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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  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Roki

      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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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?