Another Example of the Divide in Catholic Moral Theology

Between those who ask, “How can we do the right thing with as little violence as possible?” and those who seek to know “When do we *get* to inflict violence?” courtesy of George Weigel, who pushed for the Iraq War while all the bishops of the world and two popes (wisely) pushed against it since “preventive war is not in the Catechism” as Benedict pointed out. Nothing daunted, he writes:

But perhaps the greatest damage to the deepening of the just-war way of thinking in our time has come from the notion, effectively propagated by the Catholic bishops of the United States in their 1983 pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace,” that the just-war analysis of world politics begins with a “presumption against war.” . . . the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice.

No. The classic just war tradition begins with the fifth commandment prohibiting murder and recognizing that in this fallen world the appetite for slaughter is so great that a series of barriers had to be erected to make it as hard as possible to go to war since our ability to rationalize our appetite for slaughter is epic.

So yes, the Tradition has a very strong presumption against war because war means people get killed and we don’t want to kill even the guilty, much less the millions of innocents who die in war, without extremely good reason.

In short, Weigel’s entire animus is *against* the question “How do we do the right thing with as little violence as necessary?” and in favor of looking at Just war doctrine through the lens of “When do we *get* to inflict violence?” The practical outcome of this disastrous approach can be seen in the catastrophe of the Iraq War.

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  • Dan C

    Weigel has been an eager promoter of muscular foreign policy, seemingly unafraid of provoking or participating in armed conflict.

    He promoted belligerence in the Latin American Dirty Wars, never quite finding cause for dismay if US backed client states killed a Jesuit (or 6, for instance).

    • Dan13

      Or American nuns (and a laywoman)? Or an Archbishop?

      • Dan C

        Neither Novak nor Weigel were influential enough to have an opinion that mattered in 1980 when these crimes occurred (and were dismissed by a large swath of American Christians).

      • Dan C

        These women and Archbishop, whose intercession I request daily, are still dismissed, however.

  • Matthew

    When it comes to any armed conflict, I am, at least at the start, 100% against it. Should it be proven that the conflict is, in fact, justified through the Just War Theory, then I suppose I would begrudgingly quiet my protest. Still, the USA has yet to be involved with any just conflict in my lifetime.

    I generally try to stick to the rule that killing is always bad.

    • jaybird1951

      I don’t know your age but I would suggest for one the U.S. involvement in the Korean War as a just war. Otherwise, the 50 million people of south Korea would be persecuted subjects of the latest Kim dynasty ogre.

      • Matthew

        Korea was long before my time.

  • everyman

    Thanks for the link to that distinguished fellow’s article. George Weigel is a giant in Catholic thinking.

    “So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a “presumption against
    war” (or, as some put it, with a “pacifist premise”) is simply wrong.
    The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate
    public authority’s moral obligation to defend the common good by
    defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom. The
    just-war tradition is not a set of hurdles that moral philosophers,
    theologians, and clergy set before statesmen. It is a framework for
    collaborative deliberation about the basic aims of legitimate government
    as it engages hostile regimes and networks in the world. The
    president’s lifting up of this venerable moral tradition, which has
    deep roots in the civilizational soil of the West, was entirely
    welcome, if not to the Norwegian Nobel Committee and other bears of
    little brain. The next step is the retrieval of the classic
    intellectual architecture of just-war thinking and its development to
    meet the exigencies of a world of new dangers and new international

    No, the “catastrophe of the Iraq War” is not the result of us not “getting” to inflict violence. It’s the result of twenty years, perhaps more, of misguided and short sighted US foreign policy conducted by those who send soldiers to battle without a moral or strategic imperative. It is the result of rulers (presidents) exercising their Executive powers without the consent of the people through their Representatives in Congress. This is a criminal disregard for the will of the people. The breaking of the Fifth Commandment on a grand scale is the result.

    • entonces_99

      The Iraq war would have been a bad thing to jump into even if Dubya had gotten “the consent of the people through their Representatives in Congress.”

  • wineinthewater

    He is actually right, and in being right becomes wrong. Just war does include a presumption against war, but that presumption against war is not due to any latent pacifism, but is actually due to justice. As an activity, war opens the floodgates of injustice. Even when the war is just, even when it is fought justly by the “one side,” war still causes great suffering and creates a fertile ground of disarray for *others* to engage in injustice.

    Justice must prejudice us against war. The fact that the just war doctrine does not rule out war shows that war is not incompatible with justice, but it shows the great difficulty in pursuing justice through war. It shows that justice must first be served by all other means available.

    • Exactly. His mistake is in thinking that a “passion for justice” is somehow opposed to a “presumption against war.” War is an absolute last resort, when a people is faced with grave, lasting, and certain aggression.

  • IrishEddieOHara

    I find myself stunned at Weigel’s rather transparent and ill-informed attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq. Look, George, if you want to point to dictators killing their people, I can give you at least 10 other countries which are high on the list of rights violations. Could we please just drop the bullshit and admit what has been known for quite a while — it’s all about the oil. Specifically, all about certain companies getting a foothold in that region and controlling the flow and profits of the liquid black gold.

    There is nothing more odious to me (and I hope to all good orthodox Catholics) than a Catholic who has sold his soul to either Conservatism or Liberalism. Neither of these political and moral philosophies carries the full weight of Catholic thinking.

    I wonder if Weigel has the decency, some 500,000 civilian deaths later, to admit that he was wrong?