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Posted April 23, 2008

Book: Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace
Author: George Weigel
The Crossroads Publishing Company. New York. 2008. Pp. 329

An Excerpt from the Introduction

St. Anselm famously described theology as fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding), a definition on which there has been little improvement over the past millennium. The theological essays collected here are “Anselmian” in the sense that they’re attempts to show how Catholic understandings of the human person and human society, human origins and human destiny — all of which derive from the basic Christian confession of faith —

can shed light on controverted and urgent questions of public life. The goal of these explorations, then, is understanding: understanding ordered to action in the spheres of culture, economics, and politics.

An Excerpt from the Book:

In Book Three of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, the hero, Pierre Bezukhov, arrives at the battlefield of Borodino to find that the fog of war has descended, obscuring everything he had expected to be clear. There is no order; there are no familiar patterns of action; all is contingency. He could not, Count Bezukhov admits, “even distinguish our troops from the enemy’s.” And the worst is yet to come, for once the fighting begins, chaos is master of all.

From the Illiad to Tolstoy to Evelyn Waugh and beyond, that familiar trope, “the fog of war,” has been used to evoke the millennia-old experience of the radical uncertainty and contingency of combat. The gut-wrenching opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, brought this ancient truth home to a new generation of Americans; in even the most brilliantly planned military campaign, such as the Allied invasion of Europe, contingency is soon king, and prevailing amidst the radical contingency of combat draws on a man’s deepest reserves of courage and wit.

Some analysts, however, take the trope of “the fog of war” a philosophical step further and suggest that warfare takes place beyond the reach of moral reason, in a realm of interest and necessity where moral judgement is a pious diversion at best and, at worst, a lethal distraction from the deadly serious business at hand.

Table of Contents

1. The free and virtuous society

2. The sovereignty of Christ and the public church

3. Diognetus revisited, or, what the church asks of the world

4. The paradoxes of disentaglement

5. Is political theology safe for democracy?

6. Popes, power, and politics

7. Two ideas of freedom

8. Thinking world politics

9. Moral clarity in a time of war

10. Just war and the Iraq wars I

11. Just war and the Iraq wars II

12. Is Europe dying? Secularist Shibboleths and the future of the West