Wednesday, February 19, 2003

More on virtues
I've been thinking some more about the purpose of our virtues, or the proper use of them. Here, by the way, I mean virtues in the broader, classical sense of the Latin virtus, which is connected with manliness (vir) and means, ore is related to strength (vis), or the Greek arĂȘte, which means "excellence" as much as what we mean by "virtue." These are strengths or abilities or character traits that we develop that could be used for either good or ill, in the same way, I suppose the Force could be used for either.

Sometimes the virtues we need to develop are determined as much by our circumstances abs by our native aptitude or inclination. A father and mother must develop the skills to run a household, whether they learned them growing up or not. A good citizen in a participatory democracy, whether he likes it or not, needs to keep abreast of events and develop the intellectual and moral virtues necessary to contribute intelligently and courageously to the decision making and actions of the nation. Older children in a family will need to take care of younger children, so they need to develop and be taught the gentleness, tenderness and care one needs when dealing with little ones. It does little good to complain about the fairness of being in a particular state in life.

Which brings me to the real point: strength means nothing (is morally neutral) unless it is used for a moral end. More specifically strength ought to be at the service of weakness. We are given strengths in order to be of service to others who may not have the strength we have. Great size should be used to help the small, skills, the unskilled, talents the untalented. This is the preferential option for the poor which is a prominent theme in Catholic social teachings.

The moral for the United States is twofold. We are by virtue of our natural endowments, our human resources and our historical cultivation of technology the greatest military power in the history of the world. At this point it does no good to complain about our status as a superpower (nor does it do anyone else to complain). What we do need to do is make dang sure we are putting that strength at the service not only of our own interests, not only of the common good, but especially of the weak, the innocent, the least powerful. Including Iraq citizens. And our own unborn.

I just have this nagging feeling that a country that cannot protect its own most vulnerable will be unable to wage a war with sufficient discrimination to reasonably protect the innocent Iraqis.

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