The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 21, 2023 - 4:28:12

Are We Going Soft?

Devra Torres, Mar 26, 2015

Katie addressed capital punishment recently, staking out a position that falls neither in the "instrinsic evil" camp nor the "prudential matter" one. I'm not positive where I stand, but one thing I know: I wince at the thought of putting that kind of power into the hands of any politician I can think of.

What I want to address, though, is a related question: Are we going soft? I don't mean just about capital punishment, but also about war, treatment of prisoners, education, childrearing, theology--you name it.

The answer might seem obvious. In some ways, we're more squeamish and sensitive than ever before. Students are demanding the "right to be comfortable" instead of liberty or opportunity, and women at a National Union of Students meeting in the UK recently requested the use of "jazz hands" instead of applause, for fear of "triggering anxiety." (If there's some benign explanation, and the incident was not really as bizarre and ridiculous as it sounds,I'd be happy to hear it.)

And every minor insult, intentional or not, is painted as "microaggression." Nobody seems to long for robust argument half as much as they long for "safe spaces."

Many conversations I've seen about Pope Francis' words on capital punishment express a certain frustrated nostalgia for the days when, as one commentator put it, "the Magisterium had balls." In the old days, neither Church nor state seemed to flinch at war, the rough treatment of prisoners and criminals, or capital punishment. People nostalgic for those times insist that respect for human dignity was alive and well back then, and that only our ideas about what it requires have changed.

We've gone soft, they complain, and instead of seeing that human dignity requires robust enforcement of justice, we settle for indiscriminate niceness.

I'm not going to wade any further into the argument than that, but I want to make two points.

In other words, approving of severe treatment is not the same as toughness. And being less tough on yourself is not the same as going soft.