Major Articles Crisis Magazine

Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

By Deal W. Hudson

Mikhail Gorbachev was the final president of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 to 1991. His policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) led to the end of communism in the USSR and the birth of a new, democratic Russia.

Currently, he heads the Gorbachev Foundation, an international think tank. He sat down with Deal W. Hudson in his office in Moscow, under-neath a large portrait of his late, beloved wife, Raisa.

Deal W. Hudson: The United States and its allies are now at war with terrorism. How do you see that proceeding?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Even as we’re witnessing a new euphoria from the victory over the Taliban, we have to state firmly that resorting to bombing of entire countries and peoples each time we battle with terrorism is absolutely unacceptable. We need to decide this on a case-by-case basis. There are economic, financial, and other means to go about combating this threat.

Do you think, in some cases, the same objective can be achieved through nonviolent methods?

Yes, of course. I was talking to Margaret Thatcher when she called for NATO strikes against Serbs in Bosnia. I asked her why she didn’t use this method of bombing in Belfast with all the problems with the IRA in northern Ireland—even when she narrowly escaped the bombing in a hotel. Why was it all right to bomb the Serbs? I saw her on the TV screen, and she was saying, “Bomb them, bomb them.” My answer was very harsh: I told her not to resort to violence.

What would you suggest?

Recently, I did an interview with a German newspaper in which I pointed out that there are many other nonmilitary options available. I was one of the first to suggest going the financial route. My proposal was to take ten banks that offer support to terrorist groups and revoke their licenses. You can be sure the next day 120 percent of the other banks would change their practices. When the newspaper ran the article, the headline said, “Gorbachev wants to revoke licenses of German banks.” [Laughter]

I understand you met with former President Clinton recently?

Yes, I met President Clinton in Madrid. My relationship with President Clinton was quite strained, if not downright tense. Of course, it was not because of Monica Lewinsky. I was highly critical of his foreign policy. He is guilty for the fact that the U.S. has wasted those ten years following the end of the Cold War.

What should he have done? How did he waste those years? Do you mean against terrorism?

I think he missed out on opportunities to develop a new world order. I discussed this at length with the president of the United States, George W. Bush. I think [the United States and Russia] should have worked more on the NATO issues and the issues of European security. Following the end of the Cold War, little had been done. I think Mr. Clinton, as a freshman in foreign politics, was spending too much time on the little details, and as a result, none of us was ready for the challenges of globalization.

So [Mr. Clinton and I] were the two principal speakers at the Madrid conference, and Mr. Clinton delivered a very interesting address. Put bluntly, he was rather self-critical. I asked, “Why bother with self-criticism? You’re interested in the poverty issue, and something must be done about it.” He said, “It wasn’t really me who caused the growth of poverty, but I didn’t do very much to address it.”

Are you encouraged by the strong relationship between President Bush and President Putin?

Very much so. It would be good if no one paid attention to those who criticize Bush in the United States or those who tend to criticize Mr. Putin in Russia. Mr. Putin has great support among the ordinary people, but some scholars and intellectuals who cater to the party interests of ruling elites try to criticize him. We shouldn’t only talk about the need

What kind of mechanisms do you have in mind?

Take NATO, for example. Russia, together with NATO, is addressing some of the really critical problems of today, and Russia’s contribution to this process is much bigger than that of all those aspiring states who want to join NATO. And it’s going to be this way in the future. If we consolidate this strength, I think we will all benefit. It’s not necessary that Russia join NATO; the main thing is to have a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO. This mechanism should give Russia equal footing not only in the decision- making process but also in discussing all those issues.

Recently, my old acquaintance and friend, Mr. Colin Powell, came to Moscow and said yes, we should give Russia a bigger role with NATO, but we shouldn’t give it the right of veto. I told the secretary of state that he’s moving too fast and that he should warn his allies not to give in. The president should know that if Russia will participate more in decision-making in NATO, then NATO would be guaranteed not to make mistakes in the future.

Putin has the same stance that we had in Malta during our meeting with Mr. Bush: We don’t consider our countries to be enemies. But America does have to understand that just as you have interests—vital interests—that we understand, we have ours as well. If there’s dialogue, if there’s a mechanism, we’ll discuss issues and find mutually beneficial solutions. If NATO is really ready for a partnership, it couldn’t find a better partner than Russia.

Some people say that the United States and Russia are natural allies. Do you agree?

Yes. Objectively speaking, they should be allies. It’s significant that today we can speak of a partnership between the two—that we could be allies. We see both the Russian and American sides working in this direction, So, you are correct.

But there’s work to be done right now. If we don’t consider seriously all Mr. Putin’s proposals regarding domestic and foreign policy, we may miss another chance—because, you know, these proposals are really far-reaching.

Right now, we see new challenges, new problems. We were discussing the problems concerning the anti-terrorist coalition—the war on the Taliban. Of course we’re sure the United States will win this war. Following this victory, there will be euphoria, and we will forget about everything we’ve just gone through. We’ll forget about the main challenges, about what we should really be doing.

You speak of the changes between Russia and the West. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in Russia itself? What were some of the challenges you faced as president?

I’ve often been invited to speak about the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. I think it’s a very interesting subject. In our case, we were all learning to pronounce this term “private property,” and it was almost like a second revolution. In each of my speeches, the members of the Politburo would look for words that in some way or another might be understood as critical of socialism. Those, they tried to replace. You must understand, by 1985, 90 percent of all the Soviet population was born under socialist rule after the October Revolution. They knew nothing of power, private property, and so on. So the main obstacle for Russian progress is our set of preconceptions. Our friends in the West wanted to think that because Gorbachev declared freedom, democracy, pluralism, glasnost, and so on that everything would change overnight.

But for now, without an efficient legal system which is truly able to enforce federal law, Russia will not be able to get back on track with democratic reforms.

How do you see your legacy? What will the history books say about your leadership of the Soviet Union?

There was a very interesting poll conducted by the All-Russian Poll Center. The results of this poll were wonderful. Everyone is for reform now, but they’re arguing about whether we ever needed to start perestroika at all. Forty-two percent of the people think that we needed to start perestroika and 45 percent say we shouldn’t have. This 45 percent who say that we shouldn’t have are mainly senior citizens. So the most active, young, middle-class part of the population say that it was worthwhile.

Another peculiar feature was that even those respondents who said that it wasn’t worth starting perestroika at all say that they are for pluralism—pluralism of ideas, pluralism of parties, pluralism of ideology, and religious confession. So even if they didn’t think perestroika was a great idea, 60 to 80 percent say they’re happy with the changes it brought. Even those who voted against perestroika in this poll—they say that those benefits are good. They support those benefits.

I’m especially encouraged by the fact that 80 to 82 percent of all those respondents, when asked what kind of Russia they’d like to see in the future, say that they want a free, democratic country. So I think I’ll live to see that day. Mine is the usual fate of reformers: Either we get killed or our contribution is acknowledged only 50 years later.

Published at Crisis Magazine, February 1, 2002

An Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

Note: In the winter of 2002 I was invited to Moscow by my friend, Tom Murray, to meet and interview Mikhail Gorbachev. Tom was spearheading the building of the first pro-life maternity clinic in Russia, and persisted until it was opened a few years later.  President Gorbachev supported Tom and his mission which he reiterated after this interview at a very memorable meal with the two of us overlooking the Kremlin.  Mikhail Gorbachev was the final president of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 to 1991. His policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) led to the end of communism in the USSR and the birth of a new, democratic Russia.

Deal W. Hudson

Published February 1, 2002

This interview took place with Mikhail Gorbachev in his office at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, under-neath a large portrait of his late, beloved wife, Raisa.

Deal W. Hudson: The United States and its allies are now at war with terrorism. How do you see that proceeding?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Even as we’re witnessing a new euphoria from the victory over the Taliban, we have to state firmly that resorting to bombing of entire countries and peoples each time we battle with terrorism is absolutely unacceptable. We need to decide this on a case-by-case basis. There are economic, financial, and other means to go about combating this threat.

Do you think, in some cases, the same objective can be achieved through nonviolent methods?

Yes, of course. I was talking to Margaret Thatcher when she called for NATO strikes against Serbs in Bosnia. I asked her why she didn’t use this method of bombing in Belfast with all the problems with the IRA in northern Ireland—even when she narrowly escaped the bombing in a hotel. Why was it all right to bomb the Serbs? I saw her on the TV screen, and she was saying, “Bomb them, bomb them.” My answer was very harsh: I told her not to resort to violence.

What would you suggest?

Recently, I did an interview with a German newspaper in which I pointed out that there are many other nonmilitary options available. I was one of the first to suggest going the financial route. My proposal was to take ten banks that offer support to terrorist groups and revoke their licenses. You can be sure the next day 120 percent of the other banks would change their practices. When the newspaper ran the article, the headline said, “Gorbachev wants to revoke licenses of German banks.” [Laughter]

I understand you met with former President Clinton recently?

Yes, I met President Clinton in Madrid. My relationship with President Clinton was quite strained, if not downright tense. Of course, it was not because of Monica Lewinsky. I was highly critical of his foreign policy. He is guilty for the fact that the U.S. has wasted those ten years following the end of the Cold War.

What should he have done? How did he waste those years? Do you mean against terrorism?

I think he missed out on opportunities to develop a new world order. I discussed this at length with the president of the United States, George W. Bush. I think [the United States and Russia] should have worked more on the NATO issues and the issues of European security. Following the end of the Cold War, little had been done. I think Mr. Clinton, as a freshman in foreign politics, was spending too much time on the little details, and as a result, none of us was ready for the challenges of globalization.

So [Mr. Clinton and I] were the two principal speakers at the Madrid conference, and Mr. Clinton delivered a very interesting address. Put bluntly, he was rather self-critical. I asked, “Why bother with self-criticism? You’re interested in the poverty issue, and something must be done about it.” He said, “It wasn’t really me who caused the growth of poverty, but I didn’t do very much to address it.”

Are you encouraged by the strong relationship between President Bush and President Putin?

Very much so. It would be good if no one paid attention to those who criticize Bush in the United States or those who tend to criticize Mr. Putin in Russia. Mr. Putin has great support among the ordinary people, but some scholars and intellectuals who cater to the party interests of ruling elites try to criticize him. We shouldn’t only talk about the need

What kind of mechanisms do you have in mind?

Take NATO, for example. Russia, together with NATO, is addressing some of the really critical problems of today, and Russia’s contribution to this process is much bigger than that of all those aspiring states who want to join NATO. And it’s going to be this way in the future. If we consolidate this strength, I think we will all benefit. It’s not necessary that Russia join NATO; the main thing is to have a mechanism of cooperation between Russia and NATO. This mechanism should give Russia equal footing not only in the decision- making process but also in discussing all those issues.

Recently, my old acquaintance and friend, Mr. Colin Powell, came to Moscow and said yes, we should give Russia a bigger role with NATO, but we shouldn’t give it the right of veto. I told the secretary of state that he’s moving too fast and that he should warn his allies not to give in. The president should know that if Russia will participate more in decision-making in NATO, then NATO would be guaranteed not to make mistakes in the future.

Putin has the same stance that we had in Malta during our meeting with Mr. Bush: We don’t consider our countries to be enemies. But America does have to understand that just as you have interests—vital interests—that we understand, we have ours as well. If there’s dialogue, if there’s a mechanism, we’ll discuss issues and find mutually beneficial solutions. If NATO is really ready for a partnership, it couldn’t find a better partner than Russia.

Some people say that the United States and Russia are natural allies. Do you agree?

Yes. Objectively speaking, they should be allies. It’s significant that today we can speak of a partnership between the two—that we could be allies. We see both the Russian and American sides working in this direction, So, you are correct.

But there’s work to be done right now. If we don’t consider seriously all Mr. Putin’s proposals regarding domestic and foreign policy, we may miss another chance—because, you know, these proposals are really far-reaching.

Right now, we see new challenges, new problems. We were discussing the problems concerning the anti-terrorist coalition—the war on the Taliban. Of course we’re sure the United States will win this war. Following this victory, there will be euphoria, and we will forget about everything we’ve just gone through. We’ll forget about the main challenges, about what we should really be doing.

You speak of the changes between Russia and the West. What are some of the changes you’ve seen in Russia itself? What were some of the challenges you faced as president?

I’ve often been invited to speak about the transition from totalitarianism to democracy. I think it’s a very interesting subject. In our case, we were all learning to pronounce this term “private property,” and it was almost like a second revolution. In each of my speeches, the members of the Politburo would look for words that in some way or another might be understood as critical of socialism. Those, they tried to replace. You must understand, by 1985, 90 percent of all the Soviet population was born under socialist rule after the October Revolution. They knew nothing of power, private property, and so on. So the main obstacle for Russian progress is our set of preconceptions. Our friends in the West wanted to think that because Gorbachev declared freedom, democracy, pluralism, glasnost, and so on that everything would change overnight.

But for now, without an efficient legal system which is truly able to enforce federal law, Russia will not be able to get back on track with democratic reforms.

How do you see your legacy? What will the history books say about your leadership of the Soviet Union?

There was a very interesting poll conducted by the All-Russian Poll Center. The results of this poll were wonderful. Everyone is for reform now, but they’re arguing about whether we ever needed to start perestroika at all. Forty-two percent of the people think that we needed to start perestroika and 45 percent say we shouldn’t have. This 45 percent who say that we shouldn’t have are mainly senior citizens. So the most active, young, middle-class part of the population say that it was worthwhile.

Another peculiar feature was that even those respondents who said that it wasn’t worth starting perestroika at all say that they are for pluralism—pluralism of ideas, pluralism of parties, pluralism of ideology, and religious confession. So even if they didn’t think perestroika was a great idea, 60 to 80 percent say they’re happy with the changes it brought. Even those who voted against perestroika in this poll—they say that those benefits are good. They support those benefits.

I’m especially encouraged by the fact that 80 to 82 percent of all those respondents, when asked what kind of Russia they’d like to see in the future, say that they want a free, democratic country. So I think I’ll live to see that day. Mine is the usual fate of reformers: Either we get killed or our contribution is acknowledged only 50 years later.

Robert Novak–The Catholic Vote: Does It Swing?

Note: Robert (Bob) Novak was America’s premiere political reporter for decades until he died at age 78 in 2007. His work, starting at the Chicago Sun-Times and continuing through the Wall Street Journal, CNN’s “Crossfire,” and Fox News, is well-chronicled.  In 1998, the year of this article, Novak was received into the Catholic Church by Msgr. Peter Vaghi and Rev. C.J. McCloskey.  His wife, Geraldine, had been attending St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC for several years, but it was some books given to Novak by Jeff Bell, a prominent Catholic political consultant, that began his journey. Bob and I became friends shortly after I came to DC in 1995 but it wasn’t until later we began having regular breakfasts at the Army Navy Club. Eventually, I would accompany Bob and Geraldine on their first, and second, trip to the Holy Land. This article was written at my request for a special issue of Crisis Magazine on the Catholic vote which would turn to be perhaps the most influential issue ever published.

Robert D. Novak

Published November 11, 1998

The conventional wisdom among politicians and journalists for much of the past half-century has been that Catholics, 44 million currently of voting age, comprise a swing vote.

As the 1950s began, Catholics were departing their traditional home in the Democratic Party to support Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. That was followed by a massive return of Catholic Democrats—accompanied by a good many Catholic Republicans—to vote for their cocommunicant, Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. The gradual attrition of Catholic support for Democratic presidential candidates climaxed with heavy backing for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

But by 1996, Catholics were supporting Democrat Bill Clinton’s reelection much more strongly than other Americans; among Catholics, it was 54 percent for Clinton, 38 percent for Republican Bob Dole, and 8 percent for independent Ross Perot. That’s not the whole story. While Clinton ran worse among many voter groups in 1996 than he had in 1992 (including seniors and youth, at opposite ends of the age spectrum), he did better among Catholics: a gain of 2.3 million votes compared with Dole’s gain of 400,000 and Perot’s loss of 3.3 million. Of the 23 states with a Catholic vote above the national average, Dole carried only two: Texas and Colorado. Had Dole run just a little better among Catholics, his supporters surmised, he might well have been elected.

Is There a Catholic Vote?

Thus, at a time when the conventional wisdom has assumed a divorce between Catholics and the Democratic Party, it is no exaggeration to say that the Catholic vote elected Bill Clinton. In the Midwest (where there is a plurality of Catholics) and the Northeast, this vote was indispensable to the near-sweep Clinton had in these two regions. The apparent oscillation of the Catholic vote over nearly 40 years raises difficult, even troubling questions.

•If Catholics appear always to be on the side of the winner, whether it be Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, is there no driving principle that informs the choice? Or, are Catholics really no different from other American voters? If Catholics preferred Clinton in greater numbers than their fellow citizens, does that mean that they prefer a candidate who is irrevocably tied to abortion rights, gay rights, and racial preferences and is irrevocably opposed to school choice and school prayer?

•Does this then demolish the Republican concept of the Catholic voter as a natural partner of Protestant fundamentalists and evangelists in a religious coalition?

•Put bluntly, what evidence is there that there are distinctive political characteristics that bind together Catholics sufficiently to form a bloc vote with even some elements of coherence? Is there really a Catholic vote?

The only logical answer to this paradoxical question is that there are two Catholic votes—just as there are two kinds of Catholics in America, active and inactive religiously.

The active Catholic attends Mass every Sunday, probably subscribes to religious publications, may well belong to the Knights of Columbus and the Legions of Mary, and will tend to conform to the views of the Catholic bishops, at least on abortion.

The inactive Catholic is an inconstant communicant, likely is not a member of any parish church, and is cut off from the views of the bishops—particularly when it comes to abortion.

This distinction makes some sense out of what has been the otherwise inexplicable political migration of Catholics during the past half-century. Prior to that time, there was not much swinging by Catholic voters; they were—with some notable though temporary exceptions—Democrats.

Political History

The first migratory wave of Catholics in the 19th century was composed of Irish fleeing the potato famine and political exclusion. They settled into the Democratic Party in their new nation’s big cities as a power base against the American establishment—Protestant and Republican—that excluded them from power and privileges. German Catholics, many fleeing post-1848 political repression throughout Europe, followed the Irish and were generally their political allies in the Democratic machines.

The Irish-German Catholic loyalty to the Democrats was interrupted by Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s Anglophile policies and intervention in World War I, with Republicans scoring major Catholic gains at the presidential and lower levels in 1920. By 1928, when the Democratic nominee for president was urban Catholic Al Smith of New York City, Catholic voters returned to the fold and for the most part stayed there during the Franklin D. Roosevelt era and Harry Truman’s 1948 election.

But beneath this seemingly steadfast adherence to their ancestral party, Catholics were restless. They were unhappy that the Democrats seemed to have become the liberal party of blacks, Jews, and silk-stocking Protestants, as reflected in international policy toward Communism and domestic policy toward the welfare state. Eisenhower ran well in Catholic areas in both of his landslides over Adlai Stevenson, which began the political analysis of a Catholic swing vote.

But through the last ten presidential elections, there has been marked difference in the voting patterns of active and inactive Catholics, as the numbers of the latter rose dramatically. In 1960, 73 percent of Catholics still said they regularly attended Mass. The figure dropped to 64 percent in 1964 and to an all-time low of 40 percent in 1988, before returning to 47 percent in 1992 and 46 percent in 1996. That signifies a stabilized base of active Catholic voters for the past decade. Here is a rundown of the voting patterns of the kinds of Catholics in those ten elections:

1960:With John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic nominee for president since Al Smith, Catholics returned to their Democratic roots—especially the active Catholics. Kennedy won 83 percent of the Catholic vote (comprising 22 percent of the electorate), getting 87 percent of religiously active Catholics and 69 percent of inactive Catholics. This nonideological support from his coreligionists elected Kennedy. He lost to Republican Richard M. Nixon among both religiously active Protestants and inactive non-Catholics.

1964: Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson for the most part kept the Catholic voters he inherited from Kennedy. But the 79 percent he received represented a resumed Catholic erosion in the Democratic Party. Actually, he received a higher percentage of the inactive Catholics than had Kennedy, but dropped among the active Catholics. Also, the intensity of Democratic support among active Catholics was diminishing. In 1960, 52 percent of active Catholics described themselves as “strong” Democrats; in 1964, the figure was 32 percent.

1968: The migration of Democrats out of the Democratic Party continued, though less so among active Catholics. Democrat Hubert Humphrey fell well below the JFK/LBJ totals, but he still won 57 percent—divided by 58 percent from actives and 52 percent from inactives. Active Catholics were still supporting Vietnam policy more strongly than the national average, and that may have contributed to Humphrey’s residual strength among that group.

1972: In the year of President Nixon’s reelection landslide, the Catholic vote for a presidential candidate fell to the national average for the first time. Democrat George McGovern received only 39 percent among both active and inactive Catholics, reflecting the national antipathy to what was perceived as a fringe candidate. Little more than half of the nation’s Catholics described themselves as Democrats, though their ancestral hostility to Republicanism led them into independent ranks. Asked for the first time by the National Election Study to list their ideology, only 19 percent of active Catholics said they were “liberal” compared with 31 percent of inactives. Stating a “conservative” preference were 36 percent of actives and 30 percent of inactives.

1976: This post-Watergate, post-Vietnam election, paradoxically, showed Catholics rallying for Democrat Jimmy Carter—a born-again, Protestant Southerner—with 57 percent and 56 percent from actives and inactives, respectively. Both kinds of Catholics were clearly repelled by the Nixon scandals, but their ideological split was becoming more obvious. For the first time, a plurality of active Catholics (42 percent) called themselves conservatives; inactives were evenly divided between “liberals” and “conservatives.”

1980: Now the ideological division of American Catholics became clear. A majority of actives (54 percent) voted for Ronald Reagan, marking the first time this group had given a Republican presidential candidate a higher vote than the general electorate. A plurality of inactives (48 percent) backed President Carter. The party preference of all Catholics dropped from 49 percent to 42 percent, with some of them going to the Republicans (21 percent among actives, 11 percent among inactives).

1984: In his landslide against Democrat Walter F. Mondale, President Reagan won equal support—and lots of it—from active and inactive Catholics: 58 percent, one percentage point below the national share. Here was a national sweep that obliterated religious voting lines. Stated Democratic affiliation of Catholics fell to what is still an all-time low of 37 percent. For the first time, Catholics voted for the Republican nominee with a higher percentage than the country at large.

1988: Republican George Bush received 2.4 million fewer Catholic votes, including 2.1 million actives, than Reagan had four years earlier. In defeat, Democrat Michael Dukakis cut into the church-going Catholic, labor-union, and lower income households that had gone heavily for Reagan—in short, the famous “Reagan Democrats.” But Bush retained Reagan’s inroads among the inactives.

1992: In this year the gap between Catholics who go to church and those who don’t became an abyss. The inactives liked the looks of Bill Clinton so much that they backed him against President Bush, 51 percent to 28 percent in the three-way race with Ross Perot. But active Catholics who had turned away from Bush in 1988 did not like Clinton either; it was Bush over Clinton, 42 percent to 37 percent, among the actives.

1996: Beneath the superficial indication that the Catholic vote had reelected Bill Clinton while white Protestants overwhelmingly supported Bob Dole’s losing campaign lies the Catholic division. The inactives backed Clinton, 56 percent to 33 percent; actives supported Dole, 47 percent to 44 percent. This year also produced evidence of an ideological split. For the first time since the left-right preference began to be tested in 1972, half of active Catholics identified themselves as “conservative” and, also for the first time, a plurality of inactive called themselves “liberal.” Self-identified Democrats constituted 41 percent: the same as 1992, up from the low of 38 percent in 1988 and down from the 40-year high of 64 percent starting the period in 1960.

The 1996 Catholic vote was 29 percent of the national total, the highest in this 40-year period, but divided evenly among actives (15 percent) and inactives (14 percent).

Active Catholic Identity

The reality of two increasingly distinct Catholic votes should provide clear lessons for Republican politicians.

Inactive Catholics are an amorphous blob, undetectable from the rest of the electorate and certainly not classifiable as a voting bloc to be courted.

Active Catholics certainly do not constitute a monolithic bloc in the nature of African-Americans or even pietistic white Protestants. But they do have distinctive characteristics—including an anti-abortion position that belies claims by pro-choice Catholics.

In 1976, the National Election Study asked voters about abortion for the first time—and again the active/inactive dichotomy was apparent. Among active Catholics, 88 percent opposed permissive abortion laws, compared with 53 percent by inactives. By 1980, the anti-abortion bloc among active Catholics had declined to 75 percent.

In 1996, the National Election Study had changed the questions to make comparisons unrewarding, but the gap among Catholics widened. Enactment into law of a woman’s right to an abortion was favored by 26 percent of active Catholics but 50 percent of inactives.

The body of active Catholic voters cuts across economic lines and social status. Although they are patriotic, that is not a live issue with the end of the Cold War. What is relevant today, they are disturbed by the decline of traditional social values and maintain a belief in absolute moral values. As such, they prefer the conservative position on abortion, school choice, school prayer, and affirmative action.

If that profile seems familiar, it is because it is not much different from the outlook of born-again, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians. In 1996, these pietistic Protestants constituted 18 percent of the electorate—combining with active Catholics for a 33 percent share.

What this coalition feels about the size and function of government is unclear and surely not monolithic. What is certain is that these voters will not vote for a pro-choice candidate opposed to school vouchers and school prayer who advocates racial preferences. They supported the losing Republican candidates in 1992 and 1996 but not in sufficient numbers to avert the Clinton victories.

Will the Republican candidate and managers in 2000 be confused by lumping together the voting preferences and ideologies of all Catholics, active and inactive, and seek a centrist position on social issues while avowedly pursuing a phantom Catholic vote? The answer will shape the politics of the 21st century.

Alice Thomas Ellis: He Came Down from Heaven

Editor’s note: Here’s a Catholic writer worth discovering or rediscovering! Alice Thomas Ellis, who died 2002 at age 72, was the pen name of Anna Haycraft. I called her one day out of blue and asked her to write an article for Crisis Magazine and she very kindly sent the one below — it helped that I read several of her novels and knew of her concerns about the post Vatican II Church (read her explosive, Serpent On The Rock published in 1994). Born in Wales, Alice converted to Catholicism at age 19 and went into a convent as a postulant nun. After slipping a disc, she left for a time, but when she returned the convent refused to take her back. She had seven children but managed a very active career in published and in writing. Many of her novels were bestsellers and a turned into movies and a TV mini-series. Among her best known fiction is The Sin Eater (1977), The Birds Of The Air (1980), The 27th Kingdom (1982), Unexplained Laughter (1985), The Inn At The Edge Of The World (1990), Pillars Of Gold (1992), and a novel about the mysterious appearance of a newborn baby, Fairy Tale (1996). Her only collection of stories was The Evening Of Adam (1994).

Alice Thomas Ellis

He Came Down from Heaven–A Consolation

Published November 1, 1995

I have been clearing out rooms since the death of my husband and have been sometimes overcome by a sense of the charnel-house. The possessions of the dead can seem loathsome when they have lost all utility and are mere reminders of mortality, of corruption and decay, of grief and loss. Even evidence of past joys and triumphs—trophies and photographs—are a source of anguish when the one to whom they were most pertinent has gone and won’t be coming back.

The house is mixed with the occasions of pain and you find yourself reluctant to move, to stir the air lest you raise the dust of old memories. The ubiquitous counselors who now profligate will tell you that the pain passes and you are left with only the “good things,” but I have not found this to be true. My second son died nearly twenty years ago and the wound has not healed, nor ever will, until I too am dead.

They tell you to make the most of this world, to empower yourself, to revel in self-esteem and self-love, to eat (only fat and sodium free comestibles of course), to drink (in severe moderation) and be merry: the implication being that this life is all we have; we should make it as long as we possibly can and be careful not to love anyone, other than ourselves, too greatly lest we should suffer.

Even “Christians” now offer this advice, while a psychiatrist, suggesting that I should enjoy myself, was unable to understand me when I said that I found it impossible to be carefree since I had many children (five alive, two dead), and could not relax unless I was certain that they were content.

My words made no sense to him. In the old Welsh phrase I was “in the potato field” while he was “in the turnip field” and there was no chance of communication between us. My consolation is the certainty of my own death, which keeps me from despair: the knowledge that separation is not eternal.

It is the things of this life which fill me with gloom and anxiety, and of the two inescapables—death and taxes—it is only the latter which keeps me awake at night. Most of our “valuables” have been lost or stolen and, while this is momentarily annoying, I cannot really regret them. There is a curse implicit in material possessions, in the worry and responsibility that they incur, and the only true worldly freedom is in the lack of them. We need food, clothes, and shelter but most of us, in the Western world at least, have too many tiresome personal gewgaws to be comfortable. They have to be protected from moth, rust, and the burglar and are a nuisance. Even flesh is a nuisance with all the ills that it is heir to, and it feels the cold.

Once when I was afraid of death, not of my own but that of the people I loved, I would go and sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the quiet of a church, redolent of incense, ancient ritual, and prayer. A church was a place where you could meet death on neutral ground, a no-man’s land between now and eternity, where matters fell into perspective and terror became irrelevant because you knew it to be transitory.

There was a silent peace with a hidden promise of unimaginable joy to which all the objects of devotion attested: the altar, the statues, the crucifix, all the appurtenances of faith belonged to no one and to everyone. Still and worthy of trust, they were there yesterday and now and would be there tomorrow. Inanimate yet living testimony to a vital certainty. It is rare now to find such a church. Stripped and barren, while the people themselves are encouraged to buy more and more to support the market economy and cram their houses with trivia, the churches are denuded in the name of progress.

It is impossible to understand without laying bare the motives of those who wrought such destruction. The result is terrible in the terms of disillusion and loss, and those who say they wished only to affirm life and community have robbed us of consolation, giving death a greater power than is his due. The here and now is what concerns us they say, forgetting that life is short and but a preparation.

The new and re-ordered churches are symbolic only of a denied but underlying despair, a loss of faith to the sad conviction that death is the end. The noisy ceremonies that now fill these churches, the guitars, the clapping, swaying, and showy raptures are a mere extension of the drug culture, a whistling in the wind, a neurotic insistence that happiness is attainable immediately and does not need to be waited for or earned. The notion that suffering can bring forth good, that deprivation can nourish the soul is unacceptable. Suggest that the saints lived their lives in the promise and not the fulfillment of joy and you will not be heard. The Protestant cult of the “born again” with its ecstatic overtones has laid hold of a Church that still claims to lay all store on baptism. We are at the mercy of doctrinal error, often imposed from above, with little recourse to authority which is often too pusillanimous to argue with the trend. The wolves are in the fold.

Now that the churches are no longer peaceful but full of people determined to convey to you their loving care, their innate virtuousness, with handshakes and smiles, the bereft are best off in solitude, listening for the still, small voice. The country graveyard is perhaps now the place nearest to God on earth, for that too is neutral ground where death has had his way, is satisfied and thus of no more significance and no threat. Freedom lies in looking on the face of death and knowing that there is no true battle here, that he does not need to be fought and defeated, for he is only God’s instrument and God lives.

Sigrid Undset: One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

Editor’s note: The Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) is best known for her trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter published between 1920 and 1922. Undset would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924 while her many novels, memoirs, hagiographies, and miscellaneous works would make her a major figure in world literature. The same year she was honored with the Nobel Prize, Undset was received into the Catholic Church at age 42 becoming a lay Dominican. Her life both before and after her conversion was turbulent, filled with spiritual struggle, exile, and grief, but finally crowned with both the satisfaction of survival and peace of mind.  Her works, especially Kristin, have been credited with helping many readers find their way into the Church.  Crisis published the first English translation of this Undset essay.

One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

Published December 1, 1995

If all the converts who entered the Catholic Church were to tell about their road to Rome, it would probably appear that no two of them followed exactly the same route. It does not surprise us, having accepted the claim of the Church to be the “pillar and ground of truth,” that as many roads lead to Rome as there are human minds.

When people stubbornly hold on to the hope that it is impossible to find any absolute truth, it is because they fancy that life would lose its excitement, would have no freedom, if there really existed one truth — one alone in which all other truths are contained.

Most of us have felt at some time that it is insufferable that two plus two always makes four. We have all known the longing for a dream world where two times two is five, or zero, or seven, or whatever we want at the moment. Of course, the freedom of the dream world is quite illusory. In fact, the number of dreams and combinations of dreams is not unlimited. The life of dreams is bound by laws to a higher degree than most people think. But what I don’t know can’t hurt me. That’s how people think. What glorious freedom, to fly into a world where people decide for themselves the nature and property of things. In the reality into which we are born, the nature and property of things is already given, everything is knit together by laws. For people as they are, there is only one possibility for freedom: they must find their own way through this whole net of causes and connections.

The attempt to find the way ends all too often in becoming ensnared and hung up in it. In this world we can only attain one kind of freedom, that which our Lord spoke of when he said: “The truth shall make you free.” But even after this truth has been acknowledged and a person is set free so that the deterministic factors in life can no longer bind one in chains, this freedom is maintained at no less a cost than the continual struggle against the powers from which one has escaped. First and foremost against the temptation to look back and long for the old romantic dream world, where two and two can be whatever, and one decides for oneself what shall be true.

To this extent, it is understandable when modern man exerts all his inventiveness to escape from the authority of the Church. In any case this is how it looks to those who have tried to escape from everything that came to them demanding to be authoritative. The effort not to be bound — and this fight against a Church that has always openly declared that it demands that its authority be acknowledged — are not unique to modern man. The same tendency was shown with great force already in Jerusalem in the days before the pascha in the year our Lord was crucified.

However, there are probably only a few converts who are prepared to explain their own conversion, why their resistance to one who calls himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, a resistance dictated by fear and mistrust, has been overcome. It does not happen without the cooperation of the mystical and supernatural power that theologians call grace. We can only say that one day we had to acknowledge that our resistance was perhaps illegitimate.

We have a basic mistrust for all authority that is of this world, and at the same time our human nature is subject to an incurable desire for authority. We want teachers who can teach us something. We want teachers who can give us prohibitions and commands. We want someone over us whom we can depend on and admire, even love. Even in my childhood it didn’t take terribly much cleverness to discover this mistrust, even if the world’s hunger for authority had not taken the pathological forms that it has taken since then. The question arises, do we long for authority because in reality we are created to bow to an authority that has the only legitimate right over us — the right of the creator, the author of life?

“Think for yourself” was enjoined on us constantly at the school that I attended. But when I followed this advice to the best of my ability — and the result was that I thought something other than the teachers had meant that I should think — I soon discovered that they were unpleasantly surprised. They couldn’t consider my differences with them to be other than an improper desire to oppose them.

The first person who gave me a kind of complete picture of the conservative viewpoint was the Lutheran minister who confirmed me in the state church. It made a very negative impression on me. I became especially upset when he dealt with the sixth commandment with us. Almost exclusively, he dealt with the girls from the folk school. He warned them against getting mixed up with men who wanted to pick them up on their free afternoons, and he told a frightening story about a young girl he had been to visit in the hospital: there she lay, destroyed “merely because of one kiss.” I thought angrily, the girl hadn’t committed any sin — but the fellow on the other hand! And I knew well that in our class, “ladies” often did things that were many times more immoral than a servant girl’s jumping into bad luck. That virginity was a positive value, a reservoir of strength, not just a negotiable value in the marriage market, no one could expect a priest of that spiritual milieu to enjoin on us. It was a bit of bad luck and a funny thing if a woman became an “old maid.” I had read what Luther wrote about virginity, and it had made me very anti-Lutheran.

That this priest himself acted in good faith, that he was prepared to suffer and offer himself for his unattractive concept of God, I did not doubt, even at that time. It did not occur to me to take his version of Christianity to be a more authentic version of Christianity than any of the other versions I had come across. Even so, my confirmation instruction had made it clear to me that I did not believe in the religion that I had held in childhood.

In Protestantism, as I came to know it, almost every person I met who was on the whole religiously inclined had his “personal conviction” or his “independent conception” of Christianity. The God taught to us by my religion teacher in school was rather more sympathetic than a Uranien god-human, but not more humane than the most sympathetic person I was prepared to conceive of: wise, but not wise beyond all human understanding. Like so many young people from a free-thinking milieu, I had gotten the impression that one’s faith was a private matter, not to say a minor matter. I also had my faith, but even at that time I didn’t think I needed any God, but that he should be there to approve my own ideas of right and wrong, honor and dishonor, my ideals and judgments. They were as they might be after my nature and education: I understood enough to know, I myself was able to defend these ideas without a God who was one with me.

A God who was the “Absolute Other” and also a person who could communicate with me, whose ways were not my ways, whose distinct and unconquerable will could be distinct from my own will, I was not bold enough even to conceive of it. Those who spoke to us in the name of Christianity had not only sought justification for their usual way of thinking. Very many of them had given up historic Christianity as a teaching that was no longer tenable, even if they, purely on the grounds of feelings, could not give up their view of life that was colored by Christianity. They had given up faith in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, but they continued to worship Jesus, the carpenter’s son, as an ideal human and human ideal. Dogmas: truths revealed from “the Other Side and formulated in human language,” they could not believe in, but they believed in religious intuition and a religious genius in men.

I was certainly not disposed to worship any form of humanity — surely not a person who said of himself, “learn of me, for I am gentle and humble of heart,” even though he used a language against his opponents that, speaking kindly, was arrogant. I accepted as proven (without asking for proofs) that the historical Jesus was a religious genius whose intuition had brought mankind’s concept of God many steps upward in the path of development. At that time we always proceeded from the thought that development was always the same as improvement. But it didn’t seem to be of interest to me that a young Jew nineteen hundred years ago had gone around and assured people that their sins were forgiven — especially when he said of himself, “who can convict me of sin.” He couldn’t know from his own experience how it felt to have done something to another person that one would give all to have undone — to have fallen short of one’s own best purposes so badly that it seemed one couldn’t forgive oneself.

I knew what it was to be sorry for cruelty to others, secret cowardice, and indolence when indolence was unpardonable. For self evidently I did not know how to live in accord with my own private religion in such a way that I would be content with myself. Even less did I want to descend to that which was most miserable of all: to compare myself to people who, seemingly at any rate, lived after easier standards. I knew well I did not know them from inside, and so I could not really judge them. And as far as I knew, they had never said that they accepted my moral concepts either.

I was still far from believing that Jesus was God revealed in the Incarnation and that the Church was the organism in that he remained to do the work of salvation which he, nineteen hundred years ago had completed on the cross.

But I saw more clearly that the new systems of religion, either built on godlessness or on humanism plus a kind of deism, were not in the least more scientific than the old religions. Just the opposite. They built in ever higher degree on hypotheses and were in the highest degree matters of taste. Many of the current opinions that, without criticizing them, I had let go in one ear, but unfortunately not out the other, were in reality loose opinions or speculations determined by time or milieu.

I don’t know how many times I heard that God was the wish expressed by a human dream and that faith in life after death was probably invented by an unfitting greed for more life than that portion nature found fitting to give each of us. Now, I saw that the first supposition was a knife that cut both ways. I knew that people believed in a life after death, but that it seldom was an appealing form of life. They believed in Hell or Hades as a fact they were content to experience. For myself, I couldn’t find any form of eternal life that was not appalling in length. All the goods of the world finally receive their charm because we know that we do not have permission to use them long. The miracle of the seasons goes through our bone and marrow for we know, sooner or later, a spring will come that we will not experience. One year the first snow will fall on a mound of dirt under which we will lie.

It was the old story — I had rejected the beliefs and disbeliefs of others because they were sadly full of their own idiosyncrasies. But I realized that my own thoughts, to a large extent, were also decided by my idiosyncrasies. Naturally I could continue to believe in “my own power and strength” knowing well that it wasn’t much to believe in. But those who in the old days had managed with so weak a faith had not presented it as being other than a hand weapon with which they could cut their way through a short life.

I could not lose the feeling that the one who isolates himself in this way is a traitor, even though I couldn’t say what this betrayal consisted of, or what I had betrayed. I believed in a brotherhood of man, although it was impossible to convince myself that I believed in human perfectibility. I believed only in the dumbness and intelligence of man, in human good and evil and courage and cowardice, and in the unstable nature of each person. Even so I felt that what the Salvation Army soldier had said was true (she had been our servant in my childhood) that God loves sinners. “The greater sinner a person is, the more he loves him.” He has to love those, humanly speaking, most perfect people most highly: they always stand in danger of sinning in their minds and in their thoughts in a worse way than the common decent cheat and whore can dream of.

Human solidarity consists in all of us being common heirs of a bankrupt estate. After the bankruptcy of the fall into sin, a common loss of our ability to rise above the point of failure in our virtue and insight makes it impossible for anyone to lead other people anywhere but astray. Only a supernatural intervention can save us from ourselves. The Christian churches teach that Jesus Christ is himself that intervention — God, who was born of a woman, made himself one with our nature, and allowed himself to be killed for the sake of our sins, has shown us the way to eternal life. Not Hell or Hades, which people had always looked to with reluctant fear, but a life in and with God, the eternal blessedness of which we are not prepared to conceive. Already in the life we live here on earth we can experience such contact with the divine that we know life can be happy, even a life without end, when we renew our strength from the strength of which everything in the world is an outpouring.

At last I had come so far that I certainly did not believe in God. But neither did I believe in my disbelief. Proofs that force us, against our will, to accept Christianity as one accepts, for example, a demonstrated family relationship in botany, are out of the question. Otherwise, how could Christ say that “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned”? This does not presuppose that the power of judgment should not be used. In the last instance it is with the will that man either will isolate himself in the hell of his egotism or will commend himself to God and be freed from the constraints of ego-worship, unto eternal possibilities.

I had nothing else to do than go to a priest and ask to be taught everything that the Catholic Church really teaches. That the Catholic Church was identical with the Church that Christ had founded, in itself, I had never doubted. For me the question of the authority of the Catholic Church was exclusively a question of the authority of Christ. I had never understood the history of the Reformation as other than a history of a revolt against Christianity, even if it was a revolt by believing Christian men who subjectively hoped that the true Christianity was something which agreed better with their own ideals.

The customary objections to Catholicism that I had heard had never made a great impression on me, although I had gained a rather vague conception that there was certainly something in the prejudices against the Church that were so widespread. There are prejudices — and there are two special reasons for them. The one is our displeasure at giving up our favorite fantasies that we are afraid a teaching church will take from us. The other is the scandal poor Catholics in many ages have caused — the dark backside of the shining doctrine of the communion of saints.

It should be easier for people today, I think, to discover what is meant by the merits of the saints as a treasury from which the whole Church profits. Clearly in our day not only Catholics, but Christians of all sects and nuance, experience that all of Christianity must atone for what each of us unholy Christians owes God and our neighbor. No human solidarity is so absolute as the solidarity between the living cells in the body of Christ.

In and of itself the cult of the saints that the Church has fostered from the beginning answers a need that appears to be ineradicable in our nature. We want to venerate the saints. For want of better we have hero worship of kings and queens, sportsmen and artists, film- stars and gangsters. We set some of them on pedestals to admire something of ourselves in them. In the saints, God’s purpose for us is realized, when he, to use the words of the Offertory, “wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully renewed it.” Only facing the saints can we find a solution to our need for hero worship, without at the same time worshipping something of our own nature, which it is cowardly or demeaning to do.

And the veneration of Mary? I have always thought that a matter of course: if anyone believes that God has saved us by himself taking on our flesh and blood, he must embrace with affection her in whose womb he built his human body and this with a special deep reverence, gentleness, and sympathy with the inconceivable difficulties of her life on earth, as well as a shared joy in her unutterable place in the kingdom of God. Because it is true that the son of Mary is both true God and true man, so the son is the son in all eternity and she the mother in all eternity, although he is the creator and she is his creation.

Because I believe that Jesus Christ is God who created us, I believe that he has built his Church as it is required for people. What God has given me through his Church is difficult to express in words. He himself has said that he gives us his peace, but not the peace that the world gives — it is of another sort. Perhaps it can be compared to the peace that reigns over the sea, the great depth. Bad weather and good weather on the surface do not influence it, neither does the rare animals that live and eat each other in the depths. It is the practical experience that the kingdom of God is within us. Even if surrounded by one’s own unpeaceful self, which is half real and half illusion, we experience that God in a supernatural manner is in us continually and establishes his kingdom in us — against our own attacks on it.

Paul Johnson on Liberty, License & Leadership

Editor’s note,Two years after taking over Crisis Magazine I was privileged to spend the afternoon with Paul Johnson (b. 1928) and his wife Marigold in New York City. Johnson as you may recall is the author of numerous books, the most influential being his 1984 Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s. That visit produced an interview but more importantly it enabled me to call Paul in London from time to time to ask for articles to would like to see published in Crisis. Here is, I think, the best of them.

PAUL JOHNSON

Publisher September 1, 1998

The role America plays in the world today and for the foreseeable future—as her contribution to the health, wealth, and happiness of mankind in the 21st century—is something which is very much up to the American people themselves. They can, and will, choose whether that role is exemplary and determinant, the role of a leader and a guardian, or whether it is the role of a self-sufficient observer. America can shape the future—or withdraw from history.

The Numbers

America enjoys the material basis for leadership, there is no question of that. The demographic resources of the United States are growing faster than those of any of her military, economic, or political competitors. A year ago the U.S. population was calculated at 267.6 million, and at present growth rates should exceed 280 million early in the next century. In recent years, America has accepted, absorbed, and employed an enormous number of immigrants. Her birth rate is 14.4 per 1,000, much higher than those of Japan, Russia, Germany, and Italy—all of them below 10.5—and substantially higher than the British and French figures (around 12.5 per 1,000). This figure, combined with the lowest infant death rates in U.S. history and a steadily rising life expectancy, makes America the world’s third most populous country after China and India. Russia, the population of which was larger than that of the U.S. a generation ago, and expanding more rapidly, now has only 147 million and a birth rate which is falling fast.

The United States Gross National Product is by far the largest in the world, having grown from $6.38 trillion in 1992 to $7.57 trillion in 1997. In 1997, the GNP increased at 3.6 percent, a higher rate than that of any other advanced economy. The strength of the United States’s economy, which has been growing both absolutely and relatively over the past two decades, lies in its ability to create millions of new jobs, of every description and earning capacity, while keeping inflation low. At the time of writing, America has full employment (some would say over-employment) combined with zero or even negative inflation.

The record on productivity is much more difficult to establish, especially in comparison with other advanced economies, but all the evidence suggests that the American economy has never functioned more successfully. Indeed, it could be cited as a textbook example of a capitalist market economy. This may not last, of course; a long-overdue Wall Street correction could soon take some steam out of the economy. But even allowing for this, the general economic performance of the United States in the last quarter century augurs extremely well for the opening decades of the 21st century.

The expansion explains why the U.S. has been able to correct one worrisome economic weakness: a chronic budget deficit. This is worth dwelling on briefly because of its significance in U.S. history. Since Alexander Hamilton reformed the finances of the infant republic in the 1790s, the United States’s record of public financial management has been, on the whole, exemplary. The public debt was paid off completely under President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Thereafter, it rose during the Civil War, fell after it, rose during the First World War, fell again, rose during the Great Depression and Second World War, and then fell again—a pattern entirely consistent with prudent management. From 1975, however, a historic change occurred; the debt rose without the excuse of either war or depression and continued to rise for twenty years. America appeared to be maintaining an extravagant lifestyle and loading its progeny with insupportable burdens. That was an historic change for the worse, which posed a genuine threat to the country’s future well being.

President Reagan characteristically dismissed the phenomenon with a jest: “I’m not too worried about the deficit. It’s big enough to take care of itself.” Like many of Reagan’s jests, this one encapsulated a serious point. The American economy was functioning so strongly that it was, as it were, expanding itself out of deficit finance. With comparatively minor adjustments to spending and no substantial increase in taxation, the rise in tax revenues in the mid-1990s wiped out the deficit and began to push the country into surplus. What seemed like a permanent structural change became, by the end of the 1990s, a temporary, if extended, aberration. The end of the budget deficit corrected the last ostensible weakness in the economy, thus completing the picture of a great economic power with all systems functioning as they should.

This survey of America’s vast and growing resources underlines my point that America plays the role that the American people choose for themselves. The physical restraints, although they exist, are not prohibitive.

America’s Geopolitical Position

The United States at the end of the 20th century inherits more than fifty years of increasing involvement in international commitments. This is the major difference between the historic America of 1780-1939, with its comparatively detached position in the world, and the America of today. I say “detached” because, in my view, America has never been isolationist either by nature or by choice, except for a brief and aberrant period in the 1930s. But the detachment has been severely curtailed by five factors. First is the acceptance, in fact if not in name, of the United States as the world’s policeman, a sheriff-of-last-resort position—a notion reinforced since 1989 by the blunt fact of America as the lone superpower. Second is the political fact of her supremacy in the United Nations and especially in the Security Council, which has taken an increasingly influential position in world affairs. The Security Council can now be said to be functioning roughly as its architects intended, and this in itself places an obligation on the U.S. to exert leadership. Third is the military fact of America’s premier role in NATO, which, far from voting itself out of existence as a result of its bloodless victory in the Cold War, has begun to feel its way, slowly but surely, to its permanent place as the military executive arm of the Security Council.

The renewal of NATO, in fact, is crucial to America’s role in world affairs. Now expanded to take in other European powers which subscribe to democracy and the rule of law, NATO may one day include even Russia herself. If democracy establishes itself permanently in Russia and she continues to play a responsible part in international crisis solving, then her membership in NATO is not merely desirable, but essential. As NATO expands and finds new tasks for itself in the enforcement of international law and the deterrence of aggression, so America’s institutional position as NATO’s natural leader will dictate a major role for America in policing military geopolitics.

The fourth and fifth factors are closely linked. The last half century has seen a steady integration of the United States into the world economy. For the U.S., foreign trade has ceased to be marginal. Imports and exports have become a salient part, and the search for markets has established itself as a central element in U.S. foreign policy. In consequence—and this is the fifth factor—the United States has felt herself obliged to enter into a permanent trade grouping designed to maximize its worldwide share, the North American Free Trade Area. This is only the beginning of the story.

Traditionally, the United States has been a protectionist, high tariff country, though often divided on the issue. For the past half century it has become, on balance, a free trader, and its support for the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs—one of the world’s best known but more unsuccessful international agencies—has been an essential part of GATT’s continuing progress. America continues to back GATT, if anything more strongly than ever, and aims to reduce tariffs from their present average of about seven percent to near zero. The emergence of the European Union as a major internal free trade area protected by a GATT-permitted external wall led the U.S. to form an even bigger union with Canada and Mexico, not so much in retaliation as in limitation. This may expand either into a Pan-American free trade area or a North Atlantic Free Trade Area, embracing the United Kingdom and other maritime European states such as Norway, Portugal, and Spain—or quite possibly both. The fact that the United States is by far the biggest single element in each and all of these combinations further enhances her structural role as the world leader.

Called by Destiny

These are some of the structural factors which push America into a world leadership role, but they are not the only ones. America is an exceptional country, by virtue of her origins and growth, and American leaders have always recognized this exceptionalism, indeed often dwelt on it. The Pilgrim fathers founded their colony, as John Winthrop put it, to be exemplary: “We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”

This sentiment was primarily religious but it has manifest geopolitical overtones, since the vast riches of America were seen, as the Pilgrims put it, to be “the natural inheritance of the elect nation”—that is, of a people ordained by Almighty God, as the Jews had once been in Old Testament times, to lead the world in virtue and faith. This sentiment has been echoed again and again in America’s public rhetoric: in Washington’s valedictory address, for instance, when he told Congress he hoped that “Heaven may continue to give you the choicest tokens of its beneficence” so that the Union and its constitution “may be sacredly maintained.”

The early presidential messages to Congress, especially in Andrew Jackson’s day, were read aloud in many European villages and reprinted in British and continental newspapers. They were seen as messages to the entire world to follow the American pattern of republican democracy. As the Dublin Morning Post put it in 1830: “We read this document as if it related purely to our own concerns.” All great American presidents—especially Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and, in our own times, Kennedy, Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan, have spoken to the world, urbi et orbi, as well as to the American Congress and people. Longfellow’s famous poem, “The Building of the Ship,” epitomizes the sentiment of leadership by example and still has a resonance, especially its lines:

Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

The American presidency itself is an important element in the leadership role that fate and institutions combine to thrust upon America. It reinforces, with a personal element, the status of America as a cynosure of the world’s eyes. No other office in the world so clearly epitomizes the concept of democracy in action. The president is the only official for whom all American electors vote. Enormous powers are conferred upon him. He is head of state and head of government, chief executive, chief magistrate, and commander in chief. Presidents have also discovered all kinds of additional powers in their constitutional functions, including the power to break strikes, conduct entire industries, mobilize manpower, seize assets, and exercise economic and financial authority which, in most democracies under the rule of law, would require legislation.

The American president, then, is a superpower in himself, a sort of strongman or caudillo as well as First Citizen. That inevitably focuses world attention on his person and personality. Yet the president is also under law, and the fate of President Nixon and the troubles of President Clinton are reminders that this subjection to law is a reality, not just a theory. Despite all his majesty, the president is legally vulnerable and his power constitutionally fragile. This adds poignancy and drama to the way the world sees him and his office. For all these reasons, then, who the president is and how he conducts himself are of absorbing interest to the world. Like the pope, and in many ways more so than the pope, he is a world figure whose character and routine are minutely examined and familiar to countless millions everywhere.

That gives the U.S. president a natural global platform, or bully pulpit, if he chooses to use it. Unlike any other statesman, he has the world’s ear, and if what he says makes sense, it will have an impact. Of course, when the president speaks, he is addressing two audiences: American citizens and the rest of the world. If the president forgets his local constituency and speaks only to the outside world, as Woodrow Wilson tended to do from 1918 on, he will fail to carry the country with him. If his words are designed primarily to secure domestic political points, as President Clinton’s are, then he will be ineffectual in world affairs. But if he is adept at striking a balance between the two audiences as both Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, and more recently Reagan did, then he can exert powerful leadership in the world while ensuring the American people are behind him. Indeed it is true to say that the U.S. president’s ability to influence events by the force of his own personality and beliefs is immense—there has been nothing like it before in history. In the past, the actual authority and influence of world potentates, from Alexander to Hitler and Stalin, has tended to stop not far from the advance patrols of their armies. Under an able occupant, the American presidency stretches as far as the printed and broadcast word, and the shadow of his power is as long as his image on the TV screens. So that, too, is a factor pushing America in the direction of an active, major role in the world.

The cultural pull is strong, too. The extraordinary energy, adaptability, versatility, and vast resources of the English language have created a cultural background against which American world leadership seems increasingly natural. English is clearly in the process of becoming the first world language. This is partly a technical matter, as the pressure is on to adopt uniformity of terms and speech for scientific publications and instructions, computer programs, air traffic control and safety, and the world of international organizations of all kinds. But it is also partly a matter of taste and choice. Language is one of the most democratic of activities. What is spoken, and so ultimately what is written, is decided by ordinary people and works itself upwards, not the other way around. All the power and grandeur of the French government and the Academie Francaise have failed to halt the penetration of democratic French by English words and expression. Changes in language are largely determined by young adults, who are guided by convenience and enthusiasm. Despite the large numbers of Spanish speakers, Spanish has made no progress as an international language because of its prolixity. I find that when my books are translated into Spanish, they expand by twenty-five percent; there is no way round this linguistic inflation, which is structural. English is uniquely well suited to the sharpness, brevity, and force of modern vernacular demands.

The linguistic preeminence of English both accounts for and is promoted by what the older European powers, especially the French, call “American cultural imperialism.” Again, this is a democratic phenomenon, not something decided by elites and directed by governments. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue, like Detroit in its day, are the products of American freedom, and their influence in the world is promoted by the spread of freedom of choice everywhere. Coca-Cola and McDonalds, Disney and American comic heroes like Superman and Batman depend for their sales and impact on their ability to appeal to ordinary people. They are the triumphant products of a highly competitive market system, and as that system is accepted and takes root all over the world, the most successful products, with all their cultural implications, will establish themselves everywhere.

Imperialism is really a misleading word, therefore, because the key to it all is freedom. America’s cultural success is rooted in the fact that, in the United States, competition flourishes with the fewest possible restrictions. The products which emerge are most likely to be able to conquer world markets as well as domestic ones. Nor should we assume, as many Europeans do, that this triumphant American culture is likely to be lowest common denominator in its substance and appeal. Competition serves the cities as well as their masses. America is in the vanguard, not merely in producing animated cartoons, but in quality movies, novels and plays, poetry and paintings, sculpture and architecture. With its 3,500 universities she has the world’s largest and most versatile system of higher education, one that is likely to be increasingly used by an international clientele as incomes rise and travel costs fall.

Freedom in Balance

As someone who has studied 400 years of American history in detail, I have reached the settled conclusion that there is no mystery about the country’s continuing success: it is freedom based. Almost from its first settlement, America has offered a uniquely free environment—political, economic, religious, and social—in which men and women have been able to maximize the use of their talents and take the fullest advantage of the bounty nature offers. When we talk of American exceptionalism we are really talking about a society that always puts freedom first. As long as the United States continues to accord freedom the highest priority, her cultural impact on the world, as well as her political and economic influence, is likely to be greater than that of any other nation.

However, it is important to remember that this 400 year tradition, still robustly maintained, of upholding freedom of choice and action, has always been balanced by an equally tenacious tradition of voluntary religion. America was founded for religious purposes, and the religious dimension in American life, public and private, has been maintained by a series of religious resurgencies, which continues to this day and have been important in guiding the country’s development. The First Great Awakening was the dynamic behind the American Revolution, and the Second was the catalyst for resistance to slavery which made the Civil War inevitable.

America remains, in many key respects, the most religious country in the world, as well as the most materialistic. It is this paradoxical combination of other-worldly idealism and worldly success which makes her so formidable. If there were ever a serious possibility of America abdicating the global responsibilities that power thrusts upon her, the religious zeal which is so potent in shaping American policy would prevent it. With her present unrivaled resources, America, at the outset of the 21st century, is not merely a City on a Hill, a beacon for all to see and get their bearings by, but a city which contains police vans and fire engines and ambulances and every conceivable kind of emergency service, ready to come to the rescue of her global neighbors on the plain below. These responsibilities to a world which is often badly governed and impoverished, subject to catastrophes both natural and man-made, are often onerous, expensive, and occasionally costly in life. But I am confident the American people will continue to shoulder them, sometimes cheerfully, sometimes with resignation, but always dutifully, knowing that it is God’s will and ultimately in the interests of all, including America’s own.

Et in Jesum Christum: A Memoir by Julian Green

Editor’s note: In 1995 I wrote to Julian Green in Paris.  Green was 95 years old and was considered, and still is, one the greatest French writers of the modern age.  His many novels, memoirs, dairies, and books of reflection on saints and cities kept him in the public eye from his first novel at age 26, Mont-Cinère (Avarice House) to his death in 1998. Green is the only American, having been born in Paris to American parents, to have been elected to the Académie française,succeeding the Catholic writer François Mauriac in 1971. Green himself was a Catholic convert in spite of a fiercely Calvinist mother who inhabits much of his fiction.  I was thrilled when I received this manuscript, in French, in only a few weeks.  I was even more thrilled to find that Green had sent something so personal and revealing. To publish Julian Green in Crisis Magazine was one of the most satisfying moments of my 12 years as publisher and editor. (Green used both English and French spellings of his given name.)

Julien Green
Published 1, 1995

I was born into the American Protestant religion of the Episcopal Church. My mother who strongly adhered to her faith brought me up in the daily reading of the Bible, and I have kept this habit until the present. Broadly speaking, nearly all the information that I received from her was situated in the human person of Jesus. It seems to me that even in the rhythms of the Our Father that she made me recite from memory with my head on her shoulder, I felt the supernatural tenderness of her own faith.

In my childish imagination, it was possible to touch the hand of the Lord himself, even though for me He remained invisible, but as well as I remember, I said nothing. Constantly, she stressed the continuous protection and love that He had for me. This love, which she bequeathed to me as an inheritance, was the equal of a more scholarly theology. My leaning toward the Catholic faith occurred without my being aware of the reason for it.

My mother died on December 27, 1914. According to the custom of many Protestants, her body was left unattended in her bedroom. All of us stayed in the house, which was thrown into a silence so terrible that I locked myself alone in a room on the third floor. But presently the urge came over me to slip softly outside and quietly go down the stairs to the death chamber. I stared at the door, which sent me into feelings of terrible dread alternating with curiosity. Finally, I walked right toward the bed.

My surprise was enormous. I expected to find a face deformed by suffering. Instead, my mother’s face gave the impression of a person buried in a deep meditation. Never had I seen her so mysteriously pensive. Her beauty surprised me even more. All the lines of age had disappeared and left a smooth surface resembling youth. With a heavy heart I told her that I loved her, and I repeated it to be certain that I had heard the sound of my own voice. But I could not bear to stay any longer, and left.

The minutes that followed escape my memory. I only remember the horrors of a country burial, in particular, the ceremony at the Protestant church of Vesinet, with the flowery, redundant language of the minister falling around the catafalque under which I was supposed to believe that my mother lay. All of a sudden, I felt her real presence; not the one who had been able to touch the hand of the Lord, not the statue-like sleeping beauty with smooth cheeks, but Mama with all her wrinkles, Mama with all her age, the one now under a black pall… and my heart broke, but I did not cry.

On returning to the house, a sadness bordering on despair began to weigh on all of us like a silent storm. My father composed himself with difficulty. I tried to continue reading my Bible and reciting my prayers as always but there was an emptiness in my loneliness which was unbearable. On my days off I occupied myself with writing in my room, which had been my mother’s, my bed being the same one where she had died. Everyone left me alone.

One afternoon in the autumn of 1915 a curious incident occurred. I was writing when I suddenly felt that I was not alone: someone, at the same instant, seated herself next to me. I felt no fear. It was not an illusion, simply the supernatural presence of my mother. I recognized her immediately as one would recognize a voice, a look, and I waited because I understood that she wanted to draw my attention to something.

Without a word she drew me toward a small antechamber near where my father always dressed himself in the morning. There on the open shelves where his shirts were arranged I discovered a book, The Faith of Our Fathers by Cardinal Gibbons.

The book was an explanation of the Catholic faith and I started reading it with a passionate eagerness. It taught me, in fact, an enormous number of things that my mother had never mentioned, but which I was willing to accept without doubt. Page after page I believed everything I read as unvarnished truth. I spent the whole day there reading the book, but I said not a thing of my secret reading. When I came to the sacraments and to the real presence in the Eucharist, I thought about my mother and my emotions were very strong.

The following day I completed my reading. And then, what? How could I deal with this that had changed everything? I wanted to become a Catholic. To whom could I confide such a secret, and toward whom to turn except to my father who I knew to be forbearing. He listened to me, nodded his head and said simply, “I became a Catholic myself, several months ago, in England.” What astounding news! This conversion of my father deserves a separate recounting by itself because it led him so far that when he died in 1927 he was buried in the frock of a third degree Franciscan. But we return to my mother who died faithful to her Protestantism.

The Gospel painstakingly read and reread made her weep over and over with love. At times she had to admit to herself that she was in love with the Savior. Day after day the book repeated the same thing, but each time in a different way. She believed that at each rereading, the book was transformed: an enlightenment beyond human language shone behind each familiar page. In fact, the book did not change; it was my mother who became a different person. Death revealed everything to the eyes of those who saw her in her eternal sleep. Her radiant face told the truth of her secret conversion. If she had been able to see her own face, she would have agreed.

She had only one wish: to pass on the knowledge of her conversion to her beloved son. Here begins the mystery, the meaning clearly appearing if one analyzes the events. My father, while in England, must have read the book that I now hold in my hands. On his return to France, The Faith of Our Fathers was slipped under his shirts where no one would look and where my mother made me discover it. Those who have died have resources about which we are unaware.

What then did this book tell me? It revealed to me that even if I were alone in the world, Christ would come to save me. And it was the same for each of us. Why? For what reason? For love. God is love. When one has said that, one has said everything.