Quote of the Week

Quote of the Week October 16, 2007

benedictxvi.jpgIn this situation, what can we do and what ought we to do? Let us begin by noting some basic truths. It is impossible to overcome terrorism, illegal violence detached from morality, by force alone. It is indeed true that the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force; we reflected briefly on this at the beginning of this essay. But in order for force to be employed by law and not itself become unjust, it must submit to strict criteria that are recognizable by all. It must pay heed to the causes of terrorism, which often has it sources in injustices against which no effective action is taken. This is why the system of law must endeavor to use all available means to clear up any situations of injustice. Above all, it is important to contribute a measure of forgiveness, in order to break the cycle of violence. Where the principle of “an eye for an eye” is applied without pity, it is impossible to escape the power of that cycle. Gestures of a humanity that breaks through it by seeking the human person in one’s foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance to be a waste of time.

In all these cases, it is important to prevent one single power from presenting itself as the guardian of the law, for it is all too easy for one-sided interests to come into play, making it harder to keep justice in view. An urgent requirement is a real ius gentium, a “law of nations,” without disproportionate hegemonies and the actions to which these lead. Only so can it remain clear that the cause at state is the protection of the rule of law on behalf of everyone, even of those who are fighting on the other side, so to speak. It was this that made the Second World War a convincing enterprise, and it was this that created a genuine peace between former enemies.

–Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), “Searching for Peace: Tensions and Dangers” in Values in a Time of Upheaval. Trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 106-107.

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  • The one mention of pacifism is curious, linking it in an absolute mode to some notion of legality. Most pacifists recognize that their philosophy begins with one’s personal approach. Everyone recognizes that pacifists are in the distinct minority in society with no reasonable hope of ever (soon) becoming the foremost approach. Looking at causes and exploring the quality of forgiveness is the start of pacifism. Especially in the laboratory of one’s own life.

  • Todd,

    One can say the Just War tradition is a pacifist tradition, but there are distinctions –absolute pacificism would oppose the Just War tradition because the Just War tradition claims there are times when violence might be necessary. Absolute pacifism is best represented by the thought of Tolstoy. On the other hand, the idea that might means right, or that pre-emptive military strikes, and the like, are to be used as a means to deal with terrorism, is, itself, of course wrong. It ignores the rule of law and it ignores the humanity of the enemy (which is very clear in the rhetoric we see in today’s war in Iraq). I also found it interesting (and why I liked this quote) that Pope Benedict more than once said we should have care and concern for enemies — with the rule of forgiveness as a precondition for peace.

  • Zak

    This a marvelous quote, reminding is that it is our duty to oppose the triumph of injustice but that it is also our duty to restrain ourselves and practice forgiveness in pursuit of peace. His warning against hegemony is also something we Americans should heed more closely.

  • When Elizabeth Anscombe wrote her brilliant essay denouncing Truman as a war criminal, she made a very similar point, arguing strongly against absolute pacifism.

  • One aspect often skipped over in this kind of discussion is the damage violence renders to the one committing it. That holds true whether one’s violent actions are indiscriminate or defensive. Wars acclaimed as “just” render no less damage to soldiers. It is shortsighted and inhumane to presuppose there is some kind of magic threshhold at which war becomes psychologically healthy for a fighter with a just cause.

    I’m not aware of anything in pacifist literature–and I’ll easily admit I’ve not read anything near enough–that would describe an “absolute pacifism.” Once we skipped over Pope Benedict’s curious disclaimer, pacifists would recognize his prescription for understanding, forgiveness, and a recognition of the humanity in others. Most pacifists would recognize how far short we fall in our own lives: our battles with words and the quiet ways we seek to triumph over the spirit of another person. That said, history gives us success stories of pacifism, even against the greatest perpetrators of injustice.

  • Todd,

    There are absolute pacifists — from some within the Anabaptist tradition to Tolstoy (as I suggested). I think the JW’s also follow through with such an absolute pacifism. But, moreover, it is a logical position, and as such can and should be used in relation to other possible positions.

    However, you are right — when a war is considered just, this does not mean that there is no ramification for such a war; a piece I wrote awhile back which is on one of my other group blogs discusses this quite well, and I think you would like it:


  • Timothy Mulligan

    I wonder what country the Holy Father is talking about?

  • Donald R. McClarey

    “Only so can it remain clear that the cause at state is the protection of the rule of law on behalf of everyone, even of those who are fighting on the other side, so to speak. It was this that made the Second World War a convincing enterprise, and it was this that created a genuine peace between former enemies.”

    A good statement from the Pope except for this passage. The Western Allies may have been fighting for the rule of law, among other things, but the Soviets were fighting, willingly or unwillingly, for the rule of Stalin. As for the genuine peace, that was a combination of factors, the two most important being the utter destruction, at a terrible cost, of the Nazi party in Germnany, the benign occupation regime of MacArthur in Japan, the relatively benign occupation of the Western allies in West Germany, and the threat of war with the Soviet Union which acted as an incentive to get Japan and West Germany up and running after the war.