Jude Dougherty

Interview with Jude Dougherty, Part 2



The first part of your most recent book, Briefly Considered: From the Mainstream – Notes and Observations on the Sources of Western Culture consists of essays on contemporary social and political issues. In what ways is it a sequel to Wretched Aristotle: Using the Past to Rescue the Future and Western Creed, Western Identity?

The opening sentence of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is “All men by nature desire to know.” I think that at some point in one’s life that desire extends to knowledge of one’s parentage and cultural history. One is not a citizen of the world but is a product of a specific cultural if not of national identity. At a time when the Western World is challenged by a massive influx of alien peoples from the Middle East and Africa, it is important to have a grasp of one’s own identity and its sources. In the present global conflict, it comes down to this: Does the West have anything that is worth defending against an Islam bent on world domination?

What is the relationship between a liberal education and Western culture? Is a liberal education more than the study of the “humanities”? Can there be a liberal education without a canon of texts written by Western authors?

The sources of Western culture date to Greek and Roman antiquity. The ancients, no less intelligent than we, have much to tell us across the ages about human nature, political structures, and human fulfillment. One can begin with the Pre-Socratics, but certainly one has to become acquainted with Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, and their commentators through the ages. No one can master it all, given that the literature is vast, but one must know something of Augustine and Aquinas even to appreciate Dante, Shakespeare, Browning or Yeats, let alone to understand what the Renaissance and the Reformation were all about. Several versions of what are marketed as “The Hundred Great Books” are an attempt to provide a Western canon. Forget the term “humanities.”  It tells you nothing. It must have been invented to include whatever is left over in the catalogue when all the sciences had been listed. A liberal education allows one to approach any discipline or service with a base from which to judge. It liberates one from the here and now.

Catholic Social Teaching originated as a response to political/social/economic questions pertaining to the development of the modern nation-state. How does it evolve?

Catholic social teaching is an ongoing process because social conditions change. Moral teaching alone is permanent because human nature does not change. Leo XIII responds to Marxism. Contemporary authors respond to claims on behalf of “democratic capitalism” and to a host of issues arising from technical advances in industry, trade, and medicine.

The question of how Catholics should vote was raised again this past presidential election. Do Catholics need a conception of political participation and citizenship that goes beyond voting?

Catholics are citizens of a particular nation.  Political obligations vary from country to country. Because man is a political animal by nature, Aristotle’s Politics remains relevant as a practical and moral guide. It has not been superseded.

Catholics must vote their informed conscience, emphasis on informed. They cannot vote for a socialist agenda because socialism and Catholicism are incompatible.  The progressive and feminist agendas are likewise incompatible with Catholicism.

Has the appeal to natural law in the discussion of public policy and social issues been effective? What is the relationship between natural law and rights? Have Catholics lost the battle to reclaim rights talk for a natural law perspective to those who ground rights in some form of liberalism?

Appeals to natural law in the political order are fruitless. No scientist denies that there is a natural law governing events in nature. Water runs downhill, gold is malleable, copper conducts electricity. The acceptance of telos in nature is rejected by the materialist and the so-called progressivist because it speaks to human fulfillment. If God is dead, everything is permitted. If there is an intelligible God-given order that leads to personal fulfillment, the moral compass changes. You may have to alter your lifestyle. That God-given moral order finds expression in the Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Christ.

As to rights, few are universal. A child has a right to life, to sustenance, and to instruction, but up to a point.  All other rights are political and depend on circumstances. No one has right to a college education, a cell phone, or unlimited health care. A citizen has a right to be treated equally within a political context. With those political rights come duties, i.e. participation in the political process and perhaps military or other civic service.

In the first essay, “The Loss of Maritain’s America,” you talk about “the regulatory agencies created by government that are essentially removed from the rule of law, insofar as they possess in one body, legislative, executive, and judicial authority” (6). The bureaucracy of the government, especially at the federal level, is one component of what some call the “deep state.” Do you think that the accumulation of power by government bureaucracy or by the deep state can be reversed? Is there any way to counter it?

It has been the mission of more than one presidential candidate to roll back the power of the central government and to check the power of regulatory agencies. Overreach by the executive and by federal agencies is not unknown on both sides of the Atlantic, to the detriment of personal freedom.

Aristotle wrote his Politics for the training of those who would someday hold political authority. Besides the moral component (i.e. training in virtue), what sort of intellectual training in statesmanship should be given to all American citizens? Is there any connection between the education of the potential statesman related and a liberal education? Are the political texts of classical authors like Aristotle and Cicero still relevant today? What authors should be studied?

In the United States, all should become acquainted with the founding principles of the nation.  That includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalists Papers. I use the word “should” because levels of intelligence vary and not all are equally capable of mastering the texts. Membership in a political party is often a guide when it comes to taking a position on complex issues. Obviously, education is important. It should produce adults who can read, write and speak intelligently and can converse like adults.  Sadly, education in the U.S. has fallen under control of those who repudiate the country’s founding principles, especially the religious character of those principles.

Aristotle makes the point in his Politics that the “good” citizen is defined (and produced) in accordance with the regime (politeia), the type of government, present; it seems to be the case that virtue has been redefined to suit the needs and purposes of those seeking to create a liberal multicultural state, with “tolerance” (which you address in “Tolerance: Virtue or Vice”) being one of the cardinal virtues. Would you agree with this assessment, and how is such a conception of a good citizen problematic? What are the other qualities and beliefs necessary for the “good” citizen in our current regime?

I cannot help but agree with your assessment. A good citizen is first of all a moral one – honest, fair and upright. The U.S. is not yet a multicultural state. A multicultural state would be impossible to govern.  There has to be a cultural unity in the people to have a body politic, even to agree on a common good.

In the essay, “Family matters,” you mention family sanction, the approval or disapproval of behavior, and family guidance as being necessary for the cultivation of character. In many areas, the importance of family education seems to have been lost in the wake of the 60s, with the rise of a laissez-faire approach to parenting, both parents working outside the home, and the displacement of the family by the state (especially in the form of public education) and mass culture in the forming of the minds and hearts of the young. Also, it is not just the weakening of parental authority, but that of the father in particular, along with the denigration of fathers in the mass media, that has had a big impact. Is some form of retreat of families (and small communities) from modern society necessary for them to gather strength and to be able to raise children well?

Your diagnosis is essentially correct.  In response, may I point out that small communities within the large whole occur naturally as like-minded associate. I doubt if they can or should be organized.  Common interest is the basis of community.

With respect to family matters, a youngster may be persuaded by a parent who says simply: What would your grandfather say if you did that? The feminist movement has taken out of the home many a good woman who would have made a great mother.

The second part of the book consists of previously published reviews of books on the history of science. How is the rise of science related to Western culture? What is your response to those who identify modern scientific achievement with modernity and the triumph of reason over faith?

I will answer that with a quotation from an early twentieth century Harvard University Professor, George Santayana. In the opening pages of his Reason in Science he writes, “Science has flourished only twice in recorded times, once for three hundred years in ancient Greece and again for the same period in modern Christianity.”  He has the historical data to back up that claim.

One of the first to address the relation of faith and reason was the Jewish philosopher and convert to Christianity, Justin Martyr. There were St. Paul and theologians before him, of course, but Justin Martyr may be described as the first philosopher to critically examine the Gospels and the practices of the early Church. As a result of his study, Justine became convinced that Christian belief is not groundless, that it can be rationally embraced. He is rightly called a “Father of the Church,” and a “Martyr” because he refused to abandon his newly found Christianity to worship the gods of the state.  He was executed on orders issued by the Roman Prefect, Junius Rusticus.

How should a liberal education cover science and the history of science in the West? Would you have any concrete recommendations for a university curriculum?

A liberal education must include a rudimentary knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology, and, of course, mathematics. That, in addition to courses in philosophy, theology, literature and history. It was not unusual for a Catholic college before Vatican II to require a course in philosophy and one in theology in each of the eight semesters it took to get a B.A. Even programs in engineering, nursing and pre-medicine included a philosophy and theology component.

The Church, even from apostolic times, has been one of the strongest defenders of human reason, while recognizing its limits and warning of errors, especially those that inflate its capability. Regarding the correct use of reason, how are St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio and Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture still relevant today?

Both texts feed off the common teaching of the Church.  Benedict in the Regensburg lecture implicitly calls attention to the threat posed by Islam to the survival of Western culture. He was condemned for calling attention to it that threat by citing Ibn Kaldun (1332-1406) on the mission of Islam to convert all non-Muslims by persuasion or force.

The Catholic faith is not a Kierkegaardian leap into the dark. Catholicism is not a fideistic religion. It demands and has a rational preamble. It is with reason that Catholicism is sometimes called Aristotelian Christianity.

Probing the depths of Catholicism is a lifelong process. There is always more to know. Important is the presence of Catholic literature in the home. Books by Belloc, Chesterton, Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Christopher Dawson, T.S. Eliot, Josef Pieper, and A.G. Sertillange should be part of any family library. I cannot stress that too much. The faith, as practiced, can also be learned from its illustration in novels. We see this in works by authors such as Leon Bloy, Graham Greene, Francois Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor.

The third part of the book contains brief review essays of recent books on Islam. Why this focus?

For those who wish to know something about Islam, this short bibliography may be helpful. All the books reviewed are by serious scholars and published by major presses. The authors selected do not write from the same point of view but all are insightful. Perhaps the best introduction to Islam is a work by Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton University Press, 2009). It is a translation from the German of a set of lectures that were prepared for delivery in 1905 but were never actually given. It thus antedates the political correctness of recent decades that obscures the true nature of Islam.

Do people advocate dialogue too much or have unreasonable expectations about dialogue?  We hear many, including Catholics, talk about how it is something that must be done, but usually without sufficient reflection or explanation of the conditions necessary for effective dialogue to happen. For example, the claim that dialectical engagement between members of different traditions or cultures is possible and even desirable, for the sake of clarifying one’s own principles at least, is based on the liberal (and mistaken) assumption that all are equally rational and capable of such an inquiry. Rather, it may be that the majority of people hold to certain principles or norms on the basis of habit, custom, or emotion instead of reason, and that these factors may prevent them from having the necessary detachment. There also seems to be a naive belief that dialogue will lead to a satisfactory solution, and not enough consideration of what should be done if it fails and people cannot come to an agreement, or that the common ground they share is too small for them to effectively be one people. Have we reached the point where conflicting traditions or mores have led to a splintering of Americans into different identity groups?

Good questions, all. Dialogue is usually fruitless. You cannot reconcile contradictories. Catholics can argue among themselves because they share a common commitment. Historians can disagree in their interpretations of a set of facts, but they have to commonly acknowledge the set of facts that they interpret. Philosophers can talk past each other if they do not share a common set of principles.  Dialogue between Muslims and Christians is fruitless. It has not happened in the fourteen hundred years since the Islamic conquests in the seventh century. Some who have tried it have lost their life.

What is your advice for American Catholics confronted with the minefield of identity politics and the push for multiculturalism? Are American Catholics in danger of becoming another identity group in a country that is becoming increasingly diverse? How can Catholics seek to uphold Western culture without being “divisive”?

The divide is great and may eventually lead to destructive civil conflict. Catholic schools exist to counter the predominantly anti-Christian outlook that prevails in state educational complex and other major institutions. Catholic schools are handicapped in their mission by government intrusion. The left does not play fair. The anti-Christian left not only controls the universities but mainstream media and the financial and entertainment industries. Its international character militates against patriotism.

Much of American higher education seems committed to belittling and replacing Western culture. This campaign is not limited to the humanities, as there are activists in other departments who seek to stifle the free speech of those who vocally disagree with their ideology. Many American colleges and universities are no longer bearers of Western culture but agents of a different culture, with its own heroes and history. How has Catholic education fared with regards to this continuing culture war? In light of your answer to the previous question, what path should Catholic schools be taking?

Those engaged in Catholic education need to have an in-depth understanding of their mission. There are many nominally Catholic colleges that need to recover their founding principles. Many have been pulled off course by the secular leviathan without realizing it.  Catholic leadership must be informed and courageous. Anyone who has observed the Washington political establishment for a period of time has seen many a good person retreat in the interest of being accepted by or admitted to the inner circles of power.

What are your thoughts on this past presidential election and what has been going on at the national level? Does the question of Western culture have anything to do with what we see happening in politics? Do you have any predictions about what will happen in the next fifty years in the United States and in the West in general?

The recent presidential election may lead to significant changes insofar as it returns power to the states, to the people, if you will. But don’t expect too much. The intellectual elites still control an opposition media and are inclined to pursue their policies one way or another, and will do what they can to impede or bring down the newly elected administration. If the left regains control of the government, the nation may be in serious trouble. Socialism inevitably leads to a totalitarian government, to a dictatorship, given that its objectives usually contravene human propensities and can only be imposed by force.

Thank you very much, Dr. Dougherty, for your time and thoughts!