North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

A Peaceful tyranny

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I have been debating with Francis Poretto over this post, in which I thought he was advocating too indiscriminate a response to nuclear terrorism. Lest I be thought some sort of pacifist, I will point to this, by Fr. James V. Schall, and say that I my views are very much in line:

Never to fight a war means never to take the trouble to stop unjust aggression when it happens. This is not a virtue. The history of our kind, to be sure, is filled with wars that should not have been fought. It is also – and this we forget – filled with wars that should have been fought and were not. Much evil has followed from unjust wars. Much evil has also flowed from wars that should have been fought and were not, or were, as in the case of World War II, not fought soon enough.

Never to defend one’s nation or culture against any attack from whatever source implicitly is to admit that what one stands for is not worthy of any sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of death in defending it. Socrates, who fought in the Athenian army, was also the one who first said that “it is never right to do wrong.” Given a choice between performing an unjust deed, even when it is requested or required by the state, or death, death is preferable. It at least upholds what is right. To change our principles on any challenge or threat of death against us, logically, is not to have any principles. If our enemy knows that a threat of death will induce us to change our principles, he will certainly threaten war, knowing that we will not fight to uphold what is right.

A war is a drawing of a line beyond which, in refusing to defend ourselves, we cannot be anything but cowardly or capitulating before evils that are known, dangerous, and politically organized. It is a noble thing to resist tyrants and terrorists, in whatever form, even when they appear in the democratic or non-governmental forms, in which we sometimes see them today. It is more noble still to be able to define precisely what tyranny is.

It is all right to praise “peace” over war, provided that we remember that peace is the end of war, not its mode of operation… If we mean by “peace,” however, simply the lack of fighting, then concentration camps, gulags, and tyrannies of iron control are “peaceful” cities. When we praise “peace” for its own sake, we have to take care not to be praising injustice at the same time. This latter is a temptation, especially among the pious.

Well, I don’t want to overwrought in my piety either.

But Socrates’ advice in Schall’s passage also works against unjust orders given in support of war. To use Francis’ Nazi example, a soldier under Nazi command would be justified in refusing orders to liquify a people. One of the issues in this discussion might have to do with how we define ‘Muslim’. Francis seems to have in mind that ‘Muslim’ and ‘enemy combatant’ are synonymous in terms of war guilt. I too have read of passages from the Koran that appear to back up that view, passages that argue a Muslim only makes peace with an infidel in order to re-arm and resume combat on better terms.

This is probably what compels Francis to feel a passage like this one, from a follow up post, are justifiable:

The question isn’t what’s licit in the protection of innocents; it’s rather simpler than that. It’s determining who the guilty are and putting a stop to their slaughters. A terrorist nuclear attack on these shores would be sufficient evidence to conclude that non-Muslims cannot share this world with Muslims under conditions of reasonable safety. At that point, a pogrom to eliminate Islam from the world would be justified. It would be the only way to protect innocent lives from those who would harm them, including the co-religionists who make their infamies possible by concealing and succoring them.

What’s missing in this line of reasoning is that not every person who claims to be Muslim embraces all of it. Catholics like to carp about people being ‘cafeteria Catholics’ and picking and choosing which doctrines they will support. It should come as no surprise when people of other faiths act in the same way. What is more, someone who is extreme today may not be extreme tomorrow. Obviously, knowing who is who in either scenario is beyond human capability. To my mind, then, this behooves us to advocate only the amount of violence necessary to achieve our end, which should be nothing more than ending the threat here and now. We simply cannot realistically aim to end the threat forever. That is a form of utopianism, the kind of thing I had thought Francis rightly criticized in another post. It turns out that I was wrong, the writing in question was from the journal First Things. The highest justice is not for man to mete out, but for Providence. Failure to recognize this is give in to what Erich Voegelein termed a desire to “Immanentize the Eschaton.” I note that the Wikkipedia entry for Voegelein recognizes a tie into the Catechsim, #676:

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

It should be noted too that the Koran is a set of ideas and that killing people who hold them will not – cannot – stop the ideas from re-asserting themselves.

Daniel Dennet’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Design, contains many interesting ideas, including this theoretical question, posed by Nicholas Humphrey. If you were forced to consign one of the following masterpieces to oblivion, which one should you choose? Newton’s Principia, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, or Eiffel’s Tower? Humphrey’s answer is that the obvious choice is Newton’s Principia. Why?

Because of all those works, Newton’s is the only one that is replaceable. Quite simply, if Newton had not written it, then someone else would have.

I think the study of heresy would suggest that it is a negative counterexample to the Principia. They just keep re-asserting themselves, no matter how many times you shoot the messenger.


Written by Curt

August 20, 2005 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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