Twisting the Just War Doctrine: Ideological Thinking

The religion editor in today’s New York Times (4/14/07) discusses the continuing effort of George Weigel, a lay theologian and activist often identified with the neocons, to show that the war in Iraq and all we have done there is consonant with the Just War Doctrine, so central to moral discourse, particularly among Roman Catholics. Apparently, many catholic writers take issue with Weigel on this matter, as well they might. A core dispute, according to the article, is Weigel’s refutation of the common assumption in more liberal Catholic circles that the Just War Doctrine begins with a “presumption against war”, a point these circles make especially when considering war in its modern forms. Weigel says this is not at all the case. War, according to Weigel, should be seen as a “neutral instrument of statecraft. If, for example, we believe we have a responsibility to assure security, justice, and freedom in the Middle East, then it is not against the doctrine to use war as the means to these good ends.

I bring up Weigel and his views because George is a long-time acquaintance. I first worked with him when I was par of the World Without War organization, and later when as a member of the Freedom House staff, I would run into him and people of similar views such as Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister who became a Catholic along the way. The species seemed to have a great deal in common with the neocons, who were, in turn, close to those I knew at Freedom House and Hudson Institute, as I knew along the way Richard Perle and William Schneider.

They were and are a well-meaning lot. But they were and are ideologues. They seemed over the years to grey from clever conservatives to increasingly ridiculous conservatives, persons who had simply lost touch with the outside world. I think back to my college years when I was a convinced pacifist concerned with the likes of satyagraha. For a few years everything I read and did may the conviction that I was right still stronger. I was in a pacifist cocoon, the type of cocoon I find these gentlemen in. Everything in their world proves them right day after day, and the foolishness of those on the outside seems immense.

After the Hudson and Freedom House experiences I vowed to myself to never again be or act like an ideologue. In fact, I came to hate ideologues of all stripes. Ideology, at least in the world outside hard science is a straitjacket that constrains, diminishes and ultimately overwhelms all thoughtful contribution. Those who would build toward a new enlightenment must be aware of the danger of putting on such blinders as they grow in self-righteousness.

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