Remembering the Great and Holy War, 1914-1918

Remembering the Great and Holy War, 1914-1918

One hundred years ago today marked the onset of what was then known only as “The Great War.”  As Philip Jenkins’ new book The Great and Holy War shows, however, perhaps we ought still to dignify it with that awful title.  Although WWII looms vastly larger in our cultural consciousness, this is due partly to its greater proximity in time, and to the much greater role that America played in the hostilities.  Yet most people would be surprised to learn that the bloodiest battle in US military history remains the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, which took place over the final 47 days of WWI, in which 26,277 perished.  And the toll suffered by US troops is immeasurably dwarfed by that of the European nations.  Jenkins puts things in perspective for us:

“The full horror of the war was obvious in its opening weeks. . . . On one single day, August 22, the French lost twenty-seven thousand men killed in battles in the Ardennes and at Charleroi, in what became known as the Battle of the Frontiers. . . . To put these casualty figures in context, the French suffered more fatalities on that one sultry day than U.S. forces lost in the two 1945 battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa combined, although these later engagements were spread over a period of four months.  One single August day cost half as many lives as the United States lost in the whole Vietnam War. 
During August and September 1914, four hundred thousand French soldiers perished, and already by year’s end, the war had in all claimed two million lives on both sides.  The former chapel of the elite French military academy of Saint-Cyr systematically listed its dead for various wars, but for 1914 it offered only one brief entry: ‘The Class of 1914”—all of it.” (pp. 29-31)
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Private Property, Aquinas, and Legal Realism

Private Property, Aquinas, and Legal Realism

Earlier this week, two leading Catholic political bloggers, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (better known as Pegobry, or just PEG), engaged in a short but sharp exchange on one of my favorite subjects, property rights (see hereherehere, and here).  Although I can hardly claim to be an expert on the subject, I’ve long lamented the absence of substantive discourse on the subject among political theologians and Christian ethicists, so Liz Bruenig’s recent attempts to foreground the issue have been a breath of fresh air.  Pegobry, however, raised some rather important questions, or at the very least the sorts of questions that most conservatives are likely to raise, and given the frequency with which I encounter such questions, I think they deserve to be explored a bit further than they were in the inconclusive interchange.

So although I am told that a day is as a thousand years on the internet and a four-day-old discussion is too stale to bother resurrecting, I will venture some reflections of my own.

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The National Debt: A Guide for the Perplexed (and Alarmed)

The National Debt: A Guide for the Perplexed (and Alarmed)

Since coming back to the US, I have been surprised how often the national debt comes up in conversations about most any political topic.  In discussions about inequality, for instance, I hear that we can hardly trust the government to address inequality given its own financial incompetence, and that if there is financial injustice about, surely the greatest injustice is the government’s systematic stealing from our children and grandchildren, whom we are saddling with an intolerable burden of debt.  The theme of the travesty and looming catastrophe of US government debt has fueled the rise of the Tea Party, and played a role in the ridiculous fiscal standoffs in Congress over the past couple years.  Of course, it is an important fiscal concern that both parties should be attentive to, but this is not usually how one hears it discussed—i.e., in the context of particular policies for fiscal responsibility.  Rather, it is used as a universal putdown—a way of claiming, no matter what the particular point is under discussion, that the government cannot be trusted because its debt is both irresponsible and immoral, and that only a radical overhaul (one might almost say “overthrow” from some of the rhetoric) of our government can save us from imminent disaster.  

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Piketty Notes and Quotes, 5: Inequality Language Games

Piketty Notes and Quotes, 5: Inequality Language Games

Here's another post on Piketty that isn't really about Piketty per se, but about the sorts of conversations one finds oneself in when talking about him.  Over the past week and a half, I have been struck by a curious tendency I have encountered in a number of Christians when the subject of inequality comes up.  

"So are you saying inequality is a problem, inequality is bad?"

"Well, yeah, I do think that, at least beyond a certain point, it's a problem."

"So why is it bad?"

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"Frozen" and the Limits of Narrative

"Frozen" and the Limits of Narrative

. . . But the biggest reason for my enthusiasm for Frozen was its stark repudiation of “the Disney worldview” for lack of a better term—which is essentially the modern American ethos in a nutshell: you have to learn to “be yourself,” to break free from the constraints of society’s expectations (often in the form of a bumbling and oppressive parental figure) and do your own thing, which usually includes “following your heart” in pursuing a love-at-first-sight infatuation that is described as “true love.”  It is an outlook in which freedom is defined in starkly individualist terms, in which one’s identity is crafted in opposition to one’s social relationships, rather than in terms of them, and in which love is irrational, emotional, and rarely expressed toward one’s family (indeed, often expressed in opposition to one’s family).

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Piketty Notes and Quotes, 4: The Nub of the Problem

Piketty Notes and Quotes, 4: The Nub of the Problem

"When the rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy (as it did through much of history until the nineteenth century and is likely to be the case again in the twenty-first century), then it logically follows that inherited wealth grows faster than output and income.  People with inherited wealth need save only a portion of their income from capital to see that capital grow more quickly than the economy as a whole....

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How *Not* to Do Historical Theology

How *Not* to Do Historical Theology

"...The difficulty of the whole subject is of course clearly before our mind.  We feel it deeply, and not without anxiety and alarm.  But we are not bound to solve it, and have no more interest in doing so than others.  We have not made the difficulty in any way.  We are not responsible for it, and we have no mind or care at present to charge ourselves with the burden of its explanation.  There it stands before the whole world.  It is of age too, we may say, full formed and full grown; let it speak then for itself."

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