Monday, November 24, 2003

Respect for the Humanity of the Enemy and the Innocent

Joe Sobran on the apocalyptic style of government and a clue on what to do about it...

"An apocalyptic style is common in modern politics, and it isn’t necessarily religious. Communism saw history as headed for a final showdown between the working classes and capitalism — how quaint that seems already! — and Hitler saw history as a grand racial struggle. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln shifted from the limited claims of his first inaugural, in which he merely denied the right of states to secede and was willing to leave slavery alone, to an apocalyptic interpretation of the Civil War as God’s punishment for the sin of slavery. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt justified American participation in two world wars as a moral crusade against evil itself, with vaguely religious overtones — much like Bush’s crusade against the “axis of evil.”

The trouble with this style of politics is that when you see your enemy as evil incarnate, it’s fatally easy to start seeing yourself as God’s (or history’s) agent. The natural result of such an outlook is to forget your own moral limitations, and to consider any means of fighting evil as justified by your supremely righteous ends. And you may wind up dropping atomic bombs on cities.

The Catholic tradition has been more modest — even, you might say, more earthy. War is always an evil, we don’t know when the end times will occur, and God’s plan is always a mystery to mere mortals. All we can do is try to keep warfare, when it comes, within civilized bounds. This view is the source of just war theory, which demands respect for the humanity of the enemy and the innocent."

  • Read Sobran's Wahington Watch
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