Thursday, September 01, 2005

Dappled Thinking

Further proof, if more were needed, that one should not go to a place called "liberalcatholicnews" to learn what it is that the Catholic Church actually teaches. Anyone who thinks that it is actually against Church teaching to defend the morality of the war in Iraq on just war grounds is, in a word, mistaken.

The status of "just war theory" itself is rather interesting. Just war theory has been a part of Catholic theology only since the medieval period, but of course that does not mean that we ought not to take it seriously--it is quite well established. But the necessary and sufficient conditions for a just war under the classic formulation of ius ad bellum (justifications for going to war) do not, in and of themselves, preclude any and all reformulation. George Weigel, Michael Novak, and others have argued quite convincingly that the war in Iraq has been just from day one. And there is no reason to suppose that just war theory itself cannot be expanded to include the use of military force to prevent or relieve unjust oppression. Indeed, that would appear to be a perfectly good justification for going to war against Nazi Germany.


Jerry Simpson said...
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Den said...
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Tom P. said...

Originally we went to war because of WMD. At least that is what we were told. Now we are told that even though there were no WMD's it's still OK to have gone to war because Sadaam was a bad person. And I think this is where just war falls apart in this case. We hurried to go to war because of the fear of WMD being used. Since they didn't exist apparently, there was no hurry which means there may have been other non-violent means that were not looked at that could have achieved the same goal if we weren't in such a hurry. Just war can't be used as a reason unless all alternatives have been ruled out. To say that we tried everything possible to get Sadaam out non-violently is a bit of a reach.

The problem with using just war in this case is that it opens up the pandora's box. Could Hitler have used just war theory in his invasion of the Soviet Union? After all, Stalin was a nasty guy who killed millions of people. Why not invade his country and kill him?

Scott Carson said...

I think the problem of WMD is illusory. It turns out, after the fact, that there weren't any, but of course at the time we believed that there were and the best intelligence available (not only from our own intelligence agencies, but from MI6 and the French and others) supported that belief. But given that they didn't really exist I suppose one could argue that we weren't really under any grave threat. There was the fact that Saddam was funding terrorist activity, but I think a more fruitful approach would be to reconsider the necessary and sufficient conditions for just war.

In the classic formulation, five conditions must be met:

1. The cause must be morally licit.
2. The war must be declared by competent authority.
3. The combatants must have the right intention.
4. There must be a probability for success.
5. The means employed must be proportionate.

It's important to note, I think, that (1) and (3) come perilously close to begging the question, but we may let that slide for now.

I'm wondering: why not allow for the possibility that one of the morally licit causes is to liberate people who are being killed and oppressed? The standard claim is that war is only licit as a last defence against unjust aggression, so if our own country is not being directly threatened we have no excuse to go to war. That would make the Vietnam war unjust for sure, and probably several others.

But nothing in the conditions I specified (they are the traditional ones) says anything about the only just cause being the direct threat of aggression. Morally, there is a strong case to be made for the legitimacy of vindicating the rights of those who are unable to vindicate their own rights, as we did in Vietnam--and as we did in Europe in WWII, for that matter.

Your point about Hitler is an interesting one. I suppose Hitler could have invoked the theory to defend his actions, but I don't see how he could have gotten around (1) and (3). He might have really believed that he was justified, but believing that you're justified and actually being justified in fact are two diffferent things.

Tom P. said...

You will never hear an argument from me claiming that only wars against direct agressors are just. I think it is the responsibility of everyone to use whatever powers they have to protect the innocent. If for example, Sadaam had been waging a war against the Kurds and killing innocent civilians, I would have had no problem invading to stop him. Unfortunately we missed that opportunity. So there was no immediate need to invade Iraq and there were still options to get rid of Sadaam that might have worked so without the WMD argument, the war is probably not just. So the questions become, if there were WMD would the war have been just? If so, did we do enough so that our belief that they were there was justified?

Scott Carson said...

I suppose that, given that there were no weapons of mass destruction, the war cannot be justified on those grounds. Perhaps we should make allowances for the limited state of our intelligence in 2002, but of course I mentioned in my other comment that it is possible to believe that you're justified when in fact you are not justified, so I won't press that too hard.

I'm not so sure, however, that we "missed the boat" on the Kurds. True enough, we missed that particular boat, but surely Saddam's regime was brutal, funding terrorism, and manifestly unjust. I'm not saying he's the worst dictator we've ever seen, but I'm willing to say that it's better late than never in the removing-him-from-power department.

Jcecil3 said...


If you are going to create a blog post about me, you may want to engage my arguments rather than simply making ad hominem attacks and appealing to the infallible authority of George Weigle and Michael Novak.

I have read Weigle and Novak on the war, and they are wrong. It is precisely their argument that I am trying to expose is a form of dissent with authoritative Church teaching, which it is.

When I say they are wrong, I do not mean that they are wrong because they disagree with me.

I mean that they are wrong about what the Church teaches.

Novak went to speak with the Pope, and the Pope still came out and directly and "unequivocally" stated that unilateral preventative war is not supported by the Holy See. This use of the word "unequivical" was made by Pope John Paul II to George W. Bush's face in June of 2004 after John Paul met with Novak.

While he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and still the Prefect for the CDF, Pope Benedict XVI put it very succinctly: "Preventative war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church".

I notice that you outline certain conditions for a just war here in your comments. I can't say that I disagree with your conditions.

However, the critical point that needs to be made is that your conditions are not identical to the "strict" and "rigorous" conditions outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2309 regarding nations waging wars with other nations.

The opening line of the paragraph clearly refers to a just war as "defense by military force", and the first condition of a just war is that it is a response to "the damage inflicted by the agressor..."

Any war waged by a nation that is not a response to an act of agression is therefore not meeting the strict and rigorous conditions of just war outlined by the Church.

And, as you rightly point out, this tradition is not new.

It is true that Aquinas defended a sort of pre-emptive war by a nation state against a city state in its own jurisdiction - a concept similar to the federal army being employed against a state militia.

There is some indication in the writings of John Paul that an international institution can wage a war for humanitarian reasons against a nation, and he specifically mentions the United Nations (Centesimus Annus no. 11)

However, nation states may not initiate wars against other nations states unless attacked by the other nation.

It has always been the position of the Church that bodies with equivelent juridical power of this sort cannot attack one another pre-emptively under any circumstance.

Novak and Weigle try to use the "prudential judgment" clause to mean that national leaders or individual Catholics prudentially decide whether and/or which conditions of just war apply to a given circumstance.

That is not Pope Benedict's understanding of the doctrine, nor is the understanding of a single Roman Catholic bishop on earth that I am aware of - including Charles Chaput - and I know because I've asked him.

All of the conditions in paragraph 2309 must be met. What "prudential judgment" refers to is using prudence to determine if and how each of the conditions were met.

In the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the very first condition of a just war was clearly not met. Iraq had not attacked us, and was not even in the process of mounting an attack in March of 2003.

From the Vatican's viewpoint, that really is the end of the discussion. If you weren't attacked, no just war. Period.

If you do not believe this is the correct interpretation of the text of the CCC, you need to reference a much more authoritative source than two laymen - even if they have some graduate level theology studies under their belt - which they do.

The issue is that if we assume Pope Benedict still believes what he said as Prefect of the CDF, we have two popes affirming that the very notion of unilateral preventative war or unilateral humanitarian war is contrary to Church teaching.

Not only that, but at least five bishops conferences affirmed my interpretation of just war doctrine as outlined in the CCC. Those conferences are the USCCB, the Chaldean Catholic bishops' conference in Iraq, as well as the conferences of France, Canada, and Great Britain.

Several curial offices also affirmed this interpreation, including the CDF.

The burden proof is not on me. The burden of proof is on Weigle, Novak and Weigle to demonstrate that they have not made a fundamental error in interpreting Church doctrine.


Jcecil3 said...


One other point I neglected to address, I have been against the war from the very start - the WMDs argument was a mute point once the U.N. wepons inspectors were allowed back in the country and could not find anything significant.


Tom P. said...

jcecil3 is quite humorous. His basic claim is that if Mexico is invaded and millions of people are being slaughtered we can do nothing about it. But if Texas is invaded and a few hundred people have died we can launch a war. Some might call that racism. I am pretty sure that isn't quite what the CCC means but it certainly is what jcecil3 desperately wants it to mean.

Scott Carson said...


I agree; he hasn't thought through this issue very carefully. He also doesn't know the difference between "mute" and "moot". He also doesn't seem to know what a genuine ad hominem attack is because believe me, if I wanted to make one, I could certain do much better than to point out what is true: one shouldn't go to a self-proclaimed liberal to find out what the teachings of the Church are.

But the central issue, which I think you've touched on quite nicely, is the question of prudential judgment and the role it plays in just war theory. There is no reason to believe that the Church regards it as per se immoral to strike the first blow in any given conflict. What is important is the intention behind the blow, not the timing. The blow must be defensive, but it is rather silly to suggest that any and all "defensive" blows must, in their very essence, be posterior in time to some other "offensive" blow. That's the kind of sophistry that will get you into hot water pretty fast. And this is what follows from interpreting "unilateral" in the silly way advocated by jcecil3.

Nor do I see any reason to interpret the words of either JPII or B16 in the way suggested by our able opponent. The CCC is morally authoritative, of course, but it is open to interpretation, a fact that our own interlocutor amply demonstrates by interpreting it in such a way as to support his own view to the exclusion of all others.

Personally I think that the war in Iraq is easily justifiable according to the dictates of just war theory, but of course I may be mistaken. What I am not mistaken about, however, is my denial of the claim that agreeing with me is contrary to Church teaching. That is just wishful thinking on cecil's part.

Tom P. said...

I don't think a war has to be defensive in the sense that jcecil3 is talking about in order for it be just. So here's the scenario... Pol Pot launches a military coup and takes over Cambodia. OK, we can't invade even though he's a no-good commie. He kills 500,000 people. jcecil3 says we still can't invade because Pol Pot isn't killing Americans. Pol Pot isn't a threat to us so we can't stop him. jcecil3 pats himself on the back for being of such strong moral fiber as 1.5 million more Cambodians die. Personally, I think we have a responsibility to defend all people when we have the power to do so. Even if they aren't Americans.

Jcecil3 said...


In a more recent to my blog, I reference an article in Communion and Liberation:

Is the war that has been announced against Iraq a just war? "All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger replied with a mischievous grin, "and the conclusion seems obvious to me..." For the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, the obvious conclusion is that the military intervention that is taking shape "has no moral justification"....

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith added another consideration: "Decisions like this should be made by the community of nations, by the UN, and not by an individual power."

Let's see here. Cardinal ratzinger says that the implication of the CCC is "obvious" that the United States plans to invade Iraq "has no moral justification"

This article is referencing the same interview with an Italian newspaper where Ratzinger explicitly said, "The concept of preventative war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

You and I can sit here and debate all we want about whether the Catechism is right or wrong.

The point of my post yesterday, and my point with you, is that the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the man who is now our Pope, is explicitly saying that Weigle and Novak are "obviously" mistaken if we are to take their point of view as Church teaching.

Weigle and Novak may or may not be morally right in God's eyes. Church doctrine may or may not develop at a later date to demonstrate that they are right.

That is not the issue (there rightness or wrongness on the morality of the war).

The issue I am raising on my blog is whether their position is the current teaching of the Church, or whether their position is even permitted by the current authoritative, though not solemnly defined doctrine.

Here we have Ratzinger saying that it "obvious" that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is not in accord with the authoritative teaching of the Church, and this is clearly discernible in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The CCC is a compendium of many of the current authoritative teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, the entire Catechism demands of a Roman Catholic the religious submission of intellect and will spoken of in LG 25.

Religious submission of intellect and will is not the same as the assent of faith due to revealed dogma, and there are such doctrines within the CCC, but not everything in the CCC is solemnly defined.

Novak and Weigle run around beating up everyone who dissents on issues like women's ordination, contraception within marriage, gay civil unions, referencing that religious submission of intellect and will.

Bear in mind that it was Weigle who I believe was the first to call upon the bishops to deny communion to John Kerry.

Now, I'm pro-life myself, but I'm not real comfortable with the way weigle goes about things here. He's in a rush to deny all these dissenters communion and drop the axe of excommunication on all the so-called "Catholic lite", and yet, he is in dissent.

You claim they are not in dissent.

But these two guys are in dissent in a way that is "obvious" to the Prefect of the CDF.

Who am I supposed to believe? You or Pope Benedict?

Of course, I ultimately do not take issue with the fact that Weigle and Novak are in dissent. I disagree with them passionately on the war, but I don't want to deny them communion of excommunicate them. I respect their right to their opinion.

I also don't mind them expressing their dissent.

But, what I do mind is that they repeatedly deny they are in dissent.

Well, this goes back to the CCC and who am I supposed to believe is interpreting it correctly?

You, Weigle and Novak?

Or Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI?

It has always been my understanding that if I have a question about what the intended meaning of an authoritative doctrine is, I could rely on the pope to get the answer.

Once I have that answer, I have to decide whether I give it assent or not.

I do believe Weigle and Novak are wrong on what constitutes a just war, but the larger issue prompting my original post is that it is Church teaching that Weigle and Novak are rejecting, and they are very mean to others like myself who are more open and honest in our own dissent.

If you agree with them, you are rejecting Church teaching too, which is "obvious" to the current pope.



Kathy Hutchins said...

He also doesn't know the difference between "mute" and "moot".

I have nothing worthwhile to add to the conversation of you thoughtful gentlemen; I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that, being married to a lawyer, I have a longstanding desire to witness a "mute court."

Scott Carson said...

I'm hesitant to accept the characterization of Weigel and Novak as "mean", since my own experience, based upon some very wide reading, is that it is more often than not those who oppose the war who are "mean", at least in spirit, positing all sorts of hypothetical reasons why the Bush administration is "really" waging the war, and I have seen nothing at all like that coming from either Weigel or Novak. If all you mean is that they think that the folks who characterize support of the war as contrary to Church teaching is mistaken, well that hardly seems like a mean judgment to me.

I agree that we often do, and always should, take very seriously the opinions of the Pope and the other Bishops when it comes to prudential judgments. But in this particular case the argument that support of the war is actually against Church teaching, as you've asserted a couple of times, both here and at your own blog, is not only wrong it is dangerously wrong.

If we were to follow your prescription for what ought to count as magisterial teaching, we would have to believe that there is nothing wrong with slavery, since plenty of Popes and bishops held such views. But it is possible that (a) the opinions of said Popes and Bishops need to be interpreted in light of a wider context than what you seem to be recommending or (b) even a Pope or a Bishop can be mistaken when it comes right down to a prudential application of a moral principle in a particular situation in a particular time and place.

So I still see no reason to think that the war in Iraq must be regarded as contrary to the moral norms of the Catholic Church, even though it is quite clear that some folks, including some folks in Holy Orders, disagree with me.

Steven said...

Dear Sir,

This is most interesting and the development of doctrine was not a point I had considered in the argument (maybe because I haven't read extensively enough to see where Weigel and Novak actually argue for preemptiveness. My interpretation was always that the word preemptive had a sufficiently ambiguous meaning as to forestall the buildup and destruction of a possible attack.)

Thank you for something more to think about on the matter. Obviously doctrine does grow and develop through time and this is not something that I had allowed into my framework of thinking about this matter.



Jcecil3 said...


You don't need to pull the slavery card with me. I am a so called liberal, even willing to place the label of "progressive" on myslef so that Catholics who read my blog know that they are not getting the official Vatican line all the time.

I believe that doctrine "progressively" develops, and while I do believe in obedience to the Pope, I do not believe in blind obedience. Nor do I believe that obedience in practice always means I understand why I am obeying - only that I have no reason to disobey.

Prime example: I don't get the Church's position on contraception, and exaplin why on my blog. But do I obey? Yeah. I do.

More important point: Do I claim that the Church really approves my position?

No. I admit I am withholding assent (which many people call "diseent" ).

On the war in Iraq, some of the arguments Weigle or Novak make for jus ad bellum would seem to apply to an international institution according to authoritative Church teaching. For example, the humanitarian concern or the violation of UN resolutions.

Some of the reasons they supply are simply not valid. The weighing of the risk of a vague future threat (i.e. preventative war, whether you call it that or not).

Some of the reasons they offer were valid reasons for the war in Afghanistan, but do not apply to Iraq, and did not at the time of the invasion.

Some of their reasoning is just plain fallacious. For example, you cannot say the First Gulf War really never ended. It did end, and the peace, no matter fragile was between the UN and Iraq - not between the US and Iraq. It was up tot he UN to determine if the conditions of peace were kept or not.

But - the bottom line is that Church does teach that unilateral war cannot be waged by nation states except in self defense against a clear and present act of agression that is lasting, grave and certain.

This is the teaching of the Church and no matter how you arrive at another conclusion, no matter how cogent your arguments, no matter what the sophistication of your philosophical method, no matter how much nuance and distinction you make, etc....if you arrive at a different conclusion, even if you are morally right, your conclusion is not Church teaching.

Th point of saying it is not Church teaching is not to convince you or Weigle or anyone else that the war in Iraq was wrong.

I do think the war was immoral, and I'd love to debate that someday.

But, the point of my post was that the justifications offerred for the war are contrary to Church teaching, and if you admit that, and yet call yourself a Catholic, you must admit that there is such a thing as legitimate dissent.

And if there is such a thing as legitimate dissent, then I wish Catholic bloggers in general (not you specifically) would stop beating me up with appeals to authority alone to win the argument on contraception, and explain to me why you dissent on war but not contraception.


Scott Carson said...

Well, for one thing, I am not, in fact, dissenting from anything that the Church actually teaches, in spite of your continued argument to the contrary. Until you can convince me otherwise, I'm afraid we will just have to agree to disagree.

Your point about contraception is an interesting one, however. Like you, I used to be rather unimpressed by the Church's argument, but I was faithful to the teaching anyway. However, over time, I have come to understand the Church's argument much better, and to fully endorse it. Perhaps you will too, but I don't think that you will be able to have that kind of change of heart unless you are also able to adopt a teleological worldview, because it is only if one agrees with Aquinas that human beings have ends, and that all aspects of nature are themselves in the service of those ends, that the notion of a disorder can make any sense. There can be no disorder in nature if nature is not, itself, ordered in some way. As an ex-seminarian I am sure that you are already familiar with this kind of reasoning (I assume they still read Aristotle and Aquinas in the seminaries?), but until you start seeing the world that way you will, in all likelihood, find the teaching on contraception incomprehensible.

Few folks these days see the world in the teleological way that Aquinas did. That is because of the rise of mechanistic empiricism and materialism in our scientific culture. But Christians need not be--indeed, cannot be, either empiricists or materialists. My own acceptance of the teaching moved to full-fledged assent and approval only when I realized that.

Anyway, good luck to you.