30 July 2007

Goodbye to All That

Austin Bramwell's article was published 8 months ago, and aptly sums up the state of modern conservatism. (We were co-bloggers on the Harvard Federalist Society Blog, Ex parte, and became acquainted at the Fed Society Annual Student Symposium at Notre Dame.) He writes here, for instance:

Conservatives identify themselves in part by repeating slogans (“we are at war!”) that, like “ignorance is strength,” are less important for what (if anything) they say than for what saying them says about the speaker. ...Anyone who expresses too vociferously too many of the following opinions, for example, cannot expect to make a career in the movement: that the Soviet Union was not the threat that anti-communists made it out to be, that the current tax system discriminates in favor of the very wealthy, that the Bush administration was wrong about the Iraq invasion in nearly every respect, that the constitutional design itself prevents judges from deciding cases according to the original meaning of the Constitution, that global warming poses small but unacceptable risks.... Whether these opinions and others are correct or not matters little to the movement conservative, even if he knows next to nothing about the topic at hand. If you do not reject these opinions or at least keep quiet, you are not a movement conservative and will be treated accordingly.

I have a confession to make: several years ago, I was more conservative than I was Catholic--which makes sense, because I wasn't Catholic at all. I was Protestant. I had always been a supporter of capital punishment; I was an ardent defender of America's right to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq, and involved myself in a number of contentious debates defending the point; I never questioned the correctness of our decimating Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Any conservatives who called these issues into question were, in my mind, closet liberals.

After my return to the faith, I started seriously considering the Church's teachings on issues like just war, capital punishment, poverty, and the like. And I found, to my discomfort, that the Republican platform often jarred with the Church's own doctrines. Capital punishment? We know St. Thomas Aquinas's justification, and Pope John Paul II's questioning of its continued legitimacy because we now have other methods of protecting society from the worst of the worst. The war against Iraq? Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict have stated in no uncertain terms that there is no moral justification for a preemptive strike against another country. Now, one might respond with irritation, what do popes know about military strategy? Next to nothing, of course. But popes have authority to proclaim the conditions on which a war can be waged morally--and any Catholic serious about his faith should not take their words lightly. I would go so far as to say that any Catholic dismissive of their words on such weighty issues are putting ideology before faith.

Hiroshima? Nagasaki? The Church has been even clearer on this point. Pope Paul VI called America's act "butchery of untold magnitude." Pope John Paul II referred to it as "a self-destruction of mankind", ranking Hiroshima and Nagasaki with Auschwitz as a place devastated by man's sin. And the Catechism teaches:

"Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." (2314)

The point? The point is that, after some years of reflection and thought, I am now more Catholic than I am conservative, liberal, or libertarian. In fact, these labels don't work for me anymore, because I hold positions that either side of the aisle can sympathize with. Does this make me an outsider to some in the conservative camp? Undoubtedly. But ideology is less important to me than fidelity to Christ's teachings as handed down through the Church. I don't judge other conservatives who may disagree with the Church--but the question is, as Bramwell notes, do they judge me?