Monday, November 10, 2014

Moral exhaustion

From Carl Trueman's review of a new book about how the Catholic theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand responded to the rise of Nazism:
If Bonhoeffer enjoys continuing status as the Protestant opponent of Hitler, then the claimant to the Catholic equivalent is surely Dietrich von Hildebrand. Von Hildebrand may not have been martyred but he saw the danger of Hitler well before the N.S.D.A.P. was a serious electoral force. He also identified the centrality of the “Jewish question” much earlier than many other opponents of Nazism did....

Von Hildebrand was disappointed by the many fellow Catholics who failed to see the danger of Nazism and to oppose it. Some used the Hegelian argument that history was on the Nazi’s side. Others seemed simply motivated by anti-Semitism. ....

...[T]he question of the lack of opposition to Nazism cannot be reduced to a confessional one. It is far more complex than that. Many Protestants, Catholics, and atheists failed morally in this context. Only a few acted in a manner which history would ultimately regard as admirable. One hesitates to use sadly outdated and quaint terms, but it seems that such opposition was in part more likely to have been a function of individual, personal moral decency, integrity, and courage than of the wealth of social teaching which one had at one’s ecclesiastical disposal. Do not blame Luther’s writings or the Pope’s concordat for acquiescence to tyranny. Blame those who chose to acquiesce.

In this context, von Hildebrand offered an interesting insight into why opposition to Nazism was so hard. It was not because it was risky, though that was undoubtedly true. It was because it was tedious. To stand in opposition to something takes time and energy and yields little or no results and rarely brings immediate social credit (in fact, it typically brings the opposite). Sooner or later most people become tired of being indignant and simply accommodate themselves to what appears to be an invincible force. They may not privately approve but they publicly acquiesce. .... [more]
"...[N]ot because it was risky [but] because it was tedious. ...."