Youâve written that the nation state has become a âparody of the Churchâ? and that we should treat it like the âphone company.â? How far do you think the state has overreached itself in this country?
William Cavanaugh: The phone company quote comes from MacIntyre. He says that the nation state is a dangerous and unwieldy organization that presents itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic provider of goods and services which is always about to, but never actually provides, value for money, and on the other hand, as a repository of sacred values which from time to time asks us to lay down our lives on its behalf. He says itâs like being asked to die for the telephone company. I think that really characterizes it very well.
On the one hand, you have this enormous bureaucratic organization which is growing constantly despite all the talk about small government. Even under Reagan and the current president the state continues to grow. People foresaw this as early as the 19th century. When thereâs no organic community and your society is a mass of individuals, each with their own goals, goods, and ends, you need a bigger and bigger state to keep them all from interfering with each other.
Thereâs a spiritual aspect to the stateâs claims. Thatâs why I call it a âparody of the Churchâ?âit claims to saves us. Currently, itâs saving us from these diabolical terrorists who are out there and want to kill us. The state presents itself as the only protection from this diabolical enemy. The irony is that the state made this enemy for us in the first place.
The amnesia about who terrorists are and where they come from is just amazing. The way the storyâs usually told, we were just sitting here minding our own business, and then on September 11, 2001, these crazy people attacked us for no good reason and now we have to defend ourselves. But the truth of the matter is much more complex. It has a lot to do with American foreign policy and American military meddling in the Middle East which we donât want to talk about. It has a lot to do with the CIA helping to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 and installing a Shah who ran a brutal dictatorship. These are things we forget, but that other people never forget. The state in a lot of ways is like a protection racket: it defends us against the enemies that it itself creates.
What can or should the Church do if or when the nation state oversteps its boundaries?
The first thing the Church needs to do is stop fighting unjust wars. Take the just war theory seriously. Iâm not talking about pacifism. If thereâs a war that the Church judges is unjust, then Catholics shouldnât fight it. Thatâs the way the just war theory is supposed to work. Itâs sometimes supposed to say ânoâ to acts of violence. What the theory is usually used for, of course, is to justify whatever violence is going on. I canât think of a single instance where it was used to stop violence. That is the most pressing issue.
Imagine what would have happened if Catholics in the previous war had said in significant numbers, âNo, sorry, this is an unjust war; weâre just going to sit this one out.â? The world would have turned upside down.
Another thing is to stop buying into the idea that all significant questions of money and power need to be funneled through the state, that the only thing we can do about issues like health care is to get the state to do something.