An interview with George Weigel Paul Belien: The title of your book – The Cube and the Cathedral – is a metaphor. Can you explain what these images stand for? George Weigel: The book began in my mind when I was in Paris in 1997. I visited the Great Arch of la Défense, this angular, rationalistic, stunning piece of contemporary design which imagines itself to be a human rights monument. Moreover I noticed that all the guidebooks boast that all of Notre Dame – tower, spire and all – would fit inside this cube. That popped a question into my mind: what culture is better able to provide the foundations for the human rights that this monument celebrates: the culture of the cube, rationalist, sceptical, relativist, secular, or the culture that produced the “holy unsaneness” of Notre Dame? I do not think the answer is necessarily an either/or proposition. It can be a both/and proposition as it is in the United States, as it was in Europe up until the past 40 years, until 1968 and the concerted attempt to create a Europe that is a genuinely secularized and, indeed, secularist public space. PB: In the book, however, you move back further in time, even to the First World War, to say where things went wrong in Europe. GW: I go back even further than that. I go back to the middle of the 19th century with what Henri de Lubac called “the drama of atheistic humanism.” I think you can make the case that the First World War was the first dramatic episode of the playing out in history of this utter forgetfulness of the God of the Bible and the moral reasoning that one learns in a Judeo-Christian world view.
GW: The single biggest event that created the present religious, cultural, political dynamics of the United States took place on January 21, 1973. PB: Roe versus Wade [the Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion]. GW: Exactly right. What did that do? It created a hitherto unimaginable alliance between Evangelical Protestants, many of whom were not sure the Catholics were Christians, and Catholics who thought that these were the people who brought you prohibition and other bizarre things, such as the Scopes trial. Suddenly these people found themselves together in the front trench of a culture war. I think what has evolved in the United States, providentially, accidentally, necessarily – I would say it is providential – is a kind of common Christian social ethic, not dissimilar to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, that has done what a hundred years of oecumenical dialogue could not do: brought Evangelical Protestants and Catholics together in a kind of cobelligerency in the culture war. Now in the course of that, the more intellectually sophisticated part of the Evangelical world (and that is not a contradiction in terms – there are some very sophisticated people in this world) have discovered that Catholics through the natural law tradition have a method of making public arguments that cannot be accused of being sectarian and Catholics have a developed social ethic from the social doctrine of the 20th century popes that is very impressive to people who have a set of policy instincts but are not quite sure how all of this fits together into a coherent vision of the free and virtuous society. So, I think you have a circumstance in which in addition to this cobelligerency there has been a genuine crossfertilisation of ideas that has been beneficial to both parties.