Thank you for Matthew Rose’s excellent article on Robert Bellah, “Serious Play” (July/August 2023), which ranges insightfully over Bellah’s intellectual career, astutely describes his thinking about the role of religion in human existence, delineates the successive influence of Émile Durkheim, Paul Tillich, and George Lindbeck over Bellah’s thinking about religion, and makes a good stab at summarizing his capstone book on the evolution of religion. However, once past the opening paragraph in which Rose acknowledges that Bellah supported “the ideals of democratic socialism,” he trivializes Bellah’s progressive politics and omits any mention of his mature commitment to economic democracy. Habits of the Heart (1985) had no integral principle or constructive political force without its advocacy of economic democracy. Then the Bellah group doubled down on economic democracy in The Good Society (1991), a book and argument that go unmentioned in Rose’s rendering. Bellah’s anti-capitalism was principled and constructive, not gestural, nostalgic, or the irrelevant afterglow of his Marxist phase.
New York, N.Y.
An Urgent Imperative
I take serious issue with the article by Andrew Bacevich (“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” September 2023) concerning the ongoing war in Ukraine. While pointedly ignoring the first Iraq war following the invasion of Kuwait, Bacevich attempts to draw comparisons between the Vietnam War, the (second) Iraq War, and the current war in Ukraine. In doing so, he creates a convenient false equivalency.
Russia is currently a terrorist state. This is self-evident—dropping a bomb on a hospital, a school, a theater, or a home is no different, either in substance or intent, from flying an airplane into the side of a building. Terrorism is evil. Bacevich seems to deride, or even negate, the “imperative of confronting perceived evil.” In contrast, I do believe that such an imperative exists. The people of Ukraine are faced with such an imperative, and the alternative to assisting them in confronting that evil is to accept it.
Harry W. Fenton
Dying for Something
Andrew J. Bacevich is a gem of a human being. His voice of restraint in our foreign policy carries a message that ought to awaken our political and military leaders. He knows personally the ultimate sacrifice people have made to maintain our freedom, having lost his son fighting in the war in Iraq just sixteen years ago.
However, when he refers to the Vietnam War in his article (“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” September 2023), he blatantly states that “fifty-eight thousand Americans died for nothing.” Not so. They died because, however misguided our nation was, it believed that it was in our national interest to keep communism at bay in Southeast Asia. The young men who died there did die for something. That something was their beloved country and their beloved comrades. The Vietnam Memorial is a stark, heartbreaking, glorious reminder that our United States is worth dying for even if “big fools” push us deep into the “Big Muddy.”
Peter M. Murray
Preserving Catholic Higher Education
Nancy Dallavalle’s thoughtful and perceptive review of Bernard G. Prusak and Jennifer Reed-Bouley’s Catholic Higher Education and Catholic Social Thought (“Do Catholic Colleges Have a Future?”, September 2023) neatly formulates some of the many challenges facing Catholic higher education today, particularly if the parties involved are seriously concerned with preserving a measure of Catholic values, attitudes, and assumptions at their respective institutions. Not everyone is.
The great temptation of upper-level administrators at those places that seek to establish practices congruent with their secular counterparts is to defer to the faculty in all apparently academic matters, come what may. This can lead to misunderstandings. At a recent departmental meeting in which the questions posed to faculty members on Georgetown’s annual report were being discussed, one colleague objected, with considerable irritation, to being asked about any work in the community. “What difference does it make to my scholarship if I work in a soup kitchen?” he angrily demanded.
Some agreed with him, while others noted that, historically, Georgetown was Catholic, and that was probably why the question, for now at least, remained on the report.
John C. Hirsh
Professor of English,