Gerry Powers Gets a Lot of Conservative Undies in a Bunch

…but I don’t see the big deal. From the Midwest Conservative Journal, to View from the Core, to Relapsed Catholic, to Dom Bettinelli’s blog, I’m seeing cries of outrage over this guy. But I’m afraid I don’t get it. Here’s the relevant text:

Post September 11 2001 jitters are leading the US to embrace a formula of instilling fear of the United States as a protection from catastrophic attacks that echoes the philosophy of the brutal Roman emperor Caligula, acording to the director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Gerry Powers was speaking at a forum to evaluate the legacy of the use of “preventive force” in the recent US invasion of Iraq.

He said: “While a doctrine of preventive war may derive in part from an ethic of responsibility – to protect ourselves and the world from catastrophic attacks – it also has elements of an ethic of fear.”

Powers acknowledged that that “ethic of fear” comes from the understandable preoccupation of Americans with their own fears and vulnerabilities in the face of global terrorism.

“Let them hate us if they will, provided only that they fear us,” he said, characterizing the new phenomenon.

And the problem with this is… what? That it’s a false depiction of what Bush and most neocons are trying to project to the world? That’s odd. Hardly a day goes by when NRO or the great mass of conservative punditry doesn’t make it their special boast that we are instilling fear in our enemies. I can’t count the number of columns, cartoons and punditry that echo things like this typical sample:



Isn’t it, in fact, bleedin’ *obvious* that at least part of the US approach to terrorists and the Regimes that Love Them is indeed, “Let them hate us if they will, provided only that they fear us”. Has that very line not been used repeatedly by neocon proponents of the war as the summation of the realpolitik approach the US will have to take to the world in the Age of Terrorism?

Well, like it or not, that *was* the philosophy of Caligula as well, who, if memory serves, said it first. That is *not* however, to say that “Bush is Caligula” and I see nothing in the article which suggests that Powers said he is. Rather, I see Powers making the blindingly obviously point that “While a doctrine of preventive war may derive in part from an ethic of responsibility – to protect ourselves and the world from catastrophic attacks [translation: while the War on Terror is justifiable since it is Bush's job to keep Americans from dying in future 9/11s]- it also has elements of an ethic of fear.”

The fact is, an ethic of fear is medicine, not food. It is necessary for a time during extraordinary moments, just like medicine is. But, like medicine, it has its dangers. It can become addictive. It can become more important than food. It can make food disgusting to us. And so Powers warns, quite sensibly and in accord with the Tradition that, to make an ethic of fear your credo is ultimately to abandon the gospel, which says love, not fear, is the fundamental basis of human life. If your temptation is to sneer at that as girly or Euroweenieish or some other epithet, it simply shows how much you’ve already started to get addicted to the medicine and forgotten your God-given appetite for normal food.

Are we not to be wise as serpents then? Certainly we must be! We should keep up our guard and recognize the world is a dangerous place. But we should also recognize that the “ethic of fear” is not the ideal and be very wary of where it will lead us if we forget the gospel counsel that what lasts is love, not power and fear.

If Powers is an hysteric for warning of the dangers of an “ethic of fear” does that mean pro-lifers are hysterics for pointing out that many of the same rationales employed by American proponents of abortion and euthanasia were first advocated by Hitler? Does that mean prolifers are saying “America is Nazi Germany”? Or are they simply and sensibly warning that that, “If you give this philosophy full steam and don’t practice some self-examination, you can go down this road too”?

Powers is right. An ethic of fear *is* dangerous. It’s medicine, not food. And dangerously addictive medicine.


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