictions of an evangelical candidate must be
In interviews, Palin has already expressed a readiness to go to war with Russia, and
a refusal, as she put it, to “second guess” Israel. What lies behind these positions?
Does she regard war as a possible mode of redemption? Does she believe God has
granted Israel title to the whole land between the Jordan River and the
Mediterranean? Is it proper for US military commanders to impose religious tests on
their troops? Does she see the United States as possessing transcendent virtue,
other nations as more prone to evil?
Once, such questions would have seemed crackpot. Today, their answers could tell us if our nation is about to replay its gravest mistake.
Boston Globe, November 12, 2007
Primitive impulses of war
By James Carroll
THE INTERPLAY of religion and violence is considered by some a mark only of
primitive culture. When the jihadist cries “God is Great” before detonating his
explosive vest, or when, conversely, the Crusades are invoked to justify assault on
radical Islam, secular critics can indulge a satisfying sense of superiority over
believers, clinging to holy war.
In the United States, the once common religious references of the Bush
administration – the war on terrorism defined in categories of good and evil, for
example – seem discredited, if only by failures of policy. War-justifying appeals to
the rhetoric of faith are suddenly out of fashion, but that does not mean that a
subliminal link between religion and violence no longer exists. The “secular” is not
all that secular.
In archaic religion, violence and the sacred were explicitly joined. That fact is
significant because archaic religion is itself the source of culture, which is why
violence – acknowledged to be irrational, yet perceived as virtuous – remains a
mark of the human condition.
Take one example. The boundary between animals and humans is drawn by what
the anthropologist René Girard calls the “victimary process,” the deliberate
selection of an innocent outsider to undergo elimination for the sake of the
community. The “scapegoat mechanism” in Girard’s phrase, by which generalized
antipathy toward a chosen victim is acted out, serves to quench an otherwise
insatiable animal appetite for violence.
This form of violence, that is, amounts to a control on violence. “Redemption” is the
social calm that follows on the elimination of violent urges when they are
“appeased” through ritualized killing. A social need is satisfied. Sacrificial violence
(whether directed at an Aztec virgin, or the goat of Leviticus or Jesus) serves the
cause of peace. This process becomes “religious” when the social need is attributed
to a deity, to whom the victim is “offered.”
Despite the secular assumption that such impulses belong to a primitive past, they
are universally at work whenever humans go to war. This comes clear with a closer
look at the event commemorated in Europe and America this week – World War I.
The greatest mystery of that conflict was how the high commands of both sides
could have so long persisted in the evident futility of infantry assaults across No
Man’s Land against defensive lines that were, finally, never breached by either side.
Technology (the machine gun) totally favored defense, but commanders never
yielded their absolute preference for offense because the waste of life was, to them,
That millions of soldiers died for no discernible purpose can be explained only by
the irrational belief in the salvific power of sacrifice as such. The Tommies, Micks,
Jocks, Doughboys, Frogs, and Jerries who went endlessly “over the top” only to be
mowed down were, in effect, a legion of scapegoats.
The nations that glorified them were in the grip of a displaced faith in the power of
sanctioned death, operating in a realm apart from any conceivable war aim. The
trenches became Europe’s altar. A brutal god was being appeased. Otherwise,
parents would never have sent their innocent sons off to that carnage. Their
innocence was the point.
The scapegoat mechanism shifted in World War II from soldiers to civilians, whose
innocence was even sharper. The masterpiece form of this dynamic was, of course,
the Nazi genocide of Jews.
That crime was unique, but the mass bombing of civilian population centers was,
under all the “strategic” justifications, also an exercise in the irrational belief that
bloody sacrifice for its own sake could somehow be redemptive. There is no other
way to account for the all-out spasm of killing from the air that marked the last six
months of the Allied war effort, especially in Japan.
The primitive impulses of our ancestors live on in us. War always operates at two
levels – one apparent and rational, the other hidden and irrational. At a certain
point, the first gives way to the second, which is why the violence of war inevitably
continues past points of tactical and strategic meaning.
Sacrifice for its own sake takes on mystical significance that, in a secular age, can
no longer be described – or defended. But it can be discerned, for example, in the
anguished hope that troops will not have died in vain if others follow them. Once
these subliminal currents are openly acknowledged, they can finally be left behind.
In America lately, God is banished as an open sponsor of the war, but if God does
not will this slaughter of innocents, who does?
James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe.