Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 6 (March 1954): 14-20.
When the framers of foreign policy refuse to accept the "national interest" as their guide.
This, in brief, is the thesis that a group of American scholars and publicists have been hammering into the thinking of their mid-twentieth century countrymen. Foremost among this coterie of professors and diplomats is Hans J. Morgenthau, professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Under his leadership a vigorous attack has been levied upon recent American foreign policies. Official pronouncements, he claims, reveal a disconcerting lack of realism in political thinking. Three books by Morgenthau, as well as a number of articles in popular and professional journals, serve to document the charge.1 Supporting evidence is contained in a recent report from the Center for the Study of American Foreign Policy, a research group organized at the University of Chicago by Professor Morgenthau.2
Morgenthau and his group of research specialists are not alone in their contention. Shortly before Professor Morgenthau gave his first lecture on American foreign policy at the New School for Social Research in New York City in the late summer of 1940, the American theologian-scientist, Reinhold Niebuhr, had written a number of articles which laid the groundwork for this attack. In that same summer Professor Niebuhr issued several of these articles, together with chapters of earlier origin, under the title, Christianity and Power Politics.3 The entire book endeavored to point up the shortcomings of what he called "modern Christian and secular perfectionism" as a basis for foreign policy.
More recently, George F. Kennan, the famous "Mr. X" of State Department and Foreign Affairs fame who was later to be recalled from the American ambassadorship to Russia by request of the latter government, has joined in the attack by charging that American diplomacy is becoming increasingly subservient to a "legalistic-moralistic approach to international problems "4 which he considers far inferior to the traditional policy of balance of power. All of these gentlemen serve to focus attention upon pure power politics as proper basis for American foreign policy. This, they say, is the only sound foundation for policy determination in a bi-polar political world where two great empires contend for world domination.
What is the nature of Professor Morgenthau's disagreement with American foreign policy? Perhaps his own statement before the Fifty-sixth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Political and Social Science, delivered on April 18, 1952, will give us the key:
One of the great weaknesses of American foreign policy in recent decades has been its inability to follow consistently certain standards of action and judgment in its conduct of foreign affairs. We were against Italy because of its aggression against Ethiopia, but we were against Franco because of his fascism. We seemed to like Mussolini because he made the trains run on time, but when he made an alliance with Hitler we did not like him any more. We did not like Stalin either; but when he was attacked by Germany and was defeating the German armies, we thought he was a somewhat uncouth democrat, essentially not so different f rom ourselves; and finally we turned full circle, and regard him now as the incarnation of evil.It seems to me this stumbling from one extreme to the other, this inability to steer a clear course in foreign affairs, undisturbed by emotional preferences, results from the lack of recognition of the national interest as the only standard for judgment and action available to a great nation if it wants to pursue a successful and rational foreign policy. So from all points of view I Conclude that there is no other standard of action and of judgment, moral and intellectual, to which a great nation can repair, than the national interest.8
If one dips further into Morgenthau's writings one finds that he believes that we have slipped our moorings in international relations as laid down by Federalists such as Washington and Hamilton, and even such early Democratic Republicans as Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. Woodrow Wilson, charges Morgenthau, was the American president who led us away from the sure light of "national interest" to the will-of-the-wisp of international morality. To be thus diverted from safeguarding our national security to the fulfilment of a crusading mission for the destruction of any nation whose political ideology is in conflict wth ours, is, in the opinion of Morgenthau, the present hazard of American foreign relations. This is particularly true in a politically bi-polar world in which Russia presents an ideological contradiction to our own and an "power" challenge in terms of military potential. In other words, Morgenthau fears that continued commitment to the Wilsonian principle of international relations will surely lead us into a military crusade against Russia thus precipitating a third world war.9
What credence are we to give to Professor Morgenthau's contentions? Is it true that we have abandoned our earlier principles in the conduct of foreign relation? Are we following an "idealist" or "legal-moralist" approach to international relations which will eventually lead us into war? These and other questions deserve careful consideration. But, before we proceed to an evaluation, let us examine the foundations of Morgenthau's thought. In this he is very explicit. America has come into this confusion of purpose and practice because of a long-standing conflict in the national mind. it * . . wherever American foreign policy has operated," writes Morgenthau, "political thought has been divorced from political action . . . We have acted on the international scene, as all nations must, in powerpolitical terms; we have tended to conceive of our actions in nonpolitical, moralistic terms . . . " Because of the optimistic and utopian rationalism with which we have viewed all matters of political import we have come to believe "that the struggle for power on the international scene is a mere accident of history . . . destined to disappear with the triumph of democracy throughout the world; and that, in consequence, conflicts between democratic and non-democratic nations must be conceived not as struggles for mutual advantage in terms of power but primarily as a contest between good and evil . . . "10
What Professor Morgenthau is fundamentally opposed to is the scientific rationalism which underlies our democratic culture. His indictment of this aspect of American culture is devastating:
The philosophy of rationalism has misunderstood the nature of man, the nature of the social world, and the nature of reason itself. It does not see that man's nature has three dimensions: biological, rational, and spiritual. By neglecting the biological impulses and spiritual aspirations of man, it misconstrues the function reason fulfills within the whole of human existence; it distorts the problem of ethics, especially in the political field; and it perverts the natural sciences into an instrument of social salvation for which neither their own nature nor the nature of the social world fits them."
These rationalistic presuppositions lead men to conceive the social world and the physical world as identical. If physics declares that the world of nature operates on the basis of fixed and determinate laws of universal application and constancy then the social world also operates upon such laws. If the physical world is conceived as atoms living in an ordered relationship one with the other, then men are to be conceived as sharing the possibility of a similar type of ordered relationship. It makes little difference to Morgenthau whether one proceeds along deductive or inductive lines of thought, whether he uses mathematics and physics, or biology to demonstrate his thesis, the fundamental error is still there-man has conceived the physical universe to exist within the limits of his own imagination and the social universe must therefore correspond. This optimistic illusion leads men to strive for the complete fullfillment of their scientific dream in this life and to become "perfectionist" in all of their social ambitions including that of international politics. Man's mind has tricked him into believing that the unreal is the real. He struggles through life in the vain attempt to bring to actuality that which does not exist.
Whence this doctrine by which Morgenthau seeks to justify his contention that the national interest is the only governing principle of foreign relations and the medium or instrument of power politics the only means of action? Morgenthau professes to find justification for it in his own theory of irrationalism. To him the theories of quantum physics point the way to a reliable guide for human action. Of these he writes:
The new physics shows, indeed, that there exists a close correspondence between the human mind, on the one hand, and nature and society, on the other. Modern scientific thought re-establishes the unity of the physical and social world to which the modern age aspired in vain. However, the common element of which mind, nature, and society partake is no longer reason pure and simple but reason surrounded, interspersed, and underlaid with unreason, an island precariously placed in the midst of an obscure and stormy ocean.12
Reason is no longer determinant in human life. It has become the servant of passion. Its only function is that of harmonizing human action.13 It is therefore subjective, an instrument of the individual person. It has no outer relationship either with a rationally conceived natural law or a divinely revealed will of God. It is consequently free to determine its own course of action in response to its own inner urgings. Applying this mode of reasoning to the nation state, it is inferred that the only issue which can be real to the directors of foreign policy is that of the nation's own inner feeling concerning its security. Since mind is confined to the particular and is in no sense universal, then the only means of establishing relationships between individual persons or nations is through the sensorily perceived means of force.
It is now possible to identify the sources of Professor Morgenthau's methodology. If one will examine his analysis of liberalism as a governing methodology in social science and his contention for irrationalism as the mainspring of human action, he will find it paralleling to a large degree the existentialism of Kirkegaard and the neo-Calvinism of Reinhold Niebuhr. All of them would agree in the basic elements of their episteMology.14 For Kirkegaard and for Neibuhr there would be greater emphasis upon personal religious experience. This places Professor Morgenthau with that group of thinkers who have sought to find the answer to human motivation in man's response to crisis. For them there is no universal sanction for ethics, not even Herbert Agar's individualized version of natural law.15 Thus released from the obligations of a transcendent ethics, man is free to follow his own interests as he conceives them. Politics-the process whereby conflicting interests are to be resolved in compromise-are not to be depreciated. It is the universal lust for power that is the determinant of man's actions. Therefore, any means, but particularly means of power, that can be used to curb this sinful drive is to be commended. Power politics, then, becomes the accepted means of solving all problems of human relations whether internal to the state or external. Standards of justice then become relative to the power complex. The security of human societies is to be found in an internal balance of forces and an external diplomacy which leads to the same end. Means then become ends and the perspective of life is reduced to a monistic pattern of power relationships.16
It is by reasoning from this basis that Professor Morgenthau disagrees with what he describes as the typical American tendency to present to the world the "ideal of a free, peaceful, and prosperous world, from which popular government had banished power politics forever" 17 while acting in terms of power politics. What really annoys him, then is the fact that the American people have presented a picture of normative action which they have been unable to realize fully themse ves in their national life and which, often, has no cultural or ideological basis in the life of other nations. His present annoyance leads to a number of charges:
1. That the United States sought to supplant he practices of power politics and the principle of the balance of power in international relations in promoting the adoption of the United Nations.
2. That the United States sought to establish the rule of law among nations through the instrumentality of the United Nations rather than to maintain a balance of power among nation states through the channels of diplomacy.
3. That the Truman Doctrine, although sound in its definition of natural interest in some parts of the world, notably Turkey and Greece, is misleading in its sentimental tendency to demand the support of every under-dog nation irrespective of its relation to the national interest of the United States.
4. That the containment policy directed against Russia is misleading because it leads people to believe that a powerful nation can be resisted indefinitely purely on the basis of strengthened outer bastions of defense, whereas, the real deterrent to Russian offensive action is the inner power of the United States measured by the possession of the atomic bomb.18 Professor Morgenthau disagrees with these present policies because he believes that a realistic appraisal of the international political scene must be predicated upon these basic principles:
Professor Morgenthau's presuppositions are simple almost to the point of quaintness. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that in his eagerness to destroy the opposition he has over-stated his case. If one is to admit historical evidence as a basis of judgment, it is doubtful if his analysis of internatonal politics will stand careful scrutiny. Each of his political axioms savor of the mathematical eractness of the very rationalism which he disavows. The only satisfactory answer to his contentions lie in the assumption that his basic pessimism has led him to the same conclusions as the positivists , that there is no normative theory for human action. In adopting this position he has parted company with the early American tradition which he professes to be restoring. American politics, even in the hey-day of the Enlightenment of the Eighteeneth Century, never forgot its Calvinistic heritage.21 A type of realism was developed which retained two perspectives derived from the classical and the Christian heritage of European peoples:
These presuppositions led the founders of the American republic to conceive of a political society which professed to follow certain norms of social life and at the same time to guard against the destruction of those norms through an elaborate system of political devices which were designed to protect the republic against the storms of human passion. To find Morgenthan appealing to the principles of this era in American history as a pattern for the present, but denying the political philosophy of its leadership is disconcerting
But what of Professor Morgenthau's own statement of human nature as the basis of his metholology? Very early in his argument he committed himself to a tri-partite view of human nature: biological, rational, spiritual. He disagreed with the liberals because they had elevated man's reason to the place of the determinant in human action. But, what has he introduced in its place? A political monism based upon the primacy of the biological. In his attempt to rescue man from the pitfalls of scientific rationalism he has lost him in the morass of irrationalism. It is not surprising then to find Professor Morgenthau urging that man's political decisions must be left in the hands of the statesman. ii - . . the statesman," he writes, "is indeed the prototype of social man himself; for what the statesman experiences on his exalted plane is the common lot of all mankind. Suspended between his spiritual destiny which he cannot fulfill and his animal nature in which he cannot remain, he is forever condemned to experience the contrast between the longings of his mind and his actual condition as his personal, eminently human tragedy."23
Professor Morgenthau is now endeavoring to distinguish between the science of politics, which is conceived in irrational terms, hence, analagous to the physical universe as viewed through the insights of quantum physics, and the task of the statesman who must employ the arts of politics in directing the relations of his state with others. By so doing he introduces a consideration of politics at another level. His all-inclusive generalizations concerning the nature of politics, based upon the assumption that all political action is to be understood in terms of power relationships, now undergoes some qualification. Instead of projecting his personal ethical standards, which he believes to be universal in claim, into the determination of national or international political policies, the statesman will recognize the limitation of a "realistic" standard, namely, that of the individuals over whome he is placed or the currently expressed standard of a nation or nations with whom he is negotiating. "He will distinguish with Lincoln," explains Morgenthau, "between his 'official duty' which is to protect the national interest and his 'personal wish' which is to see universal moral values realized throughout the world ."24 Thus, the strength of a statesman's position would be meastired by his ambivalence in the power complex rather than by his fixation upon any rationally conceived, mathematically structured, standard of political action. To put it in the language of classical political concepts: The philosopher king must give way to the statesman. The man who would rule by the art of rational knowledge must give way to the man who would rule by the art of experience.
Morgenthau's statesman would be guided by these principles in the determination of foreign policy:
1. The principle of humility in assessing the moral evaluation of the actions of other states. "To know that states are subject to the moral law is one thing; to pretend to know what is morally required of states in a particular situation is quite another."2. The principle of balance in evaluating the mor ality of the actions of other states.
3. The relation between universal moral principles
and political action.
"... the state has no moral right to let its moral disapprobation of the infringement of liberty get in the way of successful political action, itself inspired by the moral principle of national survival."
4. The complexity of moral choice in the political
".. . the realist recognizes that a moral decision, especially in the political sphere, does not imply a simple choice between a moral principle and a standard of action which is morally irrelevant or even outright immoral."
5. The principle of distinction between private and national ethics.
" . . . the political realist distinguishes between his moral sympathies and the political interests which he must defend."25
Professor Morgenthau's contention boils down to this: since there are no universally accepted moral or legal principles that are recognized as binding throughout the world, a nation cannot base its foreign policy on the assumption that those principles which it conceives to be right are to be employed as the basis of its negotiations with other nations. It must be content to shelve all such guiding principles and employ only those considerations which can be backed by its superior power at the time of a given action or decision. The man or men responsible for the formulation of foreign policy and its successful conduct, likewise, must keep in check personal ideals or even group standards, and must labor to bring about decisions only upon the basis of a calculated judgment that recognizes the power complex existing at a given time betweeen groups within the state or between nation states. Politics is thereby effectively divorced from ethics, even though Professor Morgenthau denies emphatically the charge that he has, along with Hobbes, dismissed the influence of universal moral principles.26
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Professor Morgenthau seeks to introduce upon the American scene what has often been identified as a European view of international relations. There the tradition of "power politics" and of "Realpolitik" has held sway for several generations. Considerations of universal morality among European states in the modern period early gave way to formulations based on the immediate interests of states or groups within the states. Diplomacy became absorbed in the "naked" struggle for security. The conduct of diplomatic relations fell into the hands of those who sought to emulate Machiavelli's Prince who, according to the Italian diplomat, must imitate both the lion and the fox. This is in direct conflict with the American tradition in foreign relations which has sought to be guided by ethical norms even though frequently forced to accept settlements based upon a given set of "power" relations then prevailing. This would be true of the original American claim for indepen dences and the settlement with Britain in 1783 as well as the American contention for the principle of self-determination in 1919 and the Versailles Treaty of that same year. Even though Professor Morgenthau is disturbed about the gap between American announcements of policy aims and the actual terms of settlement, it seems to this observer that the American tradition is more "realistic" than that for which he contends American realism puts the emphasis upon ethical aims in foreign relations, although often forced to settle for partially recognized objectives. Morgenthau would have the United States give up the profession of aims, based upon a concept of universal moral principle, and be content with no pronouncements save those based upon power realities. Instead of trying to bat 1,000 per cent in baseball or run the four-minute mile we must be content with aspiring only to improve the immediate record without any ultimate goal in mind.
Professor Morgenthau's fate is the fate of all those who abandon the Christian revelation as the basis of thought and action. He has taken from Christianity its tripartite analysis of the nature of man: body, soul and spirit. He has immolated it by trying to find in man the governing principle. Long ago Augustine pointed out that man's nature is integrated only as the creative and redemptive relationship of God in Christ is recognized as determinant. It is then that man's spiritual, his mental, and his physical life become a unity-a unity that is brought about through ! he creative and redemptive relationship of the Triune God to the human person. Looked at from this perspective man's irrational lif e has meaning, not only in the immediate, but in the broader perspective which is visible to mind as part of that universal property of man "made in the image of God," and in the eternal perspective of the spirit. We may admit the contention that man is responsible for the preservation of the biological, the physical, but in the light of this perspective we cannot admit that it is determinant. Higher values must be considered, the values of the mind and of the spirit. Thus we may say that in the analysis of our present foreign policies we must give attention to the factors of comparative population strength, of comparative natural resources, of comparative industrial potential, of the so-called "guns and butter" capacities of all states involved in the international relations of the present. But we are also obligated to give attention to the matters of the mind, the ideologies which grip and motivate the life of men. If Professor Morgenthau is right in his contention that we must advocate no ideology which has not yet been fully realized, or has not been accepted in some fashion as part of the culture of some people, then we commit ourselves to the abandonment of all myths or governing visions for the life of man. To eliminate this factor from public life, either in the internal or external relations of his political experience is to consign him to the life of the animal. The Communist ideology is potent in our time exactly because it has captured the imagination of peoples who long for release from the burdens of human existence. For the United States to refuse to use ideological weapons in its claims for national existence is to renounce one of its most effective instruments of international relations. Indeed, the whole sense of mission which characterizes the Christian church and the Christian community would be lost. It may be that no nation, as Professor Morgenthau points out, is justified in forcing another to accept its ideology but this is a far cry from advocating the adoption of an ideology in which it believes.
For the Christian there is a still higher scale of values which is involved in the determination of political action. This is the realm of the spirit. If there is one thing which the Bible teaches about human life it is that all of life is not embraced in either the physical or the mental. It is the spiritual conflicts in the world which are often determinant in the affairs of men. This does not mean, as the ancient peoples of the Near East contended, that all political action is determined by the gods. It does mean that God is sovereign, and that the present conflict of nations is carried on within the limits of his permissive will. We may not at this age be able to identify fully the forces of evil with particular and individual governments; Professor Morgenthau is probably right in his caution at this point. But we can be assured that when any nation disobeys the laws of God in its dealings with its citizens or in its relations with foreign powers, that it must at some time meet with the judgment of God. Lincoln saw this clearly as he looked at the progress of the Civil War through the language of his second inaugural address. For him the war was in part God's judgment upon the North and the South for direct violations of His law.
What then can be said about the acceptability of Morgenthau's thesis to the Christian? Briefly, we can acknowledge the helpfulness of his analysis of the danger of depending upon a purely rational approach to foreign policy, a danger which I believe he greatly over-rates. But we cannot accept his conclusions which advocate the national interest as the sole determinant of our foreign policy and the instrumentality of power politics as the only device whereby we can maintain our national security. To do so violates the Scriptural revelation of the tri-partite nature of man, a view which Morgenthau himself accepts, and the obligation which arises out of this view to recognize a hierarchy of values and means which govern the life of men.References
I. Politics Among the Nations (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1948) ; Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1946) ; In Defense of the National Interest; A Critical Study of American Foreign Policy (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1951) ; "The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy: The National Interest vs. Moral Abstractions," American Political Science Review 44:833-854; "Another 'Great Debate"': The National Interest of the United States," op, cit. 46:961-988; "The Escape from Power in the Modern World," in R. M. McIver et al (eds.), Conflicts of Power in Modern Culture (Harper and Brothers, New York, 1947) ; "What is the National Interest of the United States," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 282:1-7.
2. Robert Osgood, Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1953).
3. Reinhold Niebuhr, (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1940).4. George V. Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 (Chicago, 1951) p. 95.
5. Thomas 1. Cook and Malcolm Moos, "Foreign Policy: The Realism of Idealism," American Political Science Review 46:343-356; "The American Idea of International Interest," op. cit., 47:28-44.
6. Robert W. Tucker, "Professor Morgenthau's Theory of
Political 'Realism'," American Political Science Review 46:213-223.
7. Frank Tannenbaum, "The Balance of Power versus the Coordinate State," Political Science Quarterly 67:175; "The American Tradition in Foreign Relations," Foreign Affairs30:31-50.
8. Hans J. Morgenthau, "What is the National Interest of the United States?" Annals 282:6-7.
9. Hans J. Morgenthau, In Defense of the National Interest, 88-89.
10. Hans J. Morgenthau, "The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy," American Political Science Review 44:836, 839.
11. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, p. 5.12. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics pp. 144-145.
14. Cf. F. H. Heinemann, Existentialism and the Modern Predicament (Adam and Charles Black, London, 1953), especially pages 39-40; Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Power Politics, passim.
15. "It is the impluse within us to make our conduct conform to truth. It is the object and the motive of conscience. It shows the road to fulfilment. It is discovered, not invented, for it is built into the universe." Declaration of Faith (Collins, London, 1952), p. 127.
16. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 9-10, 199-200, Politics Among Nations, p. 17; Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Power Politics, 26-27. There is an increasing body of literature on the problem of power and "power politics." Among the more recent contributions are Bertrand de Jouvenal's On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth (The Viking Press, New York, 1949) ; A Study of Power (Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois, 1950) which embrades a symposium of three books: H. D. Lasswell, "World Politics and Personal Insecurity," C. E. Merriam, "Political Power," and T. V. Smith, "Power and Conscience: Beyond Conscience;" Joseph Haroutunian, The Lust for Power (Scribner, New York, 1949), as well as such articles as are contained in a recent symposium "Political Science and Political Power," to be found in the American Political Science Review, 44:693-723.17. Hans J. Morgenthau, "The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy," American Political Science Review 44:839.
18. Hans J. Morgenthau, In Defense of the National Interest, 91-138; 182-183.19. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics,
22. See James Madison, The Federalist, No. 55 (Sherman
F. Mittell, ed., National Home Library Foundation, Washington,
D. C., 1937), 365.
23. Hans J. Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, 221.
24. "Another 'Great Debate': The National Interest of the United States," American Political Science Review 46:987.
25. "Another 'Great Debate': The National Interests of the United States," op. cit., pp. 983-987.
26. Op. cit., p. 983.