In First Things today, I have an essay on President Biden’s recent recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915–and why that recognition hasn’t translated into practical help for Armenians suffering ethnic cleansing today. Here’s an excerpt:
Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, suddenly, has become one of the few things on which Democrats and Republicans agree. It would be good if the new willingness to speak forthrightly about history translated into practical help for Armenians facing ethnic cleansing today. That, unfortunately, seems a different story. Shortly after his statement on the genocide, President Biden made another decision that indicates that, when it comes to present-day aggression against Armenia, the United States is prepared to look the other way. . . .
Turkey and Azerbaijan would like very much, in Erdoğan’s words last year, to “fulfill the mission of our grandfathers in the Caucasus”—to remove the obstacle that Christian Armenians place in the way of a unified, pan-Turkish mega-state stretching from Istanbul to Central Asia. American leverage could make Turkey and Azerbaijan think twice about pursuing this strategy. But America’s foreign policy establishment continues to see Armenia as a Russian proxy and therefore undeserving of much assistance. Indeed, neoconservatives have cheered Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia as a way to contain Russia and, secondarily, Iran.
This assessment of the situation is wrong and unfair. Surrounded by enemies who would like to make it disappear, Armenia has little choice but to make alliances where it can. Besides, the theory that helping Azerbaijan would weaken Russia has proven spectacularly wrong. As a result of the war, Russia now has military bases both in Armenia and Azerbaijan and wields more influence in the Caucasus than it did before. As for Iran, it voiced its support for Azerbaijan during the war and now hopes to receive Azeri contracts to help with the rebuilding.
In this episode, we discuss Augustine’s City of God and its meaning for American politics today. What does Augustine’s famous metaphor of the two cities–the City of God and the City of Man–suggest about Christians’ place in 21st Century America? And what about his definition of a people as a group united by common loves? Is it correct, as President Biden argued in his inaugural address, that Americans fit this definition of a people? What common loves unite Americans today? Listen in!
Mark and I were very pleased last night to host the second session of our Reading Society, an occasion for students and alumni to gather in the evening to discuss a classic work. Our choice for this session was a selection of books from Augustine’s City of God, together with associated materials drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews and elsewhere. As with our first session on Antigone, this one was a huge success. Our discussion centered around two main issues: Augustine’s two-cities theme; and the idea of a people having common “loves.” Our students were thoughtful and brought fresh insights to the material. They clearly had prepared for the discussion!
We will try to organize at least one new session next fall and are already thinking of possibilities.
In this episode, we interview Italian political scientist Lorenzo Castellani about his new book, “The Gear of Power” (L’Ingranaggio del Potere), which explores the rise of the “technocacy”–a new aristocracy, based on technical expertise, that increasingly dominates politics in the West. We discuss how claims of neutral expertise can mask underlying (and contested) moral commitments, and how the rise of the technocracy has provoked a populist backlash in Europe and America, including with respect to public-health restrictions on worship during the Covid pandemic. Listen in!