Human Rights and the Catholic Tradition. By Donald J. Dietrich. Piscataway and London: Transaction Publishers, 2007. 234pp. $59.95.
Especially during its early chapters, Human Rights and the Catholic Tradition seems a misleading title for the book's subject, dealt with such care, depth, and sophistication by Dietrich. The author situates the book in a stream of religious and political ethics consciously to show the narrative quality of certain ethical commitments. Thus, following the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, Mark Johnson, Jim Cheney, and others, the book describes the historical narrative out of which emerged the contemporary Catholic commitment to human rights; in particular, the author describes the commitment's roots in common Catholic resistance to the Nazi experience and subsequent German theological reflection on that resistance. Though initially connections between German popular reaction to Nazism and "human rights" in the Catholic tradition may seem unclear if not tenuous, by the end of the book the reader becomes convinced by Dietrich's supple historical analysis, and wonders just how much more could be gained by similar historical narratives in Europe and elsewhere.
In the first three chapters, Dietrich surveys a vast Anglo and German literature on the state of the question concerningGerman responses to Nazism and the nature of the substantive responses to National Socialism Among the very many things learned by readers includes the extreme danger in speaking of any singular "Catholic" response to Nazi racial ideology and brutality. Nonetheless, his historical narrative suggests that at the popular level, resistance drew strength from Catholic Christian values. We read, for instance, of the Bavarian peasantry's indifference toward Nazi propaganda and their refusal to regard their Catholic Polish brethren as inferior. Priests throughout Bavaria challenged Nazi racial ideology agreeing with Father Schuhmann that "regardless of race or ethnic origins, [all men] could come to understand the joy and love that Christ brought ..." (p. 88). At the institutional level, however, Catholic theologians, priests, and bishops straddled resistance and compliance, at times reassuring the Nazi hierarchy that Catholics were reichstreu (loyal to the Reich) and at other times, distancing themselves and the Church from Nazi racial commitments and assumptions.
In response to these experiences, during and especially after the...