To the Editors:
Garry Wills needs to check his facts from time to time. The gaffes are piling up. In his review of Michael Walzer’s latest book [Arguing About War, NYR, November 18]—a book I reviewed and endorsed—Wills locates me as part of a group of “right-wing” Catholics usually “subservient” to the Pope. This is odd for a number of reasons. First, I am not, in fact, in full communion with the Catholic Church. (My background is Lutheran.) Second, Wills himself is “subservient” if, by that, one refers to John Paul II’s stands on social justice and capital punishment. (Positions I, too, share although Wills is clearly ignorant of my work on any of these issues.) It seems that “subservient” is a label Wills tosses around blithely to scour those with whom he disagrees, although someone else, deploying his hit-and-run tactic, could as well label him “subservient” in those areas in which he shares the Pope’s positions. The label “subservient” assumes people are not thinking for themselves on any issue but, all of a sudden, they disagree with the Pope on the war in Iraq and incur censure from Wills because they have failed to be “subservient.” This is incoherent and preposterous. Wills has been laying about for years in this way and it has reached the point of tedium. Second, the argument concerning John Paul II and just war turns on a serious debate about what one might call the starting point of the just or justified war tradition. Does it begin with a presumption against the use of coercive force, in which case the use of force is always an exception to the rule? Or, instead, does it begin with a conviction that force can be an instrument of justice and the use of force follows from
this claim? John Paul II shares the former view for the most part; a significant group of just war thinkers that numbers among its ranks political liberals and conservatives share the second view. This debate precedes the Iraq war by decades. It is too bad that The New York Review turned Michael Walzer’s splendid collection of essays over to someone who is not, himself, immersed in these debates and seems to be woefully ignorant of their complexities.
Jean Bethke Elshtain
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics
University of Chicago Divinity School, Department of Political Science, Committee on International Relations
Garry Wills replies:
I honor Professor Elshtain’s profession that she is “not in full communion with the Catholic Church.” But, having made a great point of my “gaffe” on this, she leaves us with a mystery. She is, apparently, in non-full communion, so she must be partly in communion. Which part or parts arein communion? Is her body part of her Lutheran “background,” while her mind is in full communion with the Catholic Church? Or is her mind in non-full communion while her heart is in full communion? Or are both partly (but only partly) communicating with the Church? Since communion, even non-full, seems more up-to-date than background, can we say that she is Lutheran-tinged but more-fully-Catholic-tinged? Perhaps, given her dazzling multiplicity of functions, it is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor who is in communion with the Catholic Church at the Chicago Divinity School, while the Elshtain of the Department of Political Science shows up noncommunicating with the Church, and her International Relations identity parcels out the full and the partly communicating ways on a different schedule. Should she leave us in doubt about the connection between all these disjecta membra?
December 16, 2004