Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Daily Agitation

An agitation for today: can one be a “policy realist” and call oneself a Christian?
This question popped into my mind riding the Metro home from Capitol Hill this afternoon. I was down there scouting sites for the March 7 Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. I was talking with a police officer on the steps of the Capitol, remembering a time, not that many years ago, when one could simply walk up those steps which today are fenced off and watched over by machine-gun totting guards. I was thinking, “well, I suppose that is the reality of our time.” And then wondering, “are we called to something completely beyond realism?”
I suppose, for the moment, that “Christian” is more readily understood than “policy realist,” although perhaps not.
Policy realist was initially a term of art in Cold War American foreign policy used to describe those who believed in “the need for military power and political will to maintain friendly alliances to contain Soviet expansion” (in the words of James H. Billington writing in Foreign Affairs). University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer says, “Realists basically believe that states are interested in gaining power, either because they’re hardwired that way or because it’s the best way to survive, and they don’t pay much attention at all to values.” Indeed, he argues that “there is not much place for human rights and values in the Realist story.” (Like so much theory from the place, it makes me proud to be a Chicago alum!)
While policy realism as a school of thought may be a relatively recent phenomenon, the idea traces its intellectual roots back to The Prince, where Machiavelli wrote, "It appears to me more proper to go to the truth of the matter than to its imagination...for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation."
The idea of calling oneself a Christian dates back a bit further, although the notion that Christianity consists of intellectual assent to a given proposition about the identity of Jesus – for example, I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son our lord – may be no less modern than Machiavelli. That is to say, Jesus of the gospels seems far less concerned about people having a precise ontological understanding of himself than with whether or not people were willing to follow him on a way that was – whatever else is may have been – utterly committed to nonviolence.

No comments: