Joseph Ratzinger: To Change or to Preserve? Political Visions and Political Praxis

Benedict XVI at Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican, 2012Politicians of all parties take it for granted today that they must promise changes—naturally, changes for the better. The once mythical radiance of the word “revolution” has faded in our days, but far-reaching reforms are demanded and promised all the more insistently. This must surely mean that there exists in modern society a deep and prevailing sense of dissatisfaction precisely in those places where prosperity and freedom have attained hitherto unknown heights. The world is experienced as hard to bear. It must become better. And it seems that the task of politics is to bring this about. So since the general consensus is that the essential task of politics is to improve the world, indeed to usher in a new world, it is easy to understand why the word “conservative” has become disreputable and why scarcely anyone views lightly the prospect of being called conservative, for it appears that what we must do is not preserve the status quo but overcome it.

TWO VISIONS OF THE POLITICAL TASK: THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD OR THE PRESERVATION OF ITS ORDER

This fundamental orientation in the modern conception of politics (indeed, of life in general) is in clear contrast to the views of earlier periods, which considered the great task of political activity to be precisely the preservation and defense of the existing order, warding off threats against it. Here, a small linguistic observation may shed light on this matter.

When Christians in the Roman world were looking for a word that could express succinctly and comprehensibly what Jesus Christ meant to them, they discounted the phrase conservator mundi (“conserver of the world”), used in Rome to indicate the essential task and highest service performed in human society. The Christians could not apply this exact title to their Redeemer, nor did they wish to do so, since it was inappropriate as a translation of the words “Messiah / Christ” or as a designation of the Savior of the world. From the perspective of the Roman Empire, the preservation of the ordered structure of the empire against all dangers from within and without had to necessarily be regarded as the most important task of all, because this empire embodied a sphere of peace and law in which it was possible for people to live in security and dignity. And, as a matter of fact, Christians—even as early as the apostolic generation—were aware of the high value of this guarantee of law and peace that the Roman Empire gave them. In view of the looming chaos heralded by the mass migration of peoples, the Church Fathers too were most certainly interested in the survival of the empire, its legal guarantees, and its, peaceful order.

Nevertheless, Christians could not simply want everything to remain exactly as it was. The book of Revelation, which certainly stands on the periphery of the New Testament with its view of the empire, nevertheless made it clear to everyone that there were things that must not be preserved, things that had to be changed. When Christ was called salvator rather than conservator, this had nothing to do with revolutionary political ideas. Yet it did point to the limitations of a mere praxis of preservation and showed a dimension of human existence that went beyond the political functions of maintaining peace and social order.

Let us attempt to move from this snapshot of one way of understanding the essential task of politics onto a rather more fundamental level. Behind the alternative that we have glimpsed somewhat unclearly in the antithesis between the titles conservator and salvator, we can in fact discern two different visions of what political and ethical conduct can and ought to do. Here it is not only the relationship between politics and morality that is viewed differently but also the interlocking of politics, religion, and morality.

On the one hand, we have the static vision that aims to conserve. It is seen perhaps most clearly in the Chinese understanding of the universe: the ordering of heaven, which always remains the same, prescribes the standards for behavior on earth too. This is the Tao, the law of existence and reality that human beings must recognize and that must govern their conduct. The Tao is both a cosmic and an ethical law. It guarantees the harmony between heaven and earth and, thus, also harmony in political and social life. Disorder, the disturbance of peace, and chaos arise where people resist the Tao, living in disregard of it or even opposition to it. In response to such disturbances and destructions of societal life, the Tao must be reestablished so that the world can once again be livable. The vital issue is to remain aware of the constant ordering of things or to return to it if it has been abandoned.

The Indian concept of dharma expresses something similar. This term designates cosmic as well as ethical and social ordering to which human beings must adapt if life is to be led aright. Buddhism relativized this vision—which is at the same time cosmic, political, and religious—by declaring the entire world to be a cycle of suffering; salvation is not to be sought in the cosmos but by departing from it. But Buddhism did not create any new political vision, since the endeavor to attain salvation is nonworldly, orientated to nirvana. No new models are proposed for the world as such.

The faith of Israel takes a different path. In the covenant with Noah it does indeed recognize something akin to a cosmic ordering and the promise that this will be maintained. But for the faith of Israel itself, the orientation to the future becomes ever clearer. It is not that which abides perpetually, a “today” that is always the same, that is seen as the sphere of salvation, but rather a “tomorrow,” the future that has not yet arrived. The book of Daniel, probably written in the course of the second century before Christ, presents two great theological visions of history that were to play a very significant role in the further development of political and religious thinking. In the second chapter, we have the vision of the statue that is part gold, part silver, part iron, and, finally, part clay. These four elements symbolize a succession of four kingdoms, all of which are ultimately crushed by a stone that, untouched by human hands, breaks off from a mountain and grinds everything completely to dust so that the wind carries off all that remains, and no trace of the kingdoms can be found. The stone now becomes a high mountain and fills all the earth—the symbol of a kingdom that the God of heaven and earth will establish and that will never pass away (2:44). In the seventh chapter of the same book, the sequence of the kingdoms is depicted in a perhaps even more impressive image as the succession of four animals who are finally judged by God, portrayed as the “Ancient of Days.” The four animals—the four mighty empires of world history—had emerged from the sea, which is a metaphor for the power of death to pose a forceful threat to life. But after the judgment comes the human being (the “son of man”) from heaven, to whom all peoples, nations, and languages will be handed over to form a kingdom that is eternal and imperishable, never to pass.

While the eternal orderings of the cosmos play a role in the conceptions of the Tao and dharma, the idea of “history” is wholly absent. In the here and now, however, “history” is perceived as a genuine reality that is not reducible to the cosmos. With this anthropological and dynamic reality, which had never been glimpsed in an earlier period, “history” offers a completely different vision. It is clear that such an idea of a historical sequence of kingdoms as gluttonous animals in more and more terrible forms could not have developed in one of the dominant peoples. Rather, it presupposes for its sociological driving force a people that is itself threatened by the greed of these animals and that has also experienced a succession of powers that called into question its very right to existence. This vision belongs to the oppressed, who are on the lookout for a turning point in history and cannot have any desire for the preservation of the status quo. In Daniel’s vision, the turning point of history is not the work of political or military activity, for the quite simple reason that the human forces necessary for the task do not exist. It is only through God’s intervention that things are changed: the stone that destroys the kingdoms is detached from a mountain “by no human hand” (2:34). The Church Fathers read this as a mysterious prediction of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin, which was the work of God’s power alone. In Christ they see the stone that ultimately becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth.

The cosmic visions simply see the Tao or dharma as the power of the divine, as the “divine” itself. But the new element now is not only the appearance of the reality of a “history” that is not reducible to the cosmos, but also this third element—which is also the first, namely, an active God in whom the oppressed put their hope. We see as early as the books of Maccabees, roughly datable to the same period as Daniel’s visions, that the human person must also take God’s cause into his own hand by means of political and military action. In parts of the Qumran literature the merging of theological hope and human action becomes even clearer. Later on, the struggle of Bar Kochba signifies an unambiguous politicization of messianism: to bring about the turning point in history, God makes use of a “messiah” whom he commissions and empowers to bring in the new order of things by means of active political and military conduct. The “sacred empire” of the Christians, in both its Byzantine and its Latin variants, could not adopt such ideas, nor did it wish to do so. Rather, the primary aim was, again, the preservation of the order of the world, now explained in Christian terms. At the same time, they believed that they were now living in the sixth age of the world, its old age, and that one day the other world would come. This, God’s eighth day, was already running alongside history and would one day definitively replace it.

THE REBIRTH OF APOCALYPTICISM IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

Apocalypticism—with its refusal to accept the dominant powers of the world and its hope for healing through the overthrow of those powers—never disappeared completely. It reemerged, independent from religion or in opposition to it, from the eighteenth century onward. We encounter its radical form in Marxism, which can be said to follow Daniel to the extent that it offers a negative evaluation of all previous history as a story of oppression and presupposes as its sociological subjects the class of the exploited, both the industrial workers who long enjoyed very few rights and the dependent agricultural laborers. In a remarkable transposition, the reasons for which have not yet been sufficiently reflected on, Marxism became increasingly the religion of the intellectuals, while reforms gave the workers rights that made revolution—that great breaking away from the contemporary form of history—irrelevant. Workers no longer needed the stone that would destroy the kingdoms; they set their hopes rather on Daniel’s other image, that of the lion that was set upright on its feet like a human being and received a human heart (7:4). Reform replaced revolution: if the lion has been given a human heart and has laid aside its feral character, then one can live with it. In the world of the intellectuals, most of whom were well off, the rejection of reform became all the louder, and revolution increasingly took on a divine quality. They demanded something completely new; reality as it was evoked a strange feeling of surfeit (and here too we might profitably reflect on the reasons for this feeling).

After all the disappointments prompted in recent years by the collapse of “real socialism,” positivism and relativism have now undeniably gained the upper hand. In place of Utopian dreams and ideals, today we find a pragmatism that is determined to extract from the world the maximum satisfaction possible. This, however, does not make it pointless to consider once again the characteristics of the secular messianism that appeared on the world stage in Marxism, because it still leads a ghostly existence deep in the souls of many people, and it has the potential to emerge again and again in new forms.

The foundation of this new conception of history rests, on the one hand, on the doctrine of evolution, transferred to the historical sphere, and, on the other hand (linked with that), on a Hegelian belief in progress. The connection to the doctrine of evolution means that history is seen in biologic, indeed in materialistic and deterministic terms: it has its laws and its course, which can be resisted but not ultimately thwarted. Evolution has replaced God here. “God” now means development, progress. But this progress—here Hegel makes his appearance—is realized in dialectical changes; in the last analysis, it too is understood in deterministic terms. The final dialectical move is the leap from the history of oppression into the definitive history of salvation—to employ Daniel’s language, we might call this the step from the animals to the “son of man.” The kingdom of the “son of man” is now called the “classless society.” Although the dialectical leaps occur of necessity, like events in nature, they are made concrete through political means. The political equivalent to the dialectical leap is revolution, which is a concept antithetical to that of reform. One must reject the idea of reform, because it suggests that the animal has been given a human heart, and one need no longer fight against it. Reforms destroy revolutionary enthusiasm, and this is why they are opposed to the inherent logic of history. They are “involution” instead of evolution and, hence, ultimately the enemies of progress. Revolution and Utopia—the anticipation that reaches out to grasp the perfect world—belong together. They are the concrete form taken by this new political and secular messianism. The future is an idol that devours the present; revolution is an idol that obstructs all rational political activity aimed at the genuine amelioration of the world. The theological vision of Daniel, indeed of apocalypticism in general, has been transmuted into something at once secular and mythical, since these two fundamental political ideas—revolution and Utopia—present a thoroughly antirational myth when they are combined with evolution and dialectics. Demythologization is urgently needed so that politics can carry on its business in a genuinely rational way.

THE POSITION TAKEN BY THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS

In relation to the perspective of Daniel and of political messianisms, what position is taken by Christian faith? What is its vision of history, or its vision for our historical activity? Before I attempt to formulate a brief evaluation, we must look at the most important texts in the New Testament. No great analytical gifts are required to distinguish two groups of texts. On the one hand, we have the texts of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, which display the most distant connections with apocalypticism. On the other hand, we have the Revelation of John, which—as its very name, Apokalypsis, shows—belongs to the apocalyptic trajectory. It is well known that the texts of the apostolic letters, in agreement with the view proposed in the Gospels, are utterly free from any trace of revolutionary fervor. Indeed, they are clearly opposed to this: the two fundamental texts, Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, are completely unambiguous, and this has made them offensive to all revolutionaries. Romans 13 demands that everyone (literally, “every soul”) submit to the existing authorities, since “there is no authority except from God.” This makes resistance to worldly authority a resistance to something God has ordained. Hence, it is not only because of external coercion that one must submit but also “for the sake of one’s conscience.” In very similar terms, 1 Peter demands submission to the legitimate authorities “for the Lord’s sake. . . . For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil.” Neither Paul nor Peter expresses an uncritical glorification of the Roman state. While they do insist strongly on the divine origin of the legal ordering of the state, they are far from divinizing the state itself. It is precisely because they see the limits on the state, which is not God and may not behave as if it were God, that they acknowledge its ordering function and its ethical character.

These texts are in a good biblical tradition. We may think here of Jeremiah, who exhorts the exiled Israelites to be loyal to the state of Babylon, which is their oppressor, since this state guarantees law and peace and, thereby, also the relative welfare of Israel—a welfare that is necessary if it is one day to be restored as a people. We may think of Second Isaiah, who does not disdain to call Cyrus God’s “anointed.” The king of the Persians, who does not know the God of Israel and who is prompted by purely pragmatic political considerations when he sends the people back to their native land, is acting as God’s instrument, since he is endeavoring to establish the correct state of affairs. It is on these lines that Jesus answers the Pharisees and the Herodians when they pose the controversial question of paying taxes: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:13-17). Since the Roman emperor is the guarantor of law, he has a claim to obedience, though of course Jesus at once specifies the boundaries of the sphere in which one is obliged to obey: there are things that belong to Caesar and things that belong to God. If the emperor exalts himself to a divine position, he has gone beyond his proper limits, and obedience would then amount to a denial of God. Finally, Jesus’ reply to Pilate belongs here too. The Lord acknowledges in his words to this unjust judge that the authority to exercise the judicial office, which is at the service of the law, can be bestowed only from above (John 19:11).

Our overview of these texts shows that they hold a very sober view of the state. The personal faith or the subjective good intentions of the organs of the state are not what count. To the extent that they guarantee peace and the rule of law they are in accordance with divine ordinance. In today’s terminology, we would say that they represent an ordinance of Creation. It is precisely in its profane character that the state must be respected; it is required by the fact that man is essentially a social and political being. This idea has its basis in the essence of man and hence is in keeping with Creation. At the same time, this entails a limitation on the state. The state has its own sphere, within which it must remain; it must respect the higher law of God. The refusal to adore the emperor and the refusal in general to worship the state are on the most fundamental level simply a rejection of the totalitarian state.

This distinction is made with particular clarity in 1 Peter, when the apostle says: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God” (4:15-16). The Christian is obligated to the legal order of the state, since this is an ethical ordering. To suffer “as a Christian” is a different matter: where the state imposes penalties on the Christian simply for being a Christian, it rules no longer as a preserver of the law but as its destroyer. And then it is no disgrace to be punished, but rather an honor. One who suffers in this manner is following Christ precisely in his suffering. The crucified Christ indicates the boundaries to the power of the state and shows where its rights terminate and resistance in the form of suffering becomes a necessity. The faith of the New Testament acknowledges not the revolutionary but the martyr who recognizes both the authority of the state and also its limits. His resistance consists in doing everything that serves to promote law and an ordered life in society, even when this means obeying authorities who are indifferent or hostile to his faith; but he will not obey when he is commanded to do what is evil, that is, to oppose the will of God. His is not the resistance of active force, but the resistance of the one who is willing to suffer for the will of God. The resistance fighter who dies with his weapon in his hand is not a martyr in the New Testament sense.

We find the same position when we study other texts of the New Testament that deal with the problem of the Christian attitude toward the state. Titus 3:1 says, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work.” An especially significant text is 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, where the apostle warns against those who—no doubt under the pretext that as Christians they were awaiting the return of the Lord—were unwilling to work or do anything useful. He exhorts them “to do their work in quietness,” for: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” An excessively enthusiastic eschatology is soberly cut down to size. An important aspect is also mentioned in 1 Timothy 2:2, where Christians are admonished to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”

Two things are made clear here: First, Christians pray for kings and other persons in authority, but they do not pray to the king. If this text is from Paul himself, it comes from the reign of Nero; if it is dated later, it may be from the reign of Domitian. Both these emperors were tyrants who hated the Christians, and yet Christians pray for the ruler so that he may be able to fulfill his task. Naturally, they refuse to obey him if he makes himself a god. Second, the task of the state is formulated in an exceptionally sober, indeed almost banal, manner: it must ensure peace at home and abroad. As I have said, this may sound somewhat banal, and yet it articulates an essential moral demand: peace at home and abroad is possible only when the fundamental legal rights of the individual and of society are guaranteed.

Let us now attempt to see how these biblical affirmations are related to the perspective that we have encountered above. I believe that we can say two things here. We find only indirectly the dynamic view of history held by apocalyptic literature and the messianic hopes. Messianism is fundamentally modified by the figure of Jesus. It remains politically relevant, because it marks the point at which martyrdom becomes necessary and a limit is set to the claims that the state is entitled to make. Every martyrdom, however, is subject to the promise made by the risen Christ, who will come again in glory, and this means that martyrdom points beyond the existing world to a new, definitive fellowship that men will enjoy with God and with one another. This limitation of the power of the state and the opening of the horizon onto a future new world do not, however, abolish the existing order of the state, which must continue to govern on the basis of natural reason and of its own logic. This order is valid as long as history lasts. The enthusiastic messianism of an eschatological and revolutionary character is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom where reason rules. Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). One could say that this also implies the demand of religious freedom. Similarly, the text is confident that reason can recognize the essential moral foundations of human existence and can implement these in the political domain. Here we see a point of contact with the positions that declare the Tao or dharma to be the foundation of the state, and this made it possible for Christians to adopt the Stoic idea of an ethical natural law, which won acceptance for similar ideas in the context of Greek philosophy. The dynamic quality attributed to history that becomes particularly visible in the book of Daniel does not see history in simple cosmic terms but interprets it as a dynamic of good and evil in an advancing movement. This remains present, thanks to the messianic hope. It clarifies the ethical criteria of politics and indicates the boundaries of political power. Through the horizon of hope, which it makes visible both beyond and in history, it gives the courage needed for right action and for right suffering. Thus we can speak here of a synthesis of the cosmic and the historical view.

I believe that this allows us to make a precise definition of the boundary between Christian apocalypticism and non-Christian, gnostic apocalypticism. Apocalypticism is Christian if it preserves the connection with Creation faith. Where Creation faith, with its consistency and its trust in reason, is abandoned, Christian faith is transformed into gnosis. Given this fundamental decision, we no doubt find a vast spectrum of variations, but the basic option is the same. I cannot offer an analysis of all the texts of the Revelation of John here, but I would argue that although the vigor of its call to resistance differentiates it from the apostolic letters, nevertheless it remains very clearly within the Christian option.

CONSEQUENCES FOR CHRISTIAN INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS

What consequences may we infer from this for the connection between political vision and political praxis today? One might no doubt write an immensely long monograph on this topic, but I do not feel that that is my task. I would like to offer two theses, indicating as briefly as possible how the consequences of what I have written might be translated into action today.

  1. Politics is the realm of reason—not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice. This means that moral reason (or, perhaps better, the rational insight into what serves justice and peace, i.e., what is moral) must be activated ever anew and defended against anything that might lend obscurity and thus paralyze the capacity for moral insight. One-sided interests form alliances with power and generate myths in various forms that present themselves as the true path to the moral dimension in politics. But in reality, these are blind spots of those who exercise power—and they make other people blind too.

In the twentieth century, we experienced the formation of two great myths with terrible consequences: racism, with its lying promise of salvation, propagated by National Socialism, and the divinization of revolution against the background of dialectical historical evolutionism. In both cases, the primal moral insights of man into good and evil were dismissed. We were told that whatever served the superiority of the race, or anything that served to bring about the future world, was “good,” even if the previous insights of mankind would have called it “bad.”

After the disappearance of the great ideologies from the world stage, today’s political myths are less clearly defined. But even now there exist mythical forms of genuine values that appear credible precisely because their starting point is these values. They are dangerous because they offer a onesided version of these values in a way that can only be termed mythical. I would say that in people’s general consciousness today, there are three dominant values that are presented in a mythical one-sidedness that puts moral reason at risk. These three are progress, science, and freedom.

Progress has always been a word with a mythical ring. It continues to be portrayed insistently as the norm of political activity and of human behavior in general and as their highest moral qualification. Anyone who looks even at only the last hundred years cannot deny that immense progress has been made in medicine, in technology, and in the understanding and harnessing of the forces of nature, and one may hope for further progress. At the same time, however, the ambivalence of this progress is obvious. Progress is beginning to put Creation—the basis of our existence—at risk; it creates inequality among human beings, and it generates ever new threats to the world and humanity. This makes moral controls of progress indispensable. But what are the criteria here?

That is the question. In the first place, we must recognize that progress concerns the dealings of man with the material world. As such, it does not bring forth the new man or the new society, as Marxism and liberalism taught. Man, precisely as man, remains the same both in primitive and in technologically developed situations. He does not stand on a higher level merely because he has learned to use more highly developed tools. Mankind begins anew in every single individual. This is why it is not possible for the definitively new, ideal society to exist—that society built on progress, which not only was the hope of the great ideologies, but increasingly became the general object of human hope once hope in a life after death had been dismantled. A definitively ideal society presupposes the end of freedom. But since man always remains free and begins anew in every generation, we have to struggle in each new situation to establish the right societal form. This is why the realm of politics is concerned with the present, not with the future. It touches on the future only to the extent that today’s politics attempts to create forms of law and of peace that can also survive tomorrow and will invite people to similar new elaborations that pick up and carry on the achievements that have been made. But we cannot guarantee this. I believe that it is essential to call to mind these limits on progress and to close the door to a false escape into the future.

The second concept I would like to mention here is science. Science is an immensely good thing precisely because it is a controlled form of rationality that is confirmed by experience. But there exist also pathological forms of science that deprive man of all honor, when scientific capabilities are put at the service of power. Science can also serve inhumanity! Here we may recall the weapons of mass destruction, medical experiments on human beings, or the treatment of a person merely as a store of usable organs. Accordingly, it must be clear that science too is subject to moral criteria and that its true nature is lost wherever the only criterion to which it adheres is power or commerce—or even merely success—instead of human dignity.

Third, we have the concept of freedom. It too has often taken on mythical traits in the modern period. Freedom is often thought of as something anarchical, something simply opposed to institutions. This makes it an idol, since human freedom can never be anything other than a freedom expressed in the right way of living in common—freedom in justice. Otherwise, it becomes a lie and leads to slavery.

  1. We are continually obliged to undertake new demythologizing in order that reason may truly come into its own. Yet here again is another myth that must be unmasked, one that confronts us with the ultimately decisive question of rational politics. In many cases, perhaps in virtually all cases, a majority decision is the “most rational” way to achieve common solutions. But the majority cannot be an ultimate principle, since there are values that no majority is entitled to annul. It can never be right to kill innocent persons, and no power can make this legitimate. Here too, what is ultimately at stake is the defense of reason. Reason—that is, moral reason—is above the majority. But how is it possible to discern these ultimate values that are the basis of all “rational” and morally correct politics and are therefore binding on every person, irrespective of how majorities may shift and change? What are these values?

Constitutional theory in classical antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and even in the conflicts of the modern period, has appealed to the natural law that can be known by “right reason” (ratio recta). Today, however, this “right reason” seems to have ceased delivering answers to our questions, and natural law is considered, no longer as accessible to the insight of all persons, but rather as a specifically Catholic doctrine. This signifies a crisis of political reason, which is a crisis of politics as such. It seems that all that exists today is partisan reason, no longer a reason common to all men, at least as far as the great fundamental structures of values are concerned. All who bear responsibility for peace and justice in the world—and in the last analysis, that means all of us—have the urgent task of working to overcome this state of affairs. This endeavor is by no means hopeless, since reason itself will always make its voice heard against the abuse of power and one-sided partisanship.

There exists today an altered canon of values, which in practice is not called into question but which remains too imprecise and has its blind spots. The triad “peace, justice, and preservation of Creation” is universally recognized, but its contents remain completely vague. What serves the cause of peace? What is justice? How are we to preserve Creation in the best possible way? Other values acknowledged by virtually everyone are the equality of men regardless of race, the equal dignity of the sexes, and freedom of thought and belief. Here, too, the substance of these values is not always clear, and this could come to pose a threat to the freedom of thought and faith. Nevertheless, the fundamental tendencies here are important and deserve our approval.

One essential point remains controversial, namely, the right to life for every person, the inviolability of human life in all its phases. In the name of freedom and in the name of science, increasingly serious holes are being torn in this right. Where abortion is considered a right inherent in human freedom, this means that the freedom of one person is given priority over the other’s right to life. Where experiments on unborn human beings are demanded in the name of science, the dignity of man is denied and trampled on precisely in those who are most defenseless. It is here that the concepts of freedom and science must be demythologized if we are not to lose the foundations of all law, respect for man and for his dignity.

A second blind spot is the freedom to scorn what other people regard as holy. We can be very grateful that no one in our country can permit himself to mock that which is holy to Jews or Muslims. But many seem to view as one of the basic rights of human freedom the right to pull down from its pedestal what Christians regard as holy and to heap it with ridicule. And there is yet another blind spot: marriage and family no longer seem to be fundamental values of a modern society. It is urgently necessary to fill in the gaps in the list of values that our society appreciates and to demythologize those values that have undergone a mythical distortion.

In my debate with the philosopher Arcais de Flores, we touched precisely on this point: the limitations of the principle of consensus. The philosopher could not deny that there exist values that even a majority must simply accept. But what are these values? Confronted with this problem, the moderator of the debate, Gad Lerner, asked, “Why not take the Ten Commandments as a criterion?” It is perfectly correct to point out that the Decalogue is not the private property of Christians or Jews: it is a sublime expression of moral reason, and as such it finds echoes in the wisdom of the other great cultures. To take the Ten Commandments as our criterion might be a tremendous help in healing reason so that “right reason” may once again get to work.

This also makes clear what faith can contribute to correct politics. Faith does not make reason superfluous, but it can contribute evidence of essential values. Through the experiment of a life in faith, these values acquire a credibility that also illuminates and heals reason. In the last century (as in every century), it was in fact the testimony of the martyrs that limited the excesses of power, thus making a decisive contribution to what we might call the convalescence of reason.

From Values in a Time of Upheaval: Meeting the Challenges of the Future

ავტორი: Levan Ramishvili

Defender of the truth, the good, and the beautiful. An admirer of perennial philosophy. An advocate of natural law and liberty.

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