Friday, May 22, 2015

Vatican Diplomacy 201

Whether my piece "Vatican Diplomacy 101" really needs setting forth is certainly debatable. It was already in the hopper when I read an article by George Weigel, entitled "What Catholics Forget About World Affairs", from the EPPC. The author points to the reasonableness of the frustration in many non-Catholic circles confronted with the general Catholic approach to world politics. I'll quote from Weigel's opening paragraph:

"For quite some time now, commentary on world politics by leading Catholic officials, here and at the Vatican, has been marked by a certain softness, occasionally bordering on the surreal, that is a continual amazement to my non-Catholic friends and colleagues in the more Realist sectors of the foreign-policy community. Their puzzlement is both warranted (in that this muddled commentary, which seems to confuse gestures and protestations of good will with real change on-the-ground in world affairs, is at odds with an older Catholic tradition of hard-headedness about political realities) and unwarranted (in that the current patterns of commentary go back at least 50 years, such that no one should be surprised by them any more)."

It would appear that the "older Catholic tradition of hard-headedness about political realities" has a noble bloodline going back to St. Augustine. What by contrast Weigel characterizes as contemporary Catholicism's "therapeutic approach" would seem to have taken on its "magisterial" attributes at the Council as a result of a paragraph in Gaudium et Spes. I think the author is being kind, in that basically this therapeutic approach has little about it which is systematic and much about it attributable to an unwillingness to cope either with war as it has been waged now for over a hundred years or with the notion of "bad guys", as opposed to us "good guys" somehow obliged to give anybody a "pass" if the lies seem convincing or are boldfaced enough. I am going to leave aside, for the sake of economy, the very important political problems George mentions and concentrate on the topic of war: read his article for more insights. 

If I might put my own spin on the thing, it would seem as though the classic and hard-headed has been jettisoned in favor of the weak-kneed, which is to say simply for lack of stomach to face the reality of all-out war or anything which even comes close, as if our ancestors were unconscious, calloused or otherwise oblivious to the suffering and loss of life which wars and other types of military campaign or aggression have inflicted upon humanity since the dawn of time.

I will not challenge George's analysis, but will offer one of my own, based in part on my reading during this year's WWI centennial anniversary. It wasn't that people, even statesmen, allowed themselves some "saber rattling" back when because it seemed harmless by comparison with "Kalashnikov rattling" or that the bomb on Hiroshima actually snapped something in the human psyche, bringing us not only to "this far and no further" but to a general collapse before the all of a sudden very real notion of all out war. No, I would say rather the very minimum and contend that perhaps simply nothing has changed and despite the naive optimism of the spin some people put on Gaudium et Spes, the apparent lack of stomach or hard-headedness does not distinguish itself from that which tumbled our world head over heels into the two big wars. Perhaps the biggest taboo broken since WWII regards our increasing willingness to embrace the symptoms of post-traumatic syndrome which have left broken so many veterans of big and less big conflicts around the globe. Part of the controversy around that American sniper movie would be just that: can you return from such duty without being profoundly scarred at the core of your being?

The Germans have an expression, "salonfähig", which I would like to apply to the topic of war and those who act belligerently. The word certainly fits for ways of speaking, but can be applied to certain types of behavior and to persons as well. It means very simply that if someone or something is not "salonfähig", it or they have no place in polite company or no admittance to the "front room" as grandma called it. I don't think she knew the word salon. By making outlaws or their ideas "salonfähig" we are not so much attempting to win them over by our polite ways as to deny the possibility they could do us harm. Even in the most egregious of cases, as with this Caliphate or ISIS business, we close our eyes to their crimes and try to make them comfortable in the "front room".

Some might accuse me of flippancy or of being cavalier on the topic, but if you ask yourself what happened to yesterday's nuclear deterrent, you might be more convinced that rationality and hard-headedness are effectively yoked to one another. Once burnt, twice shy, you might quote the old axiom, but with the millions who died in 19th Century Crimea, Europe turned around and fell upon itself in two more great conflagrations before mid 20th Century with very little or no scruple. Why should another war be unthinkable as a means of settling scores or attaining ends imperial or colonial? 

It seems to me that not much remains before  those like Hitler and Stalin who vaunt of war and rumors of war might again become "salonfähig". I guess that is what Weigel means about the therapeutic approach, surreal as it is, taking the ascendancy. It prepares the way for aggression, excuses aggression in one fashion or another and leaves space for violent conquest. Thus did Dietrich von Hildebrand (pre-WWII) find it to be as he sought to counter the influence of national socialism in the soft-headed church circles of his own day, both in Germany and in Austria. His clarion call was to try and convince that the danger was all too real and that the philosophical consequences of national socialism were not socially or otherwise redeemable, but rather diabolical. Von Hildebrand wanted Hitler, his henchman and sympathizers barred from the "front room", but much of the world around him didn't seem to grasp the concept.

What is missing too often in the tragic comedy is the debate by which we call those down a notch who would admit most any criminal to their "front room", as if the peril to our own home did not count or our children did not merit defense:"salonfähig"? Not in the least. No question, the argument is certainly about restoring the bloodline of St. Augustine within the Church; we need clarity, even if you insist on defining that as hard-headedness. Time and again, Pope Pius XI took on a world which had gone soft, pointing especially to the dangers of national socialism. He was on many accounts very much alone in taking his stand against movements and their promoters who despised the dignity of the human person, giving no place to God in Jesus Christ for the sake of the life of the world. Before his time and with ever greater frequency perhaps since his day, there have been hierarchs at various levels and in various parts of the world ready to render outlaws and criminals "salonfähig". Would that it were not so!

I was pleased by a little news item I picked up yesterday about our own conflict here in Ukraine. Too many would not honestly look at Russian aggression and the profound disrespect President Putin shows toward the people of this land. Not enough other people are ready to bar his way to the "front room" of the community of nations. St. Augustine's just war theory gets a bad rap principally because too few in our world are ready to stand on principle.

From and AP wire service bulletin: 

Merkel: No G8 with Russia 
until common values met

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a declaration about the European Union and an Eastern Partnership with former Soviet Republics at the German parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, May 21, 2015: 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that there would not be any Group of 8 meetings with Russia as long as it fails to comply with basic common values of democracy and states based on rules of law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The developments in Ukraine are the reason that we will meet in Elmau as Group of 7 and not a Group of 8. Russia, just like last year in Brussels, will not be present." 

Merkel said Russia was failing to meet any of the standards agreed by G7 countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "As is the goal for the Eastern Partnership, we see the G7 as a community of values. And that means working together for freedom, democracy, and for the rule of law. That means respecting the laws of nations and the territorial integrity of nations."

Merkel added that unless Moscow reversed course, the G8 format which Russia was expelled from would never return.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "So long as Russia does not comply with basic common values, a return to the G8 format is not imaginable for us."

Earlier this month Merkel said that Russia's "criminal' invasion and annexation of Crimea could not be ignored.

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