Review of Christians as Political Animals, by Marc Guerra
March 21, 2012
OK, first things first. Apparently, in reviewing work published by ISI it is customary and perhaps obligatory to compliment the author. One of my previous reviews was criticized as “mean spirited” and it was not so intended. But, apparently, because I did not say that Daniel J. Mahoney had written an immensely thoughtful and provocative book, as he always does, my review was “mean spirited.” Of course, I could be wrong here and the comment might reflect little more than an ego that resembles that of teenage girl. Nonetheless, let me praise Guerra at the outset for writing an immensely thoughtful book, even a provocative book, a book that all serious people ought to have in their libraries. And just so there is no confusion, I do now have it in and intend to keep it in my library.
I do not intend to write, because I cannot, a lengthy review. Rather, I just want to raise a couple of questions that occurred to me as I read and thought over Guerra’s argument.
First, for Guerra, there is a crisis in modernity. That is a given, which I accept. And, apparently for Guerra, at least a part of this crisis has been caused by the displacement of Catholic theology and the Catholic faith by the forces of relativism and nihilism that infuse, according to Guerra, the modern world. Also, it seems that a return to classical political philosophy would not be a sufficient cure or palliative to the crisis. It is necessary to reinvigorate Catholicism, both it theology and its practice. OK. Let me accept this argument. Leaving the theology aside, let us say that Catholicism is reinvigorated. Let us say that many more Ave Maria universities are established, contraceptive devices are made illegal [as they were in some places prior to Griswold v. Connecticut], gays and lesbians go back into the closets, pre-marital sex is considered immoral and shameful as is co-habitation, people do not talk about abusive priests or nuns, abortions are made illegal again, and Catholics go to church again and young men look forward to becoming priests.
OK. All done. What happens? Well, what happened before? I have just described the world I grew up in, basically, as a youngin’ in the 50s and 60s. And that world disappeared! Why did it disappear and why does Guerra think that if were recreated it would not disappear? Did it disappear because Heidegger wrote and published Being and Time? Did it disappear because more people read Nietzsche? Or did it disappear because it did not “speak to” people any longer? Or did it disappear because, like all human institutions, it got old and decrepit?
I suspect that the hand that wrote had moved on and having written and moved on, all efforts to erase the writing are vain. There is a aphorism about this and perhaps this provides an explanation for our current situation. In any case, Guerra provides no reason to think that were he to get all he wants, that the result would not be the same as it was previously.
Second, Guerra spends time perusing the works of Leo Strauss, who wrestled with the theological-political problem but as a Jew or apparently as a Jew. It is not clear to me from reading Guerra what we are supposed to make of Strauss. That is, are we to think of Strauss as an ally of the proposed Catholic reinvigoration or as an opponent? As I say, it is not clear to me what Guerra thinks. And believe me, I could have missed this. But, assuming I did not, what does seem pretty clear to me is that Strauss did not throw his lot in with those who would reinvigorate Catholicism or with anyone who would reinvigorate religion.
Strauss argued that there was an indissoluble tension between philosophy as a way of living and religion as a way of living, the former requiring an unashamed consideration of all questions and the latter requiring an adherence, even a humble adherence to a will and/or law considered divine. But Strauss himself spent almost no time later in his life dealing with religion or theology, except of course in the context of classical political philosophy. This could lead someone to think that Strauss was willing to be “nice” to religion and religious types because he thought they would serve as allies in his quest to save philosophy. That is, to put it crudely, Strauss was willing to use religion as an ally in same way that some politicians have used religion and the religious as allies in their pursuit of power and glory.
Anyway, it would be good to have what Guerra thinks about Strauss expressed more clearly than it is in his immensely thoughtful and provocative book. But then perhaps Guerra would use philosophy in the same way as I have argued Strauss used religion, as an ally in an attempt to reinvigorate Catholicism.