Friday, December 02, 2005

Weigel on 'A Realist Sensibility' - Necessity & Caution

A realist sensibility is an essential component of the intellectual furniture of any Christian analyst or practicioner of international politics who would observe, in that dangerous arena, the first principle of sound medicine: first, do no harm. Idealism untethered to an Augustinian sense of the limits of human perfectability can erode into romanticism, and the bill, ultimately, will be paid in human lives and suffering. Neither the defeat of Nazi totalitarianism or the collapse of Marxism-Leninism has invalidated the enduring importance of the realist sensibility.

But realism absolutized carries its own dangers. It can lead to a prematurely foreshortened view of the possible. It can obscure the potential for good that arises from the ideas and activities of individuals and movements who work "off the headlines" of diplomacy and commerce, and whose impact cannnot be readily calculated according to the standard realist weights and measures of military power and economic capability. An absolutist form of realism can bifurcate the worlds of politics and morality by creating the false (and, in classic Catholic moral terms, unacceptable) image of international public life as an "amoral" arena. Finally, by minimizing the fact that, while it is certainly true that man sins, it is equally true that it is man who makes the judgement that he sins, absolute realism can blind itself to the opportunities for incremental improvement in the human condition that do exist because of the tug of conscience.

George Weigel, "Pacem In Terris: The Human Rights Revolution"
From Building a Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism and Catholic Social Teaching
edited by George Weigel, Robert Royal. Eerdmans Pub Co (October 1994).