Review: Against the Grain–Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace

5 Star, Philosophy, Religion & Politics of Religion, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution
Against the Grain
Amazon Page

5 for Christian wisdom, Chapters on Iraq Questionable, May 18, 2008

George Weigel

This was my first exposure to this author, who has 14 other books to his credit and was for seven years president of the ethics and public policy center. The essays that comprise the book were written over the course of 15 years, generally as lectures at Catholic centers of learning excellence. Each has a current introduction and explanation of provenance.

Highlights of this extraordinary work:

Six big ideas:
01 Religion and its moral views are a huge part of the public dialog
02 Abortion, euthanasia, and stem-cell research destructive of embryos violate first principles.
03 Free economy empowers the poor
04 Just war tradition balances freedom, justice, & security
05 John Paul II/Second Vatican was about challenging modernity to rediscover the value of truth and love
06 Catholic Church has a “form” from Christ

The author calls on reviewers to pay attention to his introduction to the book, which is indeed a very fine summary (but no substitute for a full reading). He outlines why he titled the book “Against the Grain:”
01 Political science is not just about statistics
02 Democracy is not just procedural
03 Challenges functional pacifism
04 Challenges the amorality of RealPolitic (AMEN!)
05 Asserts the inherent Christianity of America and the constant propositions (see The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country and also The Faiths of the Founding Fathers
06 Disintegration of mainline Protestantism *combined with* the abdication of universities from teaching values opened door for Catholic reflection but the door was slammed shut by the 1960's

I have a note at this point that the book is an inspiring example of political theology, and am surprised at its stark conservatism.

The author develops a theme throughout the book, to wit that there are three major spheres: the political, the economic, and the cultural, and that it is the Church–the Catholic Church alone among all religions in having diplomatic representation across 172 nations, that is a major player in the cultural arena while having a helpful influence on the other two spheres.

At this point I am furious to discover a really crummy index, mostly names. This work is too important to allow a lazy publisher to dismiss a proper indexing job, and I recommend the author demand a proper index for the paperback edition.

Unlike A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World this book is “not for Catholics only,” and I also find it a great deal more challenging, more substantive, more reflective.

The principles of Catholic social doctrine (the author steadfastly refuses to acknowledge “liberation theology” as having standing:
01 Personalism (human rights)
02 Common good (communitarianism)
03 Subsidiarity (civil society as milieu)
04 Solidarity (civic friendship–relationships–added by John Paul II. See also Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

He cites John Paul II as saying that work is “becoming” not drudgery, and those who revere Peter Drucker will remember that he said precisely the same thing.

The author discusses how the Church “proposes”
01 Free *and* virtuous society (see my review of Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
02 Combination of democratic political community, free economy, *and* public moral culture
03 Democracy and economy are not machines that can run on their own. See the many books I have reviewed on the complete break-down of the government, predatory capitalism, and the mass media that has betrayed the public trust.
04 Freedom must be tethered to moral truths
05 Voluntary associations are vital (and citing others, freedom must characterize both a choice of faith and a choice of society)
06 Wealth is ideas, not just resources. See The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom and The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks).
07 Poverty in the 21st Century is about being excluded from the network that can create infinite wealth in every clime and place. AMEN!

I have another six pages of notes but am certain to run into the 100 word limit. A tiny taste of what else this author offers all of us:

Three competing political theologies today: Pragmatic Utilitarianism (Europe), Political Islamism (Caliphate), and Catholic Social Doctrine. Not sure where that leaves those discussed in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America).

Quote: “The social doctrine of the Church is rarely preached and poorly catechized.” Quoting John Paul II, “Bishops don't know the social doctrine of the Church.” (pages 23 and 24).

Five specific issues
01 Need to appreciate Catholic international relations concepts and doctrine
02 Inter-religious dialog and global “social question” must be addressed
03 Emerging global economy & the environment must be addressed
04 Life issues *are* social doctrine
05 Priority of culture and deepening of civil society matters

There is a strong section, without too many damning details, about how the Church has erred in the past and today in forming inappropriate alliances with secular authorities (so has the US Government, see Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025)

Church's first task is to *be* the Church, not be too accommodating of political and economic norms de jure, and fully represent the Catholic Church in the ideal. This book is a superb manifestation of that ideal.

The author suggests that the Church makes three contributions in support of democracy, its natural ally:
01 Makes room for democracy by rendering unto Caesar
02 Makes democrats (citizens)
03 Enables “giving an account”

The author articulates strong feelings of betrayal in how three Supreme Court Justices in particular have sought to elevate the individual's self-determination above communal moral precepts, and he is especially damning of the Clinton Administration for seeking to make abortion-on-demand a human right worldwide.

I must close without listing the elements of the Catholic theory of international relations, or the five realities facing the Church. Buy the book (or some other reviewer, take those two chapters).

On Iraq, he is way out of his league on intelligence and policy matters. I did not allow that to detract from my appreciation of the book over-all, for his is a great mind, broadly read, and most challenging.

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