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The Limits of Father Neuhaus’s Vision

I have been waiting to see what former First Things editor Damon Linker had to say about the new biography of Richard John Neuhaus [1]. Damon — who is a friend — famously fell out with Neuhaus, and wrote a scathing book denouncing Neuhaus and his closest collaborators (Weigel, Novak) as “theocons” who sought to take over America. The attack made Damon permanent enemies within Neuhaus’s circles, in part because it seemed to them a kind of intellectual patricide. At the time, I thought Damon’s argument was extremely overdone, not because I was a pro-Neuhaus partisan (though I was a fellow traveler), but because it seemed to me to vastly exaggerate the power the theocons had.

It would be interesting to re-read Damon’s book now, almost a decade later, and see how it holds up. Rather than Neuhaus’s religion having corrupted American politics, it seems that exactly the opposite happened: American politics tainted Neuhaus’s religious vision. Damon begins his favorable review of the Neuhaus biography [2] with an anecdote that symbolizes much:

I knocked on Richard John Neuhaus’ office door in late 2002 to tell him I wanted to write an essay for the next issue of First Things making a conservative case against invading Iraq. Neuhaus was the editor-in-chief of the conservative magazine, and I was his associate editor. I ran the book review section at the back of the book, helped editor James Nuechterlein line-edit the journal, and sometimes wrote essays and columns for its pages.

Neuhaus responded to my proposal in a tone of grave seriousness. “Oh Damon, that’s really not a good idea. You don’t want to get a reputation for being unreliable.”

Damon told me that story years ago, and the story tracks with a similar tale a First Things insider passed along some time back regarding Neuhaus, the magazine, and the war (which, cards on the table, I supported, in part because I agreed with the magazine’s stance; I have since come to believe that the Pope was right, and Neuhaus, Weigel, and all of us American theocons who supported the war, were wrong). The picture is one in which being seen as loyal to the team was more important than being right.

I don’t believe that Neuhaus was cynical; to the contrary, I think he was a true believer. And yet, when I read that Linker anecdote, I recall one of several angry telephone conversations Neuhaus and I had in the spring of 2002, when I was writing at National Review, and strongly — sometimes, I must admit, with an intemperance that I now find regrettable — criticizing the Roman Catholic bishops for their cowardice and cover-ups in the child sex abuse scandal. In one of those phone calls, Neuhaus excoriated me for letting down the side. He told me that if I persisted in criticizing the bishops, I was giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the Church, who would use politics to restrict the Church’s hard-won freedom to act.

I think he had a point. But it was telling that he was more interested in protecting the Church’s power and reputation in the public square than in exposing and correcting a great evil within the institutional church. In light of that cause, I was, well, unreliable. That general instinct, I believe, led Fr. Neuhaus — an indisputably great man — to make some key errors of intellectual judgment. He put his hope in the wisdom and rightness of the Bush administration, and in the wisdom and rightness of his team within the Church — the latter of which led to what I consider to be at best a calamitous embarrassment: his stalwart defense of the evil Fr. Marcial Maciel, and his strong attack on Maciel’s accusers, who, in the end, turned out to have been right.

Damon, who knew Neuhaus (I did not), agrees that Neuhaus was not a cynic about his alliance with the neocons:

change_me

But Neuhaus’ reaction to my proposal was not just a function of inside-the-beltway ambitions. It was also personal, an outgrowth of some of his deepest and longest-lasting intellectual convictions. Back in the late 1960s, when he was a self-described left-wing revolutionary [3], Neuhaus had suggested that the North Vietnamese were “God’s instruments for bringing the American empire to its knees.” He had migrated to a polar-opposite ideological position long before the time of the Iraq War, but he remained certain that America’s actions in the world were somehow central to God’s plans.

Damon goes in to praise Randy Boyagoda’s Neuhaus biography, even though it criticizes him (Damon) pretty strongly. He says that reading it made him regret that his and Neuhaus’s relationship ended as acrimoniously as it did:

I had no business working at First Things. I was never as religious as Neuhaus, and I never shared his views about the essential role of religion in American history and public life. Those are important differences. But the most intractable one — the one that eventually turned me from a dissenting friend into a publicly declared enemy — was our deeply antithetical views of the proper relationship of politics to the life of the mind.

I have a genuine respect for politics, recognize its importance and dignity, and think that it reveals certain aspects of human nature more vividly than any other activity or pursuit. But I also believe very strongly that its loyalties and commitments, its partisanship and partiality, stand in permanent, irresolvable tension, even fundamental contradiction, with the pursuit of truth, whether through reason or revelation. When philosophical, theological, or historical ideas are blended with political passions and convictions, the result is very often a species of propaganda.

Reliability may well be a political virtue. It’s also a pretty serious intellectual vice.

Boy, is that ever true — and it’s a vice that all of us are tempted to indulge in, no matter what our political and religious convictions. Favoring solidarity to the cause and its advocates over truth-telling — especially telling the truth to our friends and allies — is a recipe for disaster.

You really need to read Damon’s essay [2] to see what he thinks of as Neuhaus’s most valuable legacy as a thinker: not his efforts as a politically engaged theologian, but his pensées as a suffering Christian. I read the Neuhaus book Damon praises, and agree with him that it is beautiful and profound. I thought about Neuhaus’s book about his own cancer many times when my sister struggled with it.

There is an enormous, Neuhaus-sized hole among the theocons today. I came to disagree with much of what he stood for, but I cherished the man as a thinker and a writer, and deeply miss his voice. We are in a post-Neuhaus age with regard to how conservative Christian thinkers consider the place of religious believers in the public square. The symposium First Things convened last autumn at its offices served as an unofficial recognition of that fact (or so it seemed to me). Read the reflections of Michael Hanby [4], George Weigel [5], and Your Working Boy [6], offered at that meeting.

I hope that one valuable lesson we theocons have learned from that era is that whatever role orthodox Christianity has to play in American public life, acting as chaplains to the Republican Party must be completely off the table.

 

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44 Comments To "The Limits of Father Neuhaus’s Vision"

#1 Comment By hans On March 13, 2015 @ 10:59 am

It’s interesting that Neuhaus went form a “left wing revolutionary” critical of the American Empire to a theocon intent on creating a theocracy. His only consistent interest was to create some sort of authoritarian religious order in the world. People like that live their lives inside their own minds, without reference to the real world. In religion they are more concerned about doctrine than community, and in politics more ideological than practical. It reminds me never to trust the judgment of extremists.

[NFR: He was not interested in creating a theocracy. — RD]

#2 Comment By GgL On March 13, 2015 @ 11:00 am

“Back in the late 1960s, when he was a self-described left-wing revolutionary, Neuhaus had suggested that the North Vietnamese were “God’s instruments for bringing the American empire to its knees.” He had migrated to a polar-opposite ideological position long before the time of the Iraq War, but he remained certain that America’s actions in the world were somehow central to God’s plans.”

I always wonder how people who move from one extremist and totally wrong position on important topics to the opposite position that is just as extreme and equally wrong can be trusted with their judgment on anything else.

#3 Comment By Jim C On March 13, 2015 @ 11:15 am

Father Neuhaus was sometimes wrong, as all men in public life are, but he was indisputably, as Rod says, indisputably a great man. Father Neuhaus was kind to Damon Linker and advanced his career. In return, Linker wrote a book attacking Neuhaus and his colleagues as “theocons” and describing — I quote from the introduction — “the threat that the theocons pose to the country.” For his efforts, Linker was well paid by a liberal publisher.

I won’t be reading Linker’s essay, but I hope he enjoyed his money, and I’m confident that, against any charge of “reliability,” he’s entitled to a full exoneration.

#4 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 13, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

The only thing I find interesting about Neuhaus vision, other than how silly it was to a secularist, not even dangerous, just silly, was the absolute ease and speed with which it was crushed.

If you get away from the sideshow of the Iraq War. which actually was a pretty good idea but they totally botched the occupation, his ideas came across as the lunatic ravings of a madman. They really did sound insane and it is no surprise that they were ultimately driven from the public square with a healthy application of tar and feathers.

He never really had a chance of seeing his vision come to pass, for which I am very grateful. His world is not one a free man would want to live in.

#5 Comment By Liam On March 13, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

“That general instinct, I believe, led Fr. Neuhaus — an indisputably great man — to make some key errors of intellectual judgment.”

It’s not just an error of intellectual judgment. It was also, and more importanly, an error of spiritual judgment. Wisdom and prudence are not only virtues of the intellect, but of the soul.

This is why a strongly ideological stance is dangerous not merely to the intellect, but to the larger being, the soul. Intellectually oriented people like to imagine it can be corralled to the intellect, but that’s an illusion.

#6 Comment By Shawn On March 13, 2015 @ 12:42 pm

While I understood but strongly disagreed with those who supported the Iraq war for political reasons, I was genuinely horrified by over support from Catholic intellectuals and American Bishops. The war violated almost all of the Just War criteria. It’s as close as I’ve come to leaving the Church, especially since the abuse scandal was erupting at the same time.

I’ll believe that the hierarchy is driven, on social issues, by principle rather than political expediency and tribalism when it starts to take the Just War teaching seriously.

[NFR: Which American bishops supported the war? — RD]

#7 Comment By Geddy Lee On March 13, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

Rod, you really ought to read RJN’s last book, “American Babylon.” The title will give you a sense of its mood.

#8 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On March 13, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

Reliability may well be a political virtue. It’s also a pretty serious intellectual vice.

-Damon Linker

For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods . . . . It helps the young . .. to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs and supplementing the activities that are failing from weakness; those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions-‘two going together’-for with friends men are more able both to think and to act.

-Aristotle

#9 Comment By David On March 13, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

Hyper-partisanship is not only a “pretty serious intellectual vice,” it is a spiritual failure as well. The desire for power and influence in this world is a temptation, and can lead any of us astray. Yield and we not only lose the truth, but also risk love.

#10 Comment By B.E. Ward On March 13, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

On the sidewalk yesterday I was passed by a middle-aged couple, presumably out for some exercise. As they approached and passed, I heard the man: *grumble grumble* “years of Republican propaganda” *grumble grumble*..

I wanted to ask him, “Do you not think the Democrats engage in ‘propaganda’?” And it just made me realized how blinded we can become by the ‘rightness’ of our political ideology. The irony here is that neither those deeply involved in the Republican nor the Democratic political machines care one whit about me or my problems (or that guy and his problems). They care about power. And we become pawns.

Our strength is not in our political ideology. It’s in a God who deigned to become man, was crucified, and destroyed death. We are made strong in Him, not in elephants or asses.

#11 Comment By Aaron Gross On March 13, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

Alan Jacobs has a typically interesting and charitable [7].

#12 Comment By JonF On March 13, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

The conversion of First Things into a rah-rah rag for the Bush Administration, insofar as it touched on contemporary politics, is a big reason I gave up on the magazine despite its once excellent pieces on matters of history, culture and philosophy/theology. The only antiwar piece they published was one by a thorough pacifist, who even opposed going after Al Qaida in Afghanistan. The message being: you can oppose this war from rigid pacifist grounds, but not from Just War grounds, which was howlingly absurd given that John Paul II had let it leak that he considered the Iraq War failed the Just War test.
Then there was a hack piece against global warming, parroting the threadbare cliches of the denialists and adding nothing remotely new and nothing germane to the magazine’s stated theme (religion in the public square), although the intersection of religion and environmental issues is a fertile and underplowed field. This, I think, in response the fact that younger evangelicals were starting to sneak off the Republican plantation on the issue.

Yet another piece of evidence showing that the Bush administration was afflicted with an anti-Midas touch: whatever it came in contact with it turned to caca-doo.

#13 Comment By Barbara On March 13, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

I believe tribalism is making this country almost ungovernable. The phrase “you are entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts” has become meaningless. One of the reasons I read the American Conservative website is that the majority of the writers strive for truth over tribal “reliability.”

#14 Comment By Edward Dougherty On March 13, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

Hi Mr. Dreher,

First email from a long time reader. May I please ask us (and I only ask out of curiosity) who the other folks are in the picture with Father Neuhaus?

Thanks, Mr. Dreher, and keep up the good work! You and I would disagree on a lot of things but I do not go easily through my day without reading your blog.

[NFR: Thanks for your kind words, and for reading. I don’t know who that is in the photo. I didn’t choose it to illustrate the piece. Maybe one of this blog’s readers can identify them. — RD]

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 13, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

Covering for the team by denying a genuine evil is always a bad idea. One reason I soured on the formalities of Leninist organization is that it crops up in the same way, and for the same reason, as it did in the Roman Catholic church. The institution is so important that its enemies must not be allowed to use a real evil as a tool to bring the institution down.

Of course this is how Democrats and Republicans are too, on a slightly more modest scale — politics is all about what dirt you can dig up on your enemies, rather than making the case that you could govern better, offer a more beneficial program, and will deliver a better life for a larger number.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I believe a candidate who candidly said, this is what I stand for, never mind the attack ads, would have a strong appeal, no matter what their party or even ideology.

Unlike Fr. Neuhaus, I did not swing from revolutionary left to neocon. I still favor the interests of labor over the interests of capital, while recognizing that some form of capital formation is necessary. As Chris Hani said, when invited to speak at the luncheon of the South African Chamber of Commerce (probably a world-wide first for a Communist Party general secretary), there needs to be redistribution, but it cannot be the kind where you butcher the cow.

#16 Comment By Richard On March 13, 2015 @ 4:11 pm

Thank you for is post of Linker’s reflections, Rod. It may be that as time brings perspective, the collapse of the Iraq campaign may prove to be an inflection point for many – which might have included Fr. Neuhaus, were he still around today.

I’m among those who got sucked in to the belief that our security compelled action and the willingness to break precedent and to project American power on offense, and not just in response to an attack. I also felt a voice stirring within me that the Bush Administration’s Iraq bet was an “all in” moment that could well backfire. I guess the start of my epiphany was reading the frequent columns on National Review’s site by Michael Ledeen (then with AEI, now with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies), columns calling out for extending the growing South Asian adventure to Iran, that always ended “Faster, please”. This, as the over-extension of our military and our budget were becoming alarmingly apparent, and as the occupations of Iraq and, later, Afghanistan, were turning into hubris-driven failures.

But there was a time when any dissent among the conservatively-inclined from a crusade to “fix” South Asia was deemed unpatriotic and blind, and Fr. Neuhaus and I were among those who fell right into line with those arguments.

I think that another vector influencing Fr. Neuhaus and many others who gather around the First Things campfires was a sincere belief that the path to achieving justice for the unborn required that the Church become a political actor. That belief was sown with its own temptations. Among its outcomes, I think, may have become the belief that a coalition – not of faith, but of political convenience – was necessary to pursue between people of faith and what became the neoconservative wing of the Right to achieve goals for a more moral society. Instead of speaking truth to power, some may have pursued power out of the belief that it would provide a platform from which to speak truth. Usually when that happens, the Church’s ability to witness is gravely compromised.

I’m in the midst of navigating a personal retreat from politics – at least (but purposefully) to the extent that politics takes shape as a prism from which to order reality. If one professes to be a Christian, one must start with faith and the principles of the Gospel as the means to order reality. That’s not to say that circles can’t be squared (or that thumbs can’t be put on scales), but if one takes one’s faith seriously, one must at least attempt the struggle.

At this point, with the conservative movement rapidly morphing into an ideology of little more nuance than Bolshevism (see, for example, the comments to Jason Lee Steorts’ reflections on Ferguson in the current National Review), the trajectory of any kind of pact with neoconservatism and its policy dictates should be abundantly clear.

I think where Neuhaus ended up is more a matter of tragedy than apostasy, but that’s probably a barstool conversation. What seems clear to me is that Pope John Paul II (also flawed) had the better argument when too many well meaning believers lined up to salute George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”.

Richard

#17 Comment By Connie On March 13, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

You would think that he would have seriously reflected on the errors apparent in this thinking:

Neuhaus had suggested that the North Vietnamese were “God’s instruments for bringing the American empire to its knees.”

and not made the same mistake again, regarding American exceptionalism and the need to meddle in other countries with God’s blessing.

#18 Comment By Devinicus On March 13, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

I read both Rod’s commentary and Linker’s original piece, and have to say that Rod’s was of far greater worth. The big question surrounding Fr. Neuhaus was, of course, ‘what is the proper relationship between religion and politics?’, or, as Rod puts it, “the place of religious believers in the public square.” Linker has not one thing to say on that subject in his article on Neuhaus — unless one extrapolates from Linker’s hints here and there and concludes that his answer is “nothing at all”. Some reflections on Linker’s books supports such a conclusion.

Rod, at least, understands that the question is the central question in our society today from any self-proclaimed “conservative” point of view, and one that can be answered “nothing at all” as well as the question of the relationship between politics and science or politics and media can be “nothing at all”. While Neuhaus may have provided the wrong answer, he at least offered one.

#19 Comment By Elmwood On March 13, 2015 @ 5:38 pm

the pursuit of earthly power over humility will always be a problem among the clergy, orthodox and catholic alike. think about bishop ireland and cardinal gibbons who were very politically active in the americanist church and put their ambitions above thier call to obiedience and humility as servants.

there is a lot of wisdom in selecting bishops from the monastics. neuhaus was a darling of ewtn or the GOP-catholic channel.

#20 Comment By LemmysWart On March 13, 2015 @ 10:09 pm

“I have since come to believe that the Pope was right, and Neuhaus, Weigel, and all of us American theocons who supported the war, were wrong”

Oh well. No big deal. Not like anything bad came of it.

/ISIS

/Oceans of blood

/Hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths

/Trillions of dollars wasted

/Iran empowered

/Middle-East Christianity destroyed

Hey! Everyone gets mulligan now and then. It’s not like there was mountains of evidence in 2002-3 that the stated reasons for the war were blatantly false and that Dick Cheney was lying through his teeth on Meet the Press. That any rational person with half a brain could see. Oh…wait… never mind.

#21 Comment By Sam M On March 13, 2015 @ 11:03 pm

“acting as chaplains to the Republican Party must be completely off the table.”

Well said.

#22 Comment By Chris 1 On March 14, 2015 @ 12:30 am

I always wonder how people who move from one extremist and totally wrong position on important topics to the opposite position that is just as extreme and equally wrong can be trusted with their judgment on anything else.

The constant with such people is their hubris. Their faith is in their allegedly superior intellects, but these are intellects unfettered by humility. They claim to know all about the other side which they once served, but all they really are reflecting upon is their own ego projected on others. They could be dismissed as their own worst enemies save for the fact that they lead others astray.

#23 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 14, 2015 @ 12:33 am

Well, count me as one of those people who thinks Father Neuhaus was right about North Vietnam, and also right about abortion.

#24 Comment By Jacqueline Y. On March 14, 2015 @ 1:06 am

I’m almost finished with Randy Boyagoda’s bio of Fr. Neuhaus. It’s sympathetic, but by no means uncritical. The thoroughness of Boyagoda’s research is commendable. I’m a little disappointed that you would turn to Damon Linker’s take without reading the book first. In any case, it’s an important book.

The people in the photo are (l to r.) Paul Stallsworth, James Nuechterlein, RJN, Davida Goldman, and Maria McFadden (You may know her as Maria McFadden Mafucci of Human Life Review).

[NFR: Damon Linker’s review appeared today. It will be a long time before I have the chance to read the Boyagoda book. — RD]

#25 Comment By Jacqueline Y. On March 14, 2015 @ 1:28 am

A coda to my previous comment: Now that I’ve read Linker’s review of the Neuhaus biography, I’m relieved that it seems much more temperate than his book Theocons.

#26 Comment By panda On March 14, 2015 @ 1:30 am

“Well, count me as one of those people who thinks Father Neuhaus was right about North Vietnam, and also right about abortion”

That is a breath-takingly arrogant position to take, in that it presumes that the North Vietnamese are but a bit actor in an American-centered drama. What if the Americans were God’s instruments to instruct the North Vietnamese about something?

#27 Comment By panda On March 14, 2015 @ 1:34 am

In general, I think that the single most problematic aspect of American foreign policy debates, on the left, right, or middle, is that it always treats other peoples as the backdrop on which Americans can paint their pictures, rather than independent actors with their own histories. Neuhaus, about which I know little, seems to have embodied that attitude rather well.

#28 Comment By Lee Penn On March 14, 2015 @ 2:21 am

What I remember best about Fr. Neuhaus’ writings was his “Feathers of Scandal” story from March 2002, an ardent defense of Maciel and his Legionaries of Christ.

For those who have forgotten, here is the link to the editorial in question:

[8]

– just scroll down till you reach the “Feathers of Scandal” heading. Read the whole thing. Compare Fr. Neuhaus’ opinions to what has been proven true since then. Did Neuhaus ever apologize to those he unjustly accused of calumny?

When remembering the priest’s legacy, remember this!

Lee

#29 Comment By Mark Dirksen On March 14, 2015 @ 4:22 am

Richard: It seems only appropriate on Pi day to mention that circles canNOT be squared.

#30 Comment By Matthew W. I. Dunn On March 14, 2015 @ 4:41 am

Rod, . . . The wrongness of the Iraq War was as plain as the nose on your face (if you were looking for it) . . . just being at loggerheads with the Vicar of Christ was an indication.

As for Maciel, he was just a pimple on the whole pox-marked “Theocon” experiment — a fellow traveller who, like Neuhaus liked being around rich, influential people. For Maciel, we know what it meant to him: money, power, period. For Neuhaus, I think, it meant for him, that he was important . . . he was being listened to . . . he was in the “public square” . . . and he mattered. What did Christ say? “For, the sons of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the sons of light” (Lk. 16:8b). The discrediting of Neuhaus and his project is a case in point: When they played the flute, he danced to their tune; when they sang a dirge, he wept and wept for them. For pete’s sake, you had Weigel out there defending the torture of prisoners as perfectly acceptable according to “Catholic” Moral Theology . . .

As for “acting as chaplains to the Republican Party,” . . . well, Rod . . . bubbie . . . the disastrous consequences of that consciously-effected union should have been obvious. You had to know, you were really shaking hands with the Master of This World.

#31 Comment By Matt On March 14, 2015 @ 8:32 am

[NFR: He was not interested in creating a theocracy. — RD]

Damon Linker’s book sure makes it sound like he was – at least de facto if not de jure.

#32 Comment By Mark On March 14, 2015 @ 9:32 am

I don’t define Neuhaus’s “vision” by his late in life support of the Bush administration (and generally agree with Jacobs’ take on that decision). If folks want to use that to dismiss his 25 years of writing on religion and culture–go ahead. But his was the most important and thoughtful conservative voice in this discussion, and in my view, this blog is one of the best continuations of that discussion.

#33 Comment By St Louisan On March 14, 2015 @ 10:28 am

I don’t think anyone who moved through Catholic, conservative circles in 2002-2004 can forget the heady feel of those days. Everything seemed to be lining up for a glorious future! The Bush Administration’s compassionate conservatism was bringing Catholic social teaching into the GOP, and moving it away from the hard-edged free market boosterism that had made so many conservative Catholics slightly uncomfortable. Catholic thinkers were seemingly everywhere around the Administration! And the Republican Party–this recast, community-focused Republican Party–was ascendant! It would dominate national politics for a generation, surely, after 9/11, and you didn’t have to go far to hear how the Democratic Party would no longer even exist, in its current form–it would be forced to radically reconfigure its positions to survive at all. The heart and soul pro-life movement, the people who place every other issue at a distant second to abortion, were over the moon: it was only a matter of time now before someone retired and the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade. Everywhere, a certain kind of Catholic–conservative, but in touch with Catholic social teaching, not passionate about tax cuts, more Christian democrat than libertarian–was triumphant, coming into his own, at the center of American politics. And the Iraq war (and the larger war of which it was a part) gave a element of global, historical significance to it all. The “end of history” was over! WE would build great things and do great deeds, with the United States as a vehicle of freedom and justice around the world! I wonder if the days after the conversion of Constantine were like those years, when everything seemed not just possible but probably, even unstoppable, the future drenched with sunshine and triumph, with the voices of older, wiser Christians quickly drowned out by the prophets of victory.

It was like a fin-de-siècle. Nothing, not a single lasting thing, came of those dreams. It was not to Fr Neuhaus’ advantage that the height of his career as a public intellectual coincided with this overheated atmosphere. He was a leader of the Catholic center-right when it was drunk with possibilities and power, although some of his thought was more substantial than the frothy proclamations so common back then. It’s worth remembering him at his best, as well as at his worst.

#34 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 14, 2015 @ 10:38 am

That is a breath-takingly arrogant position to take, in that it presumes that the North Vietnamese are but a bit actor in an American-centered drama.

No, it presumes that there can be multiple purposes and causes behind historical events, and things can have different levels of meaning.

#35 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 14, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

treats other peoples as the backdrop on which Americans can paint their pictures, rather than independent actors with their own histories

+10 Panda!

I’m not necessarily arguing with Hector, I just think what Panda said stand on its own merits.

#36 Comment By Chris 1 On March 14, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

In general, I think that the single most problematic aspect of American foreign policy debates, on the left, right, or middle, is that it always treats other peoples as the backdrop on which Americans can paint their pictures, rather than independent actors with their own histories. Neuhaus, about which I know little, seems to have embodied that attitude rather well.

Goes along with the ego/hubris thing: Everything is everywhere and at all times about me/us.

#37 Comment By Shawn On March 14, 2015 @ 4:26 pm

“[NFR: Which American bishops supported the war? — RD]”

I looked it up and my memory was faulty. The bishops were a bit wobbly (i.e. others may draw different conclusions) but didn’t support the war. I should have checked before writing it.

I was all set to get on my high horse about the issue, but am a bit chastened so let me ask: are there vocal conservative Catholics who consistently advocate for the Church’s position on war and peace? (i.e. war as a last resort, even just war as bringing with it sin, etc). I don’t know of any, but its entirely possible that I am just unaware of what’s out there. I assume that the conservative Catholic wing remains mostly in line with First Things, Novak/Wiegel when it comes to supporting preventive war. Am I wrong?

#38 Comment By HT On March 15, 2015 @ 11:41 am

Shawn: I have looked for them, and am unaware of any [the vocal conservative Catholics who consistently…]. The just war doctrine is essentially *very dead letter*. No Christian, anywhere, is ever publicly criticized for taking part in an unjust war unless they commit flagrant war crimes. Killing unjustly for the State is now a non-sin, as usury and greed are also. These are sins you cannot commit, in practice, no matter how hard you try. So much for the Culture of ‘Life’. Read Ron Sider’s recent book on early Christian teaching about killing — the Right studiously ignores such studies, as well as ignoring the plain words of St. Thomas.

#39 Comment By sean On March 15, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

“who would use politics to restrict the Church’s hard-won freedom to act.”

What Neuhaus never understood is the church’s “freedom” to act in the public sphere is based on its moral respect from the public at large. Without such respect, no such “freedom” exists and thus no ability to act. Instead it is seen with contempt, derison, and suspicion and it finds itself better off not acting as such as it does right now.

It’s interesting Catholic intellectuals may well have been celebrating 2002-04 as heady time in their public life all the while the Church they supposedily represented was engulfed in flames. Rod knew, perhaps better than Neuhaus realized or wanted to realize, than unless said fire was put out quickly their “influence” would come to nothing. After 2004, with Bush II re-elected and with a Church awash in scandal and court cases and investigations and daily revelation in the press, the Administration had little use for said intellectuals as John DiUlio found out the hard way. As things got worse for them and the party what good were they in terms of advice or policy? They offered nothing but support, as if one needed to be an intellectual to that.

Being a team player is a nice thing but public policy isn’t a sporting event. Earthy power with little to show for it along being suck-ups to crooked bishops and a failed Administration isn’t exactly a legacy one wishes to leave the earth with but unfortunately that all the Neuhaus left behind. Like a typical late-convert to Catholicism, he was too Catholic for his own good.

#40 Comment By William Burns On March 15, 2015 @ 9:19 pm

St. Louisan,

When I read your description of the triumphalism of conservative Catholic intellectuals during the George W. Bush administration and the crashing failure of their dreams, I was reminded less of the conversion of Constantine than of the short reign of James II of Great Britain.

#41 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 16, 2015 @ 7:45 am

The issues of child abuse of any kind by Catholic lay clergy or otherwise is of course reprehensible.

But the instances of such abuse hardly reflect a huge problem of a widespread systemic problem. Nor was the prudent and or careless, but often extensive investigation of such cases symbolic of any widespread attempt to white washthe issue, given the context of how almost all organizations manage sensitive issues described.

And it has been the hyperbolic over reaction by many intellectual or otherwise which has enprmous damage to Christianity in general. Now perhaps, that is just the price for being in error at all. Perhaps, God’s corrective use of the careless reporting and near mass hysteria used by enemies of the Catholic Church and the enemies of christianity and any God centered faith and practice.

But there is no doubt that the band wagon mentality of what is barely registerable statistically has been a driving force to discredit christianity as a whole in influencing our national ethic on sexual more’s and the role of traditional marriage.

Whether such damage can be undone is another matter. The unreasoned victriol had done its work and was exceedingly more successful than what Catholics or christians supported the unneccessary invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though admittedly, that has proved to be damaging as well.

#42 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On March 16, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

On there being no Catholic critics of war on the right I might recommend that readers take a spin through Chronicles or Culture Wars or this other magazine that was founded by Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos back in 2002 in opposition to the Iraq War. What was the name of that magazine? I don’t know. It would probably be impossible to find out.

As to just war being a dead letter I would submit that the active debate we have seen regarding just war theory over the last decade suggests otherwise. Even if you disagree with the conclusions of the participants, the fact that George Weigel, Christopher Tollefsen, Robert George and John Finnis have been actively discussing the issue would seem to disprove your point pretty soundly.

#43 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 16, 2015 @ 6:55 pm

If Iraq had been involved in 9/11 or any other attack against the US, I would have easily supported a miliatry response.

If Afghanistan had a central government that supported those attacks and harbored those responsible, I would have supported a military response.

But in both of the above, those conditions were not the case. The Taliban had no idea of 9/11 until after the fact, nor was there a cohesive authority with which to communicate the matter. They did band together to respond to the invasion, but they did not and have not become a cntral authority save in regions where they rule.

Carving out a democracy was a dubious process without a complete and total occupation in which we remade their society almost completely, save for possibly their faith and practice, which has some very antithetical components to democracy.

The Soviets it is said, ran a fairly comprehensive and brutal campaign against throughout the country ony to give up the affair with no concessions in hand, merely left them to their own devices.

Just wars can be made in response to self defense and in a narrow field, in my view, in defense of others.

Freeing women not so enslved is hardly a just cause anymore than our attempt to install a secular government or somehow free Christians who were not enslaved and are now perhaps, more at risk. Because so much of our endeavours are interpretted as a “war against Muslims” and therefore against Allah.

Because I am a conservative, it is painful to acknowledge that neither invasion represented a just war.

One cannot dismiss the concept of “just war” when nearly every advocate of returning to war against ISIS or someone else is designed in the rhetorical cloak of being an “existentialist threat.”

That constant reference is a clear reminder that in the minds of the US public, “self defense” is a just cause.

#44 Comment By james howe On May 10, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

One who knew Fr. Neuhaus might say of him that he was a wonderful man and an individual of enormous accomplishment but by no stretch of the imagination could he be called a “great man.” On very important points he fell very short of that mark.