Sunday, May 1, 2016
Michael Perry's welcome remembrance of Fr. Daniel Berrigan's witness reminded me of something John Courtney Murray wrote late in We Hold These Truths: "A friendly critic, Professor Julian Hartt of the Yale Divinity School, had this to say: 'Father Murray has not, I believe, clearly enough come to terms with the question behind every serious consideration of limited war as a moral option, i.e., where are the ethical principles to fix the appropriate limits? Where, not what?: can we make out the lineaments of the community which is the living repository (as it were) of the ethical principles relevant and efficacious to the moral limits of warfare?' This is a fair question." A fair question, indeed.
Commenting on Murray's own ensuing judgment that the "American consensus" he invoked no longer obtained, even then, Michael Baxter concludes as follows: "In the years since Murray's death, Catholic social ethicists in the United States have dedicated themselves to pursuing Murray's agenda. But the American consensus remains as elusive as it was in Murray's day; indeed, more elusive. With time, this will no longer point to the plausibility of Murray's compatibility thesis, but rather to its implausibility." A fair conclusion? One awaits countervailing evidence.
What ought "we" do while we wait for the consensus to appear? Vote in every next general election ad absurdum? The Catholic positions defended by Murray on contentious issues, such as nuclear weapons and abortion, have never prevailed in public discourse, let alone in law. The "where?" question, half-answered by Murray, looms larger as every political cycle passes and the returns thereof veto any hope of actualizing Murray's imagined consensus. The natural law never was what the consensus-mongers said it was, and meanwhile the human deficit in effective ability to implement the natural law grows greater as religion is reduced by law, at least for law's purposes, to the efficacy of incense.