August 11, 2005 § 23 Comments
A commenter named Ronny, in a lengthy thread about the Hiroshima bombing at Amy Welborn’s blog, makes the point that dogmatic pacifism and total-war advocacy result from the same misperception of the nature of war. Both presume that, because war always has evil consequences, in war one must do evil in the pursuit of a good end: that it is impossible ever to wage war as a good act. The pacifist concludes that therefore acts of war are never just: they cannot be just by definition, because some of their consequences are evil. The total-war advocate concludes that the evil is inevitable and we should choose whatever brings victory with the fewest bad consequences.
The dogmatic pacifist is more principled than the total-war advocate: at least he holds that one cannot do evil in the pursuit of the good. But he still holds incorrectly that the morality of an act is determined solely by its consequences. He still fails (along with his mirror the total-war advocate) to distinguish between intended/chosen consequences and unintended/foreseen consequences. In other words, he is still a consequentialist.
Now there is a form of functional pacifism that is not consequentialist. This form of pacifism is of a prudential nature, after a fashion. Prudential pacifism allows the in principle possibility of just war, but holds that in practice it never occurs. Just war is not in principle impossible to the prudential pacifist, but it never in actual fact occurs: it is a practical impossibility.
It seems to me that one cannot be a dogmatic pacifist (as described above) and remain consistent with Catholic moral teaching and the natural law; because dogmatic pacifism is a form of consequentialism. But one could (in principle) be a prudential pacifist without falling into moral heresy. The prudential pacifist doesn’t disagree with the Church on moral principles, he has just made a particular prudential evaluation of the facts. He might still be wrong, but he hasn’t set himself against the teaching of the Church.