With the end of the Cold War, do you think that A Canticle for Leibowitz is still relevant?
While the Cold War is over, we still live in the Nuclear Age—and we forever will since we know how to split the atom, unless we blow ourselves back to the ignorance of the Stone Age—and so the novel remains relevant to our times and situation. Whatever year it is, it always seems as if the world might be hovering on the edge of madness. The debates and conflicts between science and faith, ignorance and knowledge, that Miller explores are as fraught now as they were fifty years ago. Our weapons of mass destruction are even more powerful than they were in Miller's day. The need to balance scientific knowledge with spiritual and ethical knowledge has not disappeared but arguably grown more acute.
A Canticle for Leibowitz poses universal questions. One is, does suffering make us human? A character such as Doctor Cors, who believes pain is evil, can make a compelling case for euthanasia, but other characters make a stronger case that God doesn't give us more pain than we can bear and that the process of facing and enduring pain humanizes us. Ever since science raised the possibility of eradicating physical pain from human existence, writers such as Aldous Huxley in Brave New World and Miller in Canticle have struggled with the dilemma of a pain-free world—and it is one that, in a society awash in painkillers, remains highly relevant today.
I would say that Miller's work is highly resonant even though the Cold War is no longer present. The fundamental question that drives the work is whether or not human rationality is something that can prevent the irrational act of mass murder with weapons that can cause large destruction. The presence of nuclear weapons is something that we still battle through today. The questions of human capacity for the worst of actions is also still present today as we struggle with why terrorists do what they do, why suicide bombers walk into crowded civilian areas and detonate explosives, as well as why and how innocent people can be slaughtered without any sense of order to it. These issues are present today and Miller's conception that throughout time advances in human thought and technology have not been able to fully eradicate the issue of human cruelty on large political scales are still relevant. With the ending of the Cold War, the concept of "war" and threatening regimes that wish to inflict harm on themselves and others did not disappear. It has reappeared in different forms, and while a globalized world is something that we rapidly enter it is not something that is devoid of dangers, threats, and situations that could prove harmful and damaging to human beings.