Thursday, January 16, 2003

Weigel, just war, and manhood
I've always admired Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Their apostolate to the poor puts to shame those of us who spend so little time in direct contact with and service to the poor. Their commitment to peace and their absolute rejection of war in the name of the Gospel has a certain plausibility to a child of the '60s. Those of us raised during the Vietnam war, especially those of us raised in a liberal diocese, such as Oklahoma City was in the 1960s under Bishop Victor Reed, have a tendency to pacificism. We have a visceral reaction to war and violence that leads us to a cold reaction to any warlike talk or activity on the part of the United States.

Yet, I believe that this squeamishness toward war is in many cases not the result of an internalization of the Gospel, so much as a failure of manliness. Reading George Weigel's "Moral Clarity in a Time of War" (as well as rereading LotR and parts of the Illiad with my kids) has led me to ask the question, "What ever happened to the manly virtues?" and "Did Christianity nullify them?" The idea of the warrior as a noble calling, and the exaltation of the concomitant virtues has been a dominant theme in almost every traditional culture until the modern era, whether it be the medieval knight, the Indian brave, or the Hindu warrior caste, the warrior held a high, if not the highest position in the tribe, city-state or nation.

The just war tradition, if Weigel is right that it is a tradition of statescraft, includes the idea that the role of a warrior is essential to a morally responsible society and that society ought to cultivate among its citizens the virtues necessary to be a good warrior.

Yet, that is not what those who more or less absolutely reject the possibility of war—whether in the name of Christ or not—are saying. In claiming that "The just war tradition 'begins' with a 'presumption against war' or a 'presumption against violence,'" they are denying the validity of the soldier's calling. If, as Weigel says, "rightly constituted public authority is under a direct moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility," then it also has the duty to prepare to do so by cultivating a corps of men who have the physical and mental ability to do so—a warrior class, so to speak.

In traditional cultures, and in some contemporary cultures, such as Switzerland and Israel, this corps consisted of all able-bodied adult men (and in Israel women, too, but that is another question).

If Wiegel is right about the obligation of the state, then Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, et. al. are dangerously wrong. I do not see how pacifism of the Catholic Worker sort can ever be admitted side by side as a legitimate vision of political life. I cannot see how the rejection of the call to arms can be anything more than an evangelical counsel on the level of poverty, chastity, and obedience for consecrated religious. I can see that a certain minority of Christians will withdraw from conflict as a prophetic witness to the Kingdom, but in a world that has not yet seen the parousia, it would be wrong to simply reject out of hand any resort to arms as a part of the struggle for justice and, yes, peace (in the sense that Weigel uses the word).

A related question is, "Are only men eligible to be warriors, and are the concomitant virtues only manly?" I'd probably address that question later. I'll also explain why this makes me think that it was not a good idea to do away with altar rails!

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