Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Elshtain on the bonds of civic affection

"Auden writes of 'blind skyscrapers' that 'use Their full height to proclaim/The strength of Collective Man.' I have a contrary thought. Skyscrapers are about power, no doubt. But they are also about freedom, and ingenuity, and beauty. They are not about the strength of an indistinguishable collective, but about the combined power of many men and women. There is something exhilarating about reaching for the stars, so long as we do not become presumptuous about achieving godlikeness. Totalitarian regimes do not aim high. They build squat prisons and block houses. They build execution walls.

"'We must love one another or die,' Auden tells us, finally. We cannot love one another--not in the sense in which Auden meant it--if we are locked indoors and afraid to venture forth. We must 'Show an affirming flame.' It is called hope. It is one of the great theological virtues. But it is also a democratic virtue linked to coming to grips with the reality of what we face and responding appropriately--whether through forceful interdiction or peaceful assembly. We must stop those who would harm us and go about our business, meeting and greeting one another, for 'we must love one another or die.' September 11 showed us that we are bound by civic affection. All else about that terrible day must pale with the passage of time. But that remains."

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror (New York: Basic, 2003), p. 181.

No comments: