Wrong Reason

May 23, 2006 § 12 Comments

During Lent, Professor Edward Feser published a three-part series of articles on the Just War doctrine as applied to the Iraq war over at Right Reason (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I’ve been asked by someone who is smarter than me what I think of the series.

I did make some comments at the time in the second article, comments to which Professor Feser responded.

I’m not much of a fisker, and in any case I don’t think the lengthy series needs detailed fisking in order to see what is wrong with it. Professor Feser addresses his series of articles specifically to Catholic traditionalists who reject Vatican II and question the legitimacy of the Church as she is today, and says that those particular people have no sound intellectual basis upon which to claim that the Iraq war was manifestly unjust. He is right, in a sense. When you are arguing with a lunatic you can rightly claim that the lunatic has no sound intellectual basis for any conclusion at all, on any subject.

When I asked him about the Just War doctrine as currently understood, he replied:

The trouble with appealing to the Vatican’s post-Vatican II statements about just war is that they have been unsystematic, often vague, and their level of authority has been unclear.

So to summarize Professor Feser’s argument, as I understand it:

1) JWD as understood prior to Vatican II is too much of a muddle for us to reach a definite conclusion whether or not the Iraq war was just.

2) JWD as understood right now is too much of a muddle for us to reach a definite conclusion whether or not the Iraq war was just.

As far as I can tell, Professor Feser is dancing at the same postmodern we-can’t-reach-any-definite-conclusions-about-Iraq-so-shut-up dance as George Weigel. Professor Feser is a better dancer in my opinion, and he carefully circumscribes who he is dancing with. His three-part series can be read as legitimately reaching the conclusion that if the just war doctrine is assumed at the outset to be hopelessely vague, one cannot draw any conclusions about the Iraq war from it. There are other legitimate but equally mundane conclusions, including some unflattering but in my opinion true assessments of parts of paleoconservatism.

But if you went to Professor Feser’s series expecting a broad, balanced discussion of the Just War issues surrounding Iraq, you showed up at the wrong dance.

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§ 12 Responses to Wrong Reason

  • I don’t think the JWD is at all vague as expressed in CCC2309 and it’s interpretation by the SCDF and the Popes has been clear and consistent.But Feser does vaguely touch on an important point – JWD is not definitive (never having been defined by any Pope).Some see in this a great danger because it’s lack of definitive status might encourage pro-war Catholics to ignore it and support unjust wars. However, they do this anyway and without the definition one would have to fall back on what Christ taught (what we should have stuck to all along) which was against all killing.But there’s another strong Traditionalist argument against the justness of modern wars as expressed by < HREF="http://www.sspx.com/?OttavianiWar" REL="nofollow">Cardinal Ottaviani<> in 1947 :-<>These considerations, and many others which might be adduced besides, show that modern wars can never fulfil those conditions which (as we stated earlier on in this essay) govern – theoretically – a just and lawful war. Moreover, no conceivable cause could ever be sufficient justification for the evils, the slaughter, the destruction, the moral and religious upheavals which war today entails<>Ottaviani’s point is that JWD is simply theoretical (ie its a theory and not a doctrine at all) and it’s conditions are actually impossible to meet in modern warfare.And the fact that the SSPX consistently opposed the invasion of Iraq despite their alleged rejection of recent Church teaching shows that the invasion of Iraq clearly did not meet even the pre-conciliar ideas of “Just War”.God Bless

  • Feser semes to base much of his argument on the contents of pre-VaticanII moral manuals.But, in traditional Catholic teaching, moral manuals are not definitive. What’s definitive is what the Pope teaches, which seems oddly lacking in Feser’s article.And when he lists 4 categories of war opponents (anarchists, third positionists, isolationists and cultural pessimists) he glaringly leaves out the most important category of all – those loyal Catholics who simply follow the Holy Father.If Feser is Catholic, to leave out the Holy Father is very odd.God Bless

  • zippy says:

    <>Ottaviani’s point is that JWD is simply theoretical (ie its a theory and not a doctrine at all) …<>That isn’t his point at all. His point is that in modern warfare it is possible that the factual conditions necessary for a just war simply do not ever obtain. It is an important point worthy of careful consideration.Just War is a doctrine. If you want to make esoteric arguments against the Catechism that it is not a doctrine, get your own blog. Don’t do it here.

  • I think that one of things that’s obviously lacking in defenses of the war by Weigel, Feser at al is any real consideration of the human misery and suffering that the war has caused. War defenders appear lacking in love for the victims of war.The Just War Theory has always included an element of proportionality (proportionalism?) where the evils of the war are balanced against its apparant good effects.Modern war, in which innocent civilians are overwhelmingly the victims and essential infrastructure, employment, housing, hospitals etc are destroyed for many years is different in kind to wars of the past in which soliders were overwhelmingly the victims (assuming <>jus in bello<> applied, which was often not the case).Ottaviani puts it :-<>All the foregoing reasoning is cogent enough if we confine ourselves to a purely theoretical treatment of warfare. But in practice and in relation to present conditions the principles enunciated do not seem to hold. They were meant, we should remember, to cover warfare of a special kind, that between mercenary armies, and not our mammoth warfare which sometimes entails the total downfall of the nations at grips with each other; the principles, in fact, cannot be applied in the life of modern nations without doing serious damage to the particular peoples involved, and (leaving aside a question of a defensive war begun, under certain conditions, for the protection of the state from actual and unjust aggression) no state is justified any longer in resorting to warfare when some right has not been given its full due. Not that we for a moment wish to despise or belittle the theories of the great exponents of Christian international law! That would be unpardonable! The war of their treatises is not the war of our experience. The difference indeed is not even of the purely numerical or mathematical order; it goes much deeper. It affects the very principles governing war. Principles indeed drive from and vary with the nature of things; the difference between war as it was and war as we know it is precisely one of nature.<>This distinction in nature between the type of warfare discussed in the classical Just War theory and the nature of warfare today seems to be lost on many.God Bless

  • Step2 says:

    Although Dr. Feser and I spar constantly, that was one of the few arguments I actually got upset about. He wanted to only justify the invasion in the most limited technical sense and completely ignore all the fear mongering about WMD used to gain support, as well as the disgraceful lack of planning for the occupation.I hope he is ready to defend the decision to attack Iran, since that is the direction the winds of war are blowing.

  • step2 raises a very important point.Rather than analysing the <>last<> war, maybe it’s more important to analyse the <>next<>.My understanding of the Just War theory is that there’s absolutely nothing in it that says that mere possession of any weapon (even a WMD) constitutes a title to war.Am I wrong ?God Bless

  • William Luse says:

    I think you’ve pretty much nailed it down, in about as concise a fashion as it merits.This part disturbs me: “The trouble with appealing to the Vatican’s post-Vatican II statements about just war is that they have been unsystematic, often vague, and their level of authority has been unclear.” I can’t tell from this if he is confessing that, should the possibility of war come along, he really doesn’t know how much weight to give to just war principles in his decision whether or not to endorse said war (making it easier, in other words, to choose which wars he likes), or if he is referring to the Vatican’s pronouncements only as regards <>this<> war.Thanks for the gratifying but wholly unnecessary reference to my “smarts.” Wish those closest to me saw it in the same light.

  • zippy says:

    <>He wanted to only justify the invasion in the most limited technical sense …<>Well, and not even justify it in a positive way but merely to say that it was defensible: that it cannot be concluded that it was <>definitely unjust<>. There seems to be a number of recent articles that are <>positioned<> as broad-based discussions of just war and Iraq, when in fact their scope is very narrow. It strikes me as a sort of pro-war marketing ploy. I don’t know what the right word is for an equivocation in scope, but that is the game. If something is inconvenient for the thesis then claim it is out of scope; but position the thing as if it were some more comprehensive broadly-scoped treatment of the subject. Talk about every fringe opinion but avoid any serious ones. It isn’t a good sign for our public discourse when even the Edward Fesers of the world start to sound like something out of Derrida.

  • Rob says:

    I certainly hope that Step2 is being overly pessimistic about current events trending toward war with Iran. The only way an attack on Iran could be undertaken would be by means of a massive aerial attack that one can see up front would necessarily be criminal.

  • c matt says:

    It doesn’t seem that the country would be as supportive of a war against Iran as was against Iraq. While the “powers that be” seem to want it, there just doesn’t seem to be enough popular support (or trust) to pull it off. The more immediate possibility (and not much better) is that Israel may make a unilateral first strike against strategic Iranian assets (with tacit approval by the US). Then things will get ugly.

  • Rob says:

    c matt–If we can believe what we’ve been told, the Iran nuclear assets are well-dispersed, well-bunkered, and, in many cases, buried beneath population centers. It doesn’t seem that the Israelis possess the resources to take out those kinds of targets. The Israeli action taken against Iraq was a piece of cake compared with what would be needed to do an equivalent amount of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Moreover, it would be highly unwise for the Israelis to provoke the Muslim world by doing so. Keep in mind that religious Muslims had no love for Saddam’s secular, quasi-Western regime. The same is not true of ayatollah-dominated Iran.

  • Rob says:

    c matt–The situation is that the House of Israel is continuously being picketed, and sporadically subject to sniper fire and rocks tossed through windows. Unless Israel were to launch an all-out, nuclear attack on Iran, followed by an immediate threat to repeat the dose on any other nation indicating that it wants some of the same, it would be a bad idea for Israel to attack Iran. (Not that the nuclear attack would not be a bad idea also, but for other reasons.)If Iran is to be attacked, we should do it. But we SHOULD NOT do it.

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