Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Are the "barricades of the culture wars . . . collapsing"?

In this piece, commenting on (among other things) the awarding of this year's Laetare Medal to Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner, my former Notre Dame colleague Cathy Kaveny writes:

What has changed in the past seven years? We now have widespread recognition that the barricades of the culture wars are collapsing upon us. No war—even a culture war—can become an indefinite and customary state of affairs without disastrous consequences. We can only recover by learning how to work together again—despite our deep differences—and learning to see the good in one another. 

There is, to be sure, a lot to regret about the reality of the "culture wars" and the way they've distorted politics and harmed discourse -- among those things, in my view, is the common but unhelpful practice of labeling those with whom one disagrees politically as "culture warriors" -- although it seems to me that regret will not change the reality.  It is simply the case -- and it does not make one a "culture warrior" who is "obsessed" to notice it -- that there are determined, well-funded, and increasingly powerful institutions, actors, and forces at work in the culture, in politics, in the law, and in the academy (for example) that oppose strongly the moral vision, commitments, and witness of the Catholic Church and that are doing what they can -- and they can do a lot -- to marginalize the Church, her teachings, and her institutions in public life.  

I'm not entirely sure what Cathy means with her statement that "the barricades of the culture wars are collapsing upon us," but if she means that the institutions, actors, and forces I just mentioned are winning -- are overrunning the defensive "barricades" -- then I certainly agree.  They are not giving up or seeking a truce or peace, and there's no reason to think that they plan on finding ways to work together across deep differences.  Like Cathy, I think, I would very much prefer a politics that involved sincere and civil efforts to find common ground where it exists, to take half-a-loaf over nothing, to welcome incremental improvements and not insist on revolutions or routs, that didn't involve boycott threats and "bigotry" charges, etc.  I agree entirely with Cathy that politics is the art of the possible, that those who embrace the Church's social and moral teachings -- in their entirety -- have no choice but to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that more "balance," compromise, and charity are needed in our politics.  I agree that it is "counterproductive" to insist on unattainable policy goals (though I think we cannot mute -- and Pope Francis is not telling us to mute -- our truth-telling about the injustice of our abortion regime).

At the same time:  it's a mistake to imagine that we can wish or good-will away the ongoing campaign against the Church's witness, work, and freedom.  This campaign is, again, a reality.  It has very real implications for, and poses non-imaginary threats to, our hospitals, universities, schools, social-welfare agencies, and social-justice activism.  It involves, first, conditions on funding, tax-exempt status, accreditation, and licensing, but it will not stop with conditions that we will be able, in theory, to take or leave.  By all means, let's work (and pray) for a better politics.  Let's be realistic, pragmatic, and -- perhaps -- resigned to certain new realities.  Let's also keep our eyes open.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink