Just war, teaching self-defense, getting past the don'ts & more


Justus George Lawler was much too charitable to George Weigel on the issue of traditional Catholic just-war teaching (“Phantom Heresies,” April 24). Under the heading of “Safeguarding Peace,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins the section on just war by stipulating that “the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.” The use of “strict” and “rigorous” is a warning about the self-serving ways in which Catholics have irresponsibly used just-war teaching to justify whatever war their particular nation-state happened to be waging.

The Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is a kind of gloss on the necessarily brief sections of the Catechism. Chapter 11, “The Promotion of Peace,” is particularly pointed in its negative criticism of preventive war: “Therefore, engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.” George Weigel published—in First Things, January 2003—a defense of preventive war that stretched traditional just-war teaching into something neither rigorous nor strict (“Moral Clarity in a Time of War”). Weigel’s suggestions for modifying that teaching fit quite closely...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.