Monday, February 13, 2006

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

The February 6 issue of The New Yorker has a rather strange essay by Timothy Ryback on Pope Benedict's visit, as Cardinal Ratzinger, to the cemetery at La Cambe in Normandy where, along with many other German soldiers, hundreds of S.S. are buried. The upshot of the essay, which runs from page 66 to page 73 with only one large photo and a few cartoons to break the pace, appears to be that Ratzinger/Benedict was morally amiss to say as little as he did about, not Nazi attrocities, but the guilt of the entire German people for allowing those Nazi attrocities.

Many are perhaps familiar with the arguments of Daniel Goldhagen, first in Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust and then in Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, to the effect that the German "race" as a whole bears full moral responsibility for the Nazi holocaust and the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, bears full moral responsibility--to the extent of owing reparations--for not merely standing by while it happened, but actively promoting its ends. Ryback's rant does not foam at the mouth as Goldhagen does, but it labors mighty hard to work up a lather over statements and actions that, upon reflection, seem perfectly harmless and, upon closer inspection still, are evidently benign.

Eventually one must wonder where all this animus against the German "race" comes from, if not from a noxious racism of the very sort deemed unacceptable in others, especially Germans. Another explanation is on offer, however, and I suppose it may even apply to Goldhagen. There is a tendency in some writers--more than a tendency in Ryback, as it turns out--to conflate individuals and institutions. It is ironic in a day and age in which Platonism is far from the minds of most of the self-styled "Brights" who criticism religion as an institution that moral responsibility should so often and so easily be transferred from the culpable individuals who commit great crimes to the institutions to which these individuals claim allegiance. This reification of institutional structures cannot be taken as a hopeful sign that Aristotelian essentialism is again on the rise: rather it is a sign of the incredibly sloppy moral reasoning to which we are subjected on an almost daily basis.

It would seem to be so obvious as to be a truism: individual persons engage in moral reasoning and make moral choices, therefore individual persons are the sole bearers of moral responsibility, the sole objects of praise and blame. Institutions become objects of praise or blame only indirectly, as blanket-terms covering a multitude of individuals. When John Paul the Great offered his "apology" for the actions of the Church, it is important to read the text of the apology very carefully, because it is quite clear that it is not the Church itself, qua Body of Christ, that has acted sinfully in the past, but only certain individuals claiming to act on behalf of the Church who have sinned. It should come as a surprise to no one that the Church contains sinners, but it apparently can still surprise some that the Church is not itself a sinner.
  • Here is a box. It contains diamonds. Therefore the box is a diamond.
Surely only a moron would affirm that last inference, but it is certainly the very inference being made by those who claim that the Church itself has sinned and must make "reparations" for the sins of its members. There is another irony here, to go with the first, and it leads to more fallacies. Consider the case of those who believe both that the Church sins and that the war in Iraq is unjust. Surely there must be some such people. (I suspect there are many.) Of these, some oppose that war very strongly, and would vehemently deny that they want to have anything to do with what the United States is doing in Iraq. Somehow, though, their innocence vis-a-vis the morality of the war does not "percolate up" to the moral status of the United States, even though the guilt of individual Christians, for these people, has percolated up to the moral status of the Church itself. Some of these folks may be willing to say that they bear some responsibility for what goes on in the war insofar as they are citizens of the United States. But others want none of that--and rightly so. If a soldier in Iraq does something morally illicit and against the orders of his superiors, then a person in this country, someone who voted, say, against George Bush in both elections, and who opposed the war on every front, writing letters to his representative and doing whatever he could to make his opposition known--such a person cannot rationally be held morally responsible for what some individual soldier has done.

There are really two fallacies at work here. The first is the reification of something that cannot be a moral being; the second is to treat the "parts" of that reified whole as having all the same properties as the whole.
  • Here is a BMW. The BMW costs thousands of dollars. Here is a bolt from the BMW. The bolt costs thousands of dollars.
Again, few would be foolish enough to agree with that inference. Well, maybe a Pentagon contractor, but it would have to be Hummer, not a BMW.
  • Here is a BMW. Here is a bolt from the BMW. The bolt is very cheap. Therefore the BMW is very cheap.
Invalid inferences from whole to part and from part to whole are not uncommon, but they are no more rational for being popular. Individual persons sin and commit crimes. Institutions and "races" do not--they cannot, since they are not sentient and hence cannot have mens rea.

It really grates, though, when the responsible individuals are dead and gone and the rest of us are still pissed off about what they did. That's why it's so tempting to hold their tribe responsible for what they did. Hatred is always more tempting than forgiveness. For one thing, it's a lot easier. My son, who is twelve, is often irritated by his sister, who is four. She pesters him constantly to play with her, but he often refuses on the grounds that she has done this or that to him to make him angry. Last night, as I listened to yet another one of these squabbles, I decided to have a "teaching moment". I hauled out the Bible and made Michael read to me from Matthew 18.21-22: forgive your brother (or sister) seventy times seven times. As quickly as he finished reading it he was piping up: "But dad, I've already forgiven her more than seventy times seven times, and she keeps on doing the same things!" So after explaining to him about numbers in the Bible, I talked to him at some length about forgiveness, and how it is difficult to do, yet necessary, since those who do wrong are in need of something other than anger and hatred, ortherwise they would not be doing wrong. He actually caught on to this immediately: when I asked him why parents ought not to react in anger to children who do wrong he said "Because they're just stupid little kids--they don't know any better." But he understood that such children need some sort of discipline, otherwise they might wind up being seriously hurt. You do not beat up a sick person: you give him medicine. Forgiveness doesn't seem like medicine to us because we're too accustomed to desiring vengeance rather than rehabilitation. Hopefully, though, a parent who disciplines a child is not seeking the retributive suffering of that child, but his betterment.

For the Goldhagens, and perhpas the Rybacks, of the world, forgiveness as a principle is something one rolls ones eyes at:
John Pawlikowski, a professor of social ethics and the director of the Catholic-Jewish studies program at the Catholic Theological Union, in Chicago, took a somewhat different view [from that of Avery Cardinal Dulles, who explained that Christians ought to pray for their enemies and those who persecute them]. "I think there is a strong tendency, not only in the bone marrow of the average Christian but in the DNA of Christian ethicists and theologians, to emphasize forgiveness and reconciliation," he told me. He has worked with Holocause survivors and has spent years on the Holocaust Memorial Council, and these activities have tempered this instinct for forgiveness. Pawlikowski said that Ratzinger was right in leaving the fate of La Combe's war dead "in the hands of God," but he faulted him for not condemning that which should have been condemned: Catholic, if not German, culpability. "Many of the S.S. men were certainly raised as Catholics," Pawlikowski said. "They were part of this Church that we remain part of as well. They were catechized by that Church and may also have had the anti-Jewish attitudes that were so prevalent in the Church. We need to acknowledge that we catechized them in the wrong direction, and commit ourselves today to not repeating that sort of catechesis."
It's a little scary to think that this Pawlikowski is a professor of any kind of ethics, in spite of the fact that he makes at least one true claim here--that we ought not to repeat any kind of shoddy catechesis that may have occurred. The glaring errors in his other claims, however, outweigh whatever truths he has hit upon accidentally. Consider the effortless slide he made, for example, from the claim that those S.S. men who were raised Catholic "were catechized by [the] Church" to the claim that "We need to acknowledge that we catechized them in the wrong direction." Who's "we", white man? Somebody catechized them in the wrong direction, that's for sure--but it was not "we" (I, for one, would have opposed it), and it wasn't the Church, either, since the Church explicitly condemns the very thing he's accusing it of teaching. Some particular idiotic individuals did the catechizing, and they are the morally culpable ones. We need to do what we can, again as individuals, to see to it that this sort of thing never happens again, but we won't be doing anybody any favors if we perpetuate moronic moral inferences of this sort.

Ryback clearly endorses this attitude towards forgiveness. He wants more retributive suffering, and he wants it from whomever he can extract it. The Germans as a "race", if that's all he can get, but ideally from the Catholic Church, which apparantly ought to have known better. Silly old Church--why can't you keep closer tabs on what your parts are doing? The Pope, of course, stands for the Church in ways that the rest of us can never hope to, but he is not identical to it, and Popes may err. When that happens--when a Pope sins--the Church itself remains sinless. The Pope is the vicar of Christ, and we do hold him to a higher standard because of that special role. But we ought not to act surprised when Popes do what Christ would have done: forgive even their bitterest enemies, even while hanging on the cross.

The title of Ryback's essay?



RCEsq said...

Perhaps your reading of the Ryback article differs from mine because you approach it as a professor of philosophy, while I read it as a former professor of English, who is now a lawyer. I think you're being much too harsh about a piece that tries hard to be nuanced and fair about a true moral/religious dilemma: how do Roman Catholics like Joseph Ratzinger reconcile the Christian belief that only God knows what is in man's soul with the human experience of inexpressible evil? How do you sympathize with the suffering of simple German soldiers who, like the Ratzinger brothers, were required to do their patriotic duty, while not expressing similar sympathy with those who had no qualms whatsoever about participating in a war of conquest and the Final Solution?

You seem to argue that it is illegitimate to conceive of a "nation" or "people" as a single entity because ultimately actions are taken by individuals; therefore, to seek to hold the German people accountable for complicity in the Nazi regime is somehow improper. That individualistic (existential?) attitude certainly isn't part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are taught that God chose a "people"; He didn't choose an aggregation of private actors who happened to share certain views and values. Moreover, as members of the Church we are called to share in the Body of Christ. Now, we may think we're the head or the heart and others the ***holes who engage in faulty catechesis about Jews, but as St. Paul said, we are one body.

If it's true that as cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger didn't apply his formidable intelligence, deep sympathies and pastoral vision successfully to the question of how to handle collective German responsibility for allowing Hitler to rule -- or even the accountability of German war criminals (known and unknown) -- then I can see nothing wrong with Ryback's pointing that out. After all, we Americans have to face such questions ourselves as more gruesome photographs of the treatment of detainees come to light and as we grapple with the continuous, obvious misery of the poor underclasses in our society.

Scott Carson said...

I certainly appreciate your candor, but I suspect that it is the former professor of English, rather than the lawyer, who is reading an attempt "to be nuanced and fair" into an article that shows no real evidence of any such intention. In general it is probably a mistake to interpret a piece of writing in the light of a presumed intention about which we can have no real knowledge. On the other hand, I know Ryback, and it is possible that he actually believes himself to have been nuanced and fair. Few people actually set out to be banal and unfair.

However that may be, it is certainly a disaster for any attempt to come to grips with the problem of evil when one begins to talk about collective guilt in the way that Ryback does. You write that "that individualistic (existential?) attitude certainly isn't part of the Judeo-Christian tradition." I don't know how familiar you are with that tradition--I don't presume either that you are an expert or a beginner--but there are two salient facts about it that may have escaped your attention. The first is that the Judeo-Christian tradition has never been ambiguous in its teaching that only individuals can bear moral responsibility for their own choices; the second is that the teaching of the Magisterium is quite clear about the intrinsic evil of the racist attitude that endorses references to "nations" or "peoples" of the sort employed by Ryback.

I don't really see that it follows at all from what he said or did that Ratzinger "didn't apply his formidable intelligence etc". The most that anyone can say is that he or she may not have done precisely what he chose to do--but that is only to say that we may have chosen differently, not that our choices would necessarily have been better, either more "intelligent", more "sympathetic", or more pastorally "successful". It is quite impossible to speculate meaningfully about how a choice made today by a different person would have worked at a different time and place.

As for the treatment of detainees--even if--or especially if--the photographs that we are seeing represent moral turpitude, that only underscores my point all the more: I do not endorse immoral behavior, and it is not only wrong, it is just plain irrational, to impute guilt to me--or to any other American--for acts done thousands of miles from here. We may very well have a duty to do what we can to see to it that further wrongs do not occur, but if they do occur we will not be responsible for them for not having been able to prevent them by the means available to us.

galantarie said...

Sorry, "rcesq" I do give my allegiance wholly to Our Roman Pontiff---without any reserves.
And, I would not want it any other way. Not merely do I say I am loyal, I am willing to prove it as well, in any manner that Our Lord asks it of me....
There is only One Truth! And Scott Carson here is right, we will judged individually for each of Our Sins...not by the Sins of others of Our "clan", nation" or "party", etc.
It appears to me that "rcesq" sympathises more with Ryback then that of the doctrine and universal love of the Roman-Catholic Church*; and is skeptical as well of the declarations made by Our Holy Father and the Magisterium. Her reasoning is not Orthodox Roamn-Catholicism.

P.S. One of your collaborators, Lisa Kazmier, wrote into "the New Yorker" the following, (after a Harlan Scott Hawkey wrote "...I am just saying people are human even after they are ordained. Every human is flawed or is that not that case?):
Re: Circulus in demonstrando (#79924)
by Lisa Kazmier on February 18, 2006 at 4:20 PM
"I wasn't sure there was one, except that the Papacy is infalliable, which apparently means no pope could ever be a Nazi or fascist, I guess. You wanna tell 'em about the Lateran Agreement? Heck, Leo XIII equating women with children in being no fan of the liberal democratic state isn't all that progressive, either, but it sure explains how the RCC could support Il Duce."

[and, this is how I answered her:]

Re: Der Pabst (#79963)
by Christella Bernardene Krebs on February 18, 2006 at 11:16 PM
Lisa, where do you dig-up your facts?
Wherever do you see an alliance with the Catholic-hater Mussolini, who mutilated the Vatican down to a few square feet, and threatened worse? Thank goodness a man's worth does not rest upon flawed, ill-informed, "scholars" as you deem yourself. Else, all those Roman priests and Religious martyred during the Second WW would find themselves just a few lines of b&w type in a WASP Public School text-book listed as perpetrators of the Holocaust!! [Luckily the Nazi plot to kidnap Pius XII failed; or it would have been twisted to: "Pope leaves the Vatican to confur with and lead to Victory his Nazi Pals"!]
And, yes, though Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is human, he has survived much Sorgen...going through the thick and thin of all things. Not only has he endured, but he has certainly come out triumphant as well. Can I "dare" compare him with the Living Christ? Yes indeed, for he has proven himself more than worthy [washed in the Blood of the Lamb] and has never faltered. Such strength does not come from oneself; but only from truly having the ability to say (in all verity) that Christ IS his friend, as well as his God, Savior, Creator and redeemer...and never to have wanted to ever question that (no matter what his circumstance might be)...whether at the gun-point ridicule of a superior officer in the Third Reich, or facing a violant New York protestor in the Winter of 1988. He has conquered in Righteousness; and is indeed worthy to be called "The Vicar of Christ on Earth".
______________ Timothy Ryback is one of those popular writers...who has written exstensively on the Holocost, and does not believe in any kind of forgiveness or mercy.
It is such an embittered hatred that will not be squelched; and no one is exempt...not even an extraordinarily good Pope. (Just as "Marybenedict" states: "They cannot let go...")

It reminds me of those who will never listen to Richard Wagner's music, although Wagner never lived during the Holocost, [his descendants were more gullable than responsible], and Wagner always used Jewish conductors!
He was also gladdened to hear of a few of those acquaintances converting to Christianity....But that also antagonizes many of the Jewish faith, who insist that no Jew should be baptized unto Christ...for that would make them traitors and disloyal to "their people": For one to do so is the worst anti-Semite [which they term as one who has "gone against their own"]! Their thinking is unfortunately warped, as is always the case when true love and compassion are not part of their formula of/for life.

Ryback plays well with Zionists, and those who would rather envision conflict instead of peace. Their pride and "stand" for personal convictions and immortalization of race temperaments surpass love. To him, No living German from the Nazi era can be good or have lofty ideals. No one can ever be forgiven....
Remember when Rabin shook hands with Arafat? Remember why Rabin was assasinated?
Ryback will never read or believe what Our Papa said in "Milestones" ["Aus meinen Leben"]. He would say it was all made up: that Our Papa really hates Jews. Ryback cannot envision anything else...."Human-justice" can burn an incurable whole in one's aheart; then as is Ryback's case, turn that heart into Stone. Yes.
As Ryback is judging for himself God's elect, all we can do is pray for Ryback's Eternal soul!

Remember Adam: to forgive does not necessarily mean to forget!
You are causing the hate mongering....and Yes, again, I do not question Our Papa's decisions. He gets them from the Holy Spirit after much deep prayer and contemplation. And, think about them yourself; and you will see how enlightened and truly loving and considerate those final decisions matter how "hard". And I do believe Our Holy Father has a free, clean-conscience. He does the will of God, and is not questioning of that or of the motives he has done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He probably can sleep confortably enough because of that fact; but still may not sleep well (and may not have enough hours) because of his concerns for humanity, and where the evils and sufferings of those within this world are leading-to.

Do any of you remember the marvelous Austrailian mini-TV Series: "The Far Country", or even the the American made threepart adventure on the Arizona Experiment recalling the U.S: Government sponsorship of the German Scientists to become Americans to develope the nuclear capabilities of the Atomic Bomb and our science rocket-program? [Both were with Michael York....]

Many of these Germans were good, honest, caring, hard-working individuals;...but the mentality of their new brothers in sisters (both here, as well as [in "The Far Country"] and Austrailia) was:
"The only good Kraut [German word for a plant], is a dead Kraut." And how shabbily and harshly these new American/Austrailian citizens were treated....

Recall please the last words of St. Stephen in imitation of Christ on the Cross: "Forgive them, they know not what they do."

As Our Holy Father says, "Only God can truly undertstand the motivations of one's heart." That is why He will be the Final Judge, not us.
Think of the "Count of Monte Christo" and "Ridicule": and how the temperament of Vengeance and revenge can spoil all things.
Think of President Bush's rash decision to defy Pope Jean-Paul II, and Cardinal Ratzinger and others of the Roman Curia who were already negotiating a settlement "with the Enemy"; and now the consequences/effects there-of.
One cannot change history, and what has already occured. We know the tremendous pain inflicted by those who think by power and might in lieu of love and patience. (Those whom they think know better [having alter-egos] and believe that only they deserve to govern this world.) Remember the example of the Astari Sarauman [from Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"] and his chain-ling Worm-tongue; and contemplate instead the understanding of St. Augustine. [Read "The City of God".]*²
On 05 June 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-day in Arramanches, the then Cardinal Ratzinger , at the end of his address, said:
" There is yet a third element of Christian tradition that I wish to mention, that, in the afflictions of our time, is of fundamental importance. Christian belief - following in the way of Jesus - has negated the idea of political theocracy. It has - to express it in modern terms - produced the worldliness of states, wherein Christians along with the adherents of other convictions live together in peace. Thus is distinguished the Christian belief that the Kingdom of God does not exist as a political reality, and cannot so exist, but rather, through faith, hope and love is it attained, and the world transformed from within. But under the conditions of temporality, the Kingdom of God is no worldly empire, but rather, a call for the freedom of humanity and a support for reason that it may fulfill its own mission. The temptations of Jesus were ultimately about this distinction, about the rejection of political theocracy, about the relativity of states and reason’s own law, as well as about the freedom to choose, which is meant for every person. In this sense, the secular state follows from of a fundamental Christian decision, even if it required a long struggle to understand this in all its consequences. This worldly, “secular” state incorporates, in its essence, the balance between reason and religion, which I have tried here to present. However, it stands against secularism as an ideology, which would, as it were, construct the state from pure reason, released from all historical roots, and which can thus recognize no moral foundations that are not discernable to reason. All that is left it, in the end, is the positivism of the greatest number, and with it the abasement of right; ultimately, it is to be governed by a statistic. If the countries of the West were to commit wholly to this path, they could not indefinitely withstand the press of the ideologues and political theocrats. Even a secular state may - indeed, must - find its support in the formative roots from which it grew, it may and must acknowledge the foundational values without which, it would not have come to be, and without which, it cannot survive. Upon an abstract, an a-historical reason, a state cannot endure."
A world of Peace will never occur as long as man harbors hate and does not let go of the hurt. Mankind as thus will never be freed from the bonds of Satan....Power and might is not the final answer. Godly wisdom and "caritas" must be honored. Then Christ will look upon us with compassionate eyes and free us from the chains which spiteful humankind has incarcerated us with.

Peace to you all.
*You claim that not all things are forgivable!
We are told even the most heinous of sins are forgivable once the penitent enters a Roman-Catholic confessional in all sincerity and is absolved by Christ himself!. [Also to have one's life shed in blood, as in War, is a means of atonement. God forgives them, unless they died hating their enemy.]
God forgave Saul of Tarsus.
Fr. Carapi gave a wonderful lecture on those whose sins were once scarlet, and are now washed clean into pristine purity by the Blood of the Lamb.

RCEsq said...

"We may very well have a duty to do what we can to see to it that further wrongs do not occur, but if they do occur we will not be responsible for them for not having been able to prevent them by the means available to us."

Yes, each of us will meet Our Maker individually, and we will have to account for our individual actions. But don't you think that one of the questions that will be asked is exactly how did you respond to wrongs committed by others? Isn't that the other aspect of the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Insofar as abjuring the notion of collective guilt for evil goes, does that also apply to the opposite idea: collective credit for good deeds?

Scott Carson said...


I agree that we have a duty to speak out for what is right, and when others do wrong, it is our duty to object. That is, I take it, the point of fraternal correction: it is a work of mercy.

I don't think, though, that there is any specific manner of "fraternal correction" that is mandatory. This is where I think individual judgment comes in: each of us must decide what his or her best response to evil is, and it it probably unwise for us to judge other persons strictly on the merits of their prudential judgments regarding how best to respond to evil. Granted, it would be wrong to do nothing at all, but often it is difficult to know with certainty just what someone is doing. It may appear that they are doing nothing at all, when in fact they have done much behind the scenes. Or they may appear to some to have done either not enough or not the right sorts of things, when in fact they have done plenty (I believe this may be a fair description of the ill-treatment that Pius XII has received).

Perhaps it will not surprise you, then, to learn that I don't think that "collective credit for good deeds" makes any more sense than collective guilt. Just as individuals do morally wrong acts, so too only individuals can do morally right acts; only individuals merit praise or blame for specific actions.

This is not to say, however, that I would not endorse claims such as "Christendom has contributed much of value to Western Civilization." I'm generally fairly leery of such statements, though, and would prefer to hear specific claims about specific individuals: Erasmus did much to promote the study of Greek; Anselm moved philosophical logic forward by a quantum leap; Thomas More showed how a lawyer can be a saint (sorry, I couldn't resist that one).

RCEsq said...

Prof. Carson:

Just out of curiosity: how do you interpret the Biblical notion of the Israelites as a "people"? And isn't there a certain point when it becomes conceptually unmanageable to insist on individual identification when one can detect group think, and, in those circumstances, a discussion about a "collective" is entirely legitimate? (Set aside the Church because I agree that in Catholic thinking and belief it has a double identity: the human organizational structure and the embodiment in humanity of an aspect of the divine.)

Thanks, by the way, for the left-handed compliment to lawyers by mentioning St. Thomas More. He is a fabulous example for those Catholics who have duties in the public sphere. I'll return the compliment by noting that the halo of St. Thomas Aquinas has throughout the centuries cast light on his fellow philosphers.

Scott Carson said...


I think that the Biblical notion is merely one of iconic representation of God's law being made manifest by a group willing to live in accordance with it. They become thereby imagines Dei, but they do not cease to be individuals: sin is still possible. Language having to do with "this stiff necked people" is, in my opinion, metaphorical. I don't think any of the Old Testament texts are to be taken literally.

Your question about conceptual manageability strikes me as very perplexing. I don't see anything at all unmanageable about attributing moral praise and blame to the individuals who deserve it. What you call "group think" is nothing more than an a priori conceptual notion that has been invented in defense of the very worldview you are advocating--it doesn't have any reality out there in the real world. What you might find, psychologically, is that some individuals are particularly susceptible to peer pressure. You might find, for example, individual persons who choose to do what they perceive the majority of people around them to be doing, but the fact that most people are doing something immoral does not lessen the culpability of the individual who decides to join in the throng. At that point you have, simply, a great many morally culpable individuals, not a morally culpable group.

The conceptual impossibility is that I should be blamed for the choices made by other people. I live in Athens Ohio, for example, but I have consistently voted quite differently from the vast majority of my fellow Athenians in recent elections, and would not for a second allow anyone to claim that I endorse the choices of my fellow citizens just by virtue of living in a certain place. If I were to choose the same thing they choose, then I bear the same responsibilities they do. But whatever praise or blame that accrues to me is a function of my own individual choices and nothing else.

I'm a little surprised to find that a lawyer would think otherwise, and so I'm beginning to suspect that I just don't really understand what position you are really advocating--perhaps we are getting bogged down in definitional differences or semantic incompatibilities. If you want to try to illuminate your views a little more clearly for me, it might be helpful.

RCEsq said...

Perhaps an analogy to business structures is helpful. You can organize as a corporation or a partnership. A corporation is a legal "person" which is capitalized by the investments of its shareholders and is run by a board of directors elected by the shareholders. The board employs officers to run the day to day business. In this structure, shareholder liability for any wrongs committed by the corporate entity is limited to the shareholder's actual investment: a litigant cannot get at the personal assets owned by the shareholder. That seems to be your model. You limit personal exposure; if you've invested one dollar for one share, you're exposed for that one share; if you've invested $100 for 100 shares, your exposure is 100 times greater.

A partnership is different. It can conduct the same business as any corporate entity, but the partners can be held jointly and severally liable for the partnership's wrongs. In other words, each partner is exposed for 100% of the partnership's liabilities. Now, one partner may be a corporate entity and another may not be; some may have partnership agreements that make different allocations of liability amongst themselves (general vs. limited partners, for instance; some of these arrangements are protected by legislation, depending on which state you're in), but to the outside world each partner is responsible for anything any other partner does. That's a model I believe can legitimately apply when making ethical judgments.

Now, I wouldn't take it as far as ascribing responsibility to an entire "race" or every single person in a "nation," but I don't see anything wrong with holding everyone who ascribes to a set of views (such as Nazism, Stalinism, socialism or trickle down economics) or votes for those who hold those views, as responsible for whatever are the social consequences of those views. So it's OK to condemn the "Nazis" or the "Stalinists" for their conduct.

Getting back to Ryback, though, I still disagree with your judgment that he is trying to push the notion of collective guilt. He acknowledges that most of the German soldiers buried at La Cambe are regular soldiers, who can be honored like any war dead. But he wonders (as do I, much though I admire Joseph Ratzinger), whether it was appropriate for someone in Cardinal Ratzinger's position to leave the impression that similar honor was being paid to SS men who -- as far as history can tell -- were guilty of war crimes.

The issue of complicity in the actions of the Nazi regime is a complicated one, because of course everyone in occupied Europe became a resistance fighter after the war. I've often wondered how the Vichy government managed to pull the wool over the Germans' eyes, or how come the only person who was a member of the Dutch NSB (Nationaal Socialistisch Bond) managed to betray the Anne Frank family or whatever happened to all the people one sees marching in Leni Riefenstahl's documentaries.

And as for the concept of the "chosen people" in the Hebrew Bible, have you read any of Cardinal Ratzinger's books on the topic of their continuing role in salvation history? His ideas are quite thought provoking.

Scott Carson said...


I suppose you're not the first to compare Church structures to corporations and partnerships. I don't doubt that there are some similarities, but I really don't think that surface similarities percolate down to the level of moral liability. Indeed, the only liability that really exists even in corporations and partnerships is legal liability--there is is fact no moral culpability that transfers from a corporate entity or a partnership to any particular individual who is legally tied to such a contract, since by definition the association is contractual and nor moral. It legally stipulates that certain relations will be held to exist for the purposes of legal review and possible punishment and reward, but all of that takes place outside of the context of morality, in which genuine moral praise and blame continues to be purely individual in character. I cannot, for example agree by legal fiat to be morally responsible for the acts of another, even though I can agree to take legal responsibility for their acts. If my son commits a crime, I may be liable to the state in some sense, but I am not morally responsible for the choices he makes.

Having said that, I note that you say

I don't see anything wrong with holding everyone who ascribes to a set of views (such as Nazism, Stalinism, socialism or trickle down economics) or votes for those who hold those views, as responsible for whatever are the social consequences of those views

And I fully agree that to support evil is to be complicit in evil. I'm not altogether sure that the moral culpability is exactly the same in the case of the perpetrator as it is in the case of the facilitator, however. I may vote for a man whom I know full well will take an immoral course of action, and in that case I am certainly morally responsible for supporting evil; but I may have thought that the most he was going to do was, let's say, support legal discrimination against a certain group, but then let's say who goes about support the lynching of the members of that group, and that is not something that I believed he was going to do, nor is it something I support. I think that in a case like that, I may still be somewhat morally culpable--someone may argue, for example, that I ought to have known that lynching was a possible outcome, but I think that holding people responsible for knowing all possible probably outcomes borders on the irrational, since there is no way to know what will happen in the future with any certainty. I can't be held responsible for the lynchings themselves since the lynchers presumably still have free will and are capable of choosing to act otherwise than they do, but I do agree that if I support such people there is clearly some level of moral responsibility on my part.

I completely agree with you, too, about Ratzinger's books on the role of the Jewish people in salvation history. I can't claim to be anything like an expert in that kind of theology, of course, but I have always found what he has to say on the matter very compelling.

Maggie said...

I was led to this site through another source (the Ratzinger Fan Club) and I have not had enough time to examine all of the arguments.

I am not a professor of anything, but do have to my credit a Bachelor of Economics and Commerce (Melb 1976) with a sub-major in economic history.

As one who has roots within Germany through a great grandfather, I continue to feel the shame of the extent to which Germans participated in the holocaust. However, my understanding in recent years has matured quite a lot as I have read and learned more about the psyche of the German people at the time that Hitler came to power.

I think that Pope Benedict was correct in his comments regarding those who died in the invasion. We do not know how many of them wanted to be soldiers for the SS. How many young men desired, just like a young Josef Ratzinger to find a way to get out of service to the state?

Over the years I have learned about how many Germans were not in agreement with Hitler and that they attempted to resist. Also I learned of the plight of many nameless people who sheltered the Jews who were left homeless and who were turned in by members of their own family (or employees). Who takes responsibility for such actions? The Church? I think not.

I have more to say, but must go to Mass.

Maggie said...

Congratulations on the level of deep discussion that is taking place on what is truly a thorny issue for all of us. By reading through the comments I believe that I have learned quite a bit about forgiveness as well as moral responsibility.

As one who has studied accounting and economics, with regard to the comparison relating to the collective liability of the shareholders, I must say that on the surface the comparison has its merits, but like Scott has pointed out, there is a difference between moral culpability and financial culpability.

If I can take the analogy a little further though, if an officer of the company does something that is morally wrong in regard to company law and ethics, then the company itself and indirectly the shareholders do bear some responsibility for the actions of that person. To give an example of company culpability, I will use knowingly allowing the dumping of toxic waste in the waterways of a city. The outcome of the dumping of this waste is an increase in illness amongst the inhabitants of the city.

Now, taking that example and applying it to the Church, there is some translation that can be made with regard to outcomes when a Church leader is found to be morally corrupt. This leadership can be at any level within the Church, including the Bishop of Rome and individual members of the Vatican. A morally corrupt leader will have the effect of harming the members of the Body of Christ. The collective responsibility for such leadership though, rests with those who appointed that person to his/her position, and not to the individual members of the Church.

Someone touched on the compact that was made between Pius X11 and Hitler, and how many use this agreement as some alleged proof of the complicity of the Pope. Most people who use this compact have not even bothered to read the content. A few years ago, I had a similar discussion with a woman who is a member of the Independent Baptists. She used this compact as though it was something that caused scandal and shame for the Catholic Church. I found and posted the agreement to the list, and this shocked her because her thunder was stolen completely from her. In other words the compact did not do anything like the claims that were made about it. The same goes for the nonsense that the Vatican supported Mussolini. There might have been individual priests who supported Mussolini but they were out of step with the Vatican. Yes, I have even heard claims that the Pope sheltered Nazis in the summer palace, and that comes from someone who was on an allied warship (I have yet to find information that supports what he is saying).

Ryback is wrong because he seems to think that the Catholic Church should somehow bear a collective responsibility for what happened in Germany. However, Ryback has not fully understood the psyche of Hitler and his past. My understanding about Hitler comes from the writing of Alice Miller, who has looked at the Hitler phenonemon and why the Germans seemed to collectively support his ideas. Her analysis led to a family level of responsibility for Hitler's actions.

Hitler was raised as a Catholic, but he renounced his Catholicism as he embraced the Theosophism of Madame Blatevesky. In other words, he made the free will choice to immerse himself in a world of evil. A little known fact about Adolf Hitler is that it is possible that his grandfather (or is that great grandfather) was a Jew. Considering the delicate and evil nature of his psyche, it is logical that his Jew hating came not from catechesis but from his own past. Another issue that was brought up by Miller happened to be that Hitler was ill treated by his father as he was maturing into manhood. Without getting into the ins and outs of the ill treatment that he suffered, it is worth mentioning that during this same period in Germany and elsewhere in Europe the pedagogy reflected an attitude that children had to be severely disciplined for the sake of their souls.

In terms of Hitler's behaviour on the world stage, the manner of his upbringing might in fact hold clues as to how he ended up so mentally unbalanced, and why he had men and women who were happy to support his unbalanaced ideas and to put them into practice.

I do not believe that either the Lutheran or the Roman Catholic Church has any form of collective responsibility over what happened prior to and during the second world war. Both Lutheran and Catholic priests were interred and executed. They had to be careful in what they preached because of the informers in their ranks, yet many bravely stood up to Hitler and his SS. Many took secret steps to try and battle against the evil that had beset Germany through the elevation to power of Adolf Hitler.

What I have picked up from the comments of Pope Benedict that were reported, is that he stated that in some ways France and Britain also bear some responsibility for the second world war. I agree with the Pope because I believe that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh, and that the consequences (the high level of inflation - and I have postage stamps to prove that level of inflation was extremely high) caused a lot of unnecessary suffering to the people of Germany because they were being held collectively responsible for the first world war.

I would go further, and I would also say that the leaders of Britain and France were also collectively responsible for the conflict of the second world war because of their appeasing attitude towards Hitler. They failed to see that he was a very dangerous and determined man.