“Common morality both requires the West to oppose the Soviets…and excludes the intent to kill innocents.”
This is the dilemma Finnis, Boyle, and Grisez explore in their impressive book. About the authors themselves one need only say that they are all three Roman Catholics, that they are professional philosophers—one of them, Finnis, is a notable student of jurisprudence—and that they stand outside the syndrome-thinking1 that dominates most debate by Christians and secularists over the morality of the nuclear deterrent and over most other moral issues that arise out of the consideration of public policy. While they are all of them in a loose sense attached to the Aristotelian tradition in moral philosophy, they are more strongly influenced by the moral principles of the Old and New Testaments—they are children of Moses and Paul; and they are also influenced by modes of argument and styles of thinking drawn from analytical philosophy in the English-speaking countries.
They address two audiences—though there is some overlapping: those Christians in the United States and Western Europe who are concerned with the moral issues raised by the prospect of nuclear warfare, and a more general public that has been weighing such issues for a long time now, certainly since the Sixties, though of course the basic moral perplexities in this field go back to the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and to the earlier area bombings of the German conurbations. What they give us is very dense and very closely argued. It is the most important contribution so far to the debate over the ethics of nuclear deterrence.
Their first premise is that what they frequently call “common morality”—this is just the morality of the Torah as it has been transmitted and articulated in the tradition of Christian moral commentary—both lays upon us a duty to protect those communities within which a tolerable life may be lived and calls upon us unconditionally to respect the lives of the innocent. They are able to show without much difficulty that the policy of deterrence pursued by the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain rests upon the threat of “city swapping” (that is, Moscow is a hostage for New York or Paris or London, Leningrad for Marseilles, Kiev for Chicago, and so on) and of total retaliation in the event of full-scale nuclear warfare. That is, what is threatened in an extremity is the destruction of a large part of the population of the enemy country. There are sometimes attempts to conceal this part of the policy of deterrence. There was, for example, the blandishment employed by William Clark, then national security adviser, against the American Catholic bishops when they were considering the final draft of their statement on war, namely, that civilian populations are not targeted “as such.” Our authors have no difficulty in showing this to be a sophistry.
The question then is: If it would be wrong (as many would in the end come to think) to kill the innocent, and if what is conditionally threatened under the policy of deterrence is precisely this, is it immoral to threaten to do what it would be morally wrong to do? Couldn’t one escape the moral difficulty by using the threat as a mere bluff, having no intention to carry out the threat? Naturally, one wouldn’t tell the enemy one was bluffing, for this would make the deterrent ineffective; but couldn’t this be one’s real intention? Reasoning of this kind seems to have been behind the statement by the French bishops on November 8, 1983,2 for they seem to have maintained with equal force that to save Western civilization it is necessary to threaten the Soviet Union with mass destruction and that actually to destroy vast populations would be sinful and is altogether forbidden to Christians. Here they rely on the much-quoted statement by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”:
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
Finnis and his colleagues make very short work of the bluff thesis. It is wrong to threaten to do what it would be wrong to do in the matter of the deterrent, simply because the logistics, so to speak, of the entire policy of deterrence involve the acquiescence of large numbers of people in the conditional willing of the destruction of the innocent. And for these people, the Polaris crews, for example, this can’t be bluff; they must really intend, if called upon by their superiors, to press the buttons or do whatever they are asked to do, no matter what their leaders may have been saying to themselves in the privacy of their oratories.
The question then becomes: Is it right to suppose that there are any human actions that are unconditionally forbidden, wrong without the possibility of qualification? Is it necessarily wrong to kill or to threaten to kill the innocent as a means to some good and approvable end, such as the preservation of the West from Soviet rule? Or is the threat to kill the innocent something that can be allowed (as Michael Walzer argued in Just and Unjust Wars3 ) in a situation of extremity? Or can we evade the dilemma by showing that the notion of things wrong in themselves, no matter what the envisaged consequences of observing such prohibitions, is incoherent? Must we in the end discard the notion of the absolutely forbidden, holding that the rules springing from such prohibitions have force only for the most part, but that the rules hold only because their consequences are commonly such as we should approve, and that they don’t hold where the consequences of sticking to the rules are manifestly abhorrent or absurd? This raises all the questions discussed by those philosophers—the utilitarians are the most celebrated example—who hold that in one way or another what counts morally in the weighing of an action is the range of consequences: those that are anticipated or (more oddly) those that the actions under consideration actually have. (This last view would have the drawback, if it is a drawback, that moral judgments would have to be made after the actions were performed.)
The examination of consequentialism in its various forms by our authors is painstaking and thorough. They even show that if we concede some forms of consequentialism to be true, there is still a strong case against the deterrent.
Some preliminary remarks are perhaps called for. It used to be maintained with great vigor by Protestant controversialists that it was a distinctive mark of Catholic moral theory that morally evil things might be done for the sake of a good end. This doctrine was believed to be a special mark of Jesuit moral theology. The Protestant world was, on the contrary, always portrayed as heroically refusing to do evil that good might come, or at least as refusing to countenance it as reputable. This is mythology and not history; but the main contrast was steadily maintained and was a strong element in the muscular version of Protestantism propagated by such writers as Charles Kingsley, who depicted Catholics as subtle in evil, tricky and dishonest, equivocators, capable of all forms of deceit.
A very curious change has come over the West. Protestants, and others who may not be Christians but seem to stand within the Protestant succession, are now defenders of the doctrine, once execrated, that the end justifies the means, that evil may be done that good may come; and Roman Catholics—though not all of them—seem to be among the few surviving groups who want to say that there are certain things that may never be done no matter what the benefits envisaged. Some modern Protestant moral theologians have argued that “love” is all that matters, and that adultery, the killing of the unborn, and the killing of the aged and imbecile, may all be done in the service of “love.” Of course, the picture is complicated. Not all Protestant theologians are consequentialists, and there is among Catholic moral theologians, especially in the United States, a scattering of those who are prepared to use consequentialist arguments in what they take to be hard cases. And there are similar divisions within Judaism.
But what is wrong with consequentialism? Why is it absolutely out of the question that an innocent human being should be slain for the sake of the city when the city is in its extremity? Why is it always wrong to commit an act of idolatry? Why do we have to take adultery as always wrong? Surely, and this is the Lutheran tradition from Luther himself (who allowed bigamy for reasons of state) to Max Weber (so much for the Catholic/Protestant contrast of the controversial literature), the world is a rough place full of ambivalent courses and conflicting moral claims, and one who gives himself to the service of his fellows, especially in the life of politics, may be called upon to sacrifice his personal purity or integrity for the sake of the collective. That you can’t touch pitch (the life of politics) without being defiled is as much a part of proverbial moral wisdom as the saying that you shouldn’t use bad means to secure a good end. Sensible men, therefore, may well steer their way from situation to situation without allowing their consciences to grow too tender, sometimes recoiling from the use of bad means to a good end, sometimes seeing nothing to be done but to sin strongly in the service of the nation.
Perhaps I should add that the argument about consequentialism doesn’t hang upon the plausibility of the examples here given. I give them as illustrations of the kind of thing one might have in mind. The only case Finnis and his colleagues discuss at length is that of the intentional killing of the innocent. (The “innocent,” it should be emphasized, are those who are not fighting a war and who would be doing what they are doing even if no war were in prospect—housewives, children, civilian doctors and nurses, workers on the land, workers in industries that have nothing to do with military activity, the old, and so on; in fact, the greater part of any population. Even soldiers cease to be legitimate objects of attack and are in a sense innocent the moment they formally surrender to their opponents.)
For the greater part of the book Finnis and his colleagues take what they call common morality for granted, common morality being understood as including the prohibition of the killing of the innocent. Even those who argue that the demands of common morality may be disregarded in an extremity—the writer most often cited is Michael Walzer—agree that actions intentionally bringing about the death of the innocent are morally evil and that the suspension of the moral prohibition is tied uniquely to a situation of dire extremity. A situation of extremity is one in which a totalitarian regime threatens the very existence of liberal civilization, with what makes it valuable, notably the existence of the constitutional rule of law and of all that goes with it. Walzer argues that this was the case with the Nazi assault on Britain in the 1940s and discusses the issue in connection with the area bombing of Germany. The same case could be argued if the Soviet bloc seemed to be in a position to dominate, militarily and politically, the Western countries.
The Walzer doctrine that in a situation of extremity the common moral norms simply have to be suspended—a civilization just cannot be allowed to go down into darkness out of moral scrupulosity—is immensely persuasive and may even seem to be the common sense of the matter. But it remains that it is a particular instance in which it is argued that here, at any rate, the consequentialist account of moral good and evil is correct. If, then, consequentialism can be shown to be a false and even incoherent doctrine, and our three authors believe themselves to have shown this, the doctrine of extremity must fail, and the prohibition of the intentional killing of the innocent stands. It is always possible to say of plans envisaging such killing: “Well, it’s wrong but you just have to do it.” I take it that this is intellectual suicide, like the doctrine of the two truths—that there can be propositions that are false in philosophy but true in theology, and the other way around—attributed to some of the medieval Averroists. Walzer sometimes seems to be saying something rather like this, as when he says of the crews responsible for the bombing of the German cities that “they had acted well and done what their office required [but that they] must nonetheless bear a burden of responsibility and guilt. They have killed unjustly…for the sake of justice itself, but justice itself requires that unjust killing be condemned.”
If consequentialism can be shown to be a false doctrine, and Finnis and the others believe they have done this, then it seems otiose to argue that the intentional killing of the innocent is always wrong. If consequentialism is false, then there must be some things that are wrong regardless of anticipated consequences; and the intentional killing of the innocent is perhaps the best imaginable instance of the breach of a strict moral rule. But the authors do go into additional arguments in the matter. For example, they believe themselves to have shown that those who take “fairness” as the sole basic moral principle cannot consistently argue that the rule against the intentional killing of the innocent allows exceptions. They argue in particular that human life is an intrinsic and not an instrumental good; and two of the three argue that this carries the implication that the intentional taking of any human life is wrong, though not all killing would necessarily be culpable.
What, then, in the view of the authors, ought the West to do? First, it should get out of the business of nuclear deterrence, the doctrine of city swapping and final retaliation. Then, it should be prepared to count the cost, namely, that a West that has renounced the deterrent may have to endure bad political consequences; for the chances are that in such a situation the Soviet Union would use its monopoly of nuclear power to squeeze economic and political concessions out of the Western states. At best, they write, we should expect Finlandization, at worst to share the fate of Poland or Czechoslovakia. Finnis and the others have no patience with sunnier views common in the various peace movements, for example, that unilateral disarmament would be a “creative” process that would change the minds of the rulers of the totalitarian societies, or that the prospect of Soviet domination of the Western world is a fantasy. They see nothing “prudent” in the usual sense of the word in abandoning the policy of nuclear deterrence.
Here, perhaps, they overstate their case, although it would be foolish to predict confidently that any one tendency will, in the long run, prevail in the USSR or that a reversion to Stalinism is impossible. It seems likely, however, that the Soviet Union is socially and economically in a very bad way, that the existing people’s democracies impose severe problems on Soviet society, that a system that cannot cope well with, say, Poland or East Germany can scarcely relish the thought of administering, directly or through puppet governments, the richer and more sophisticated societies of the West. Further, I suspect that they attach too much importance to Soviet ideology. The Communist leaders talk Marxism, it is true, and even think it in a vulgarized way; but one can doubt it has much importance, except as a kind of filler for policy statements, for those who belong to the ruling elites in the Soviet empire.
Many argued at the time that Napoleon was really a continuer of Jacobin policies, and in some respects this was right; where his armies went the walls of the ghettos were taken down and feudal relations crumbled and were replaced by the very different relations of bourgeois society. But the revolutionary élan of the period of Robespierre and Saint-Just had gone forever. The coronation of the emperor in Notre Dame was an absurdity, but a very different kind of absurdity from the planting of trees of liberty and the raising to the altars of the goddess of Reason. The possibility of the collapse and transformation of Soviet society is a real one, though we should not count on it; and if this book is right, the requirement to get rid of the nuclear deterrent rests upon moral considerations that have their validity quite apart from any anticipated consequences and quite apart from any anticipated changes in the totalitarian societies. But it may be a tactical mistake, so to speak, to persuade us to abandon the deterrent and at the same time to stress the worst possible consequences of doing so. On the whole, this is what Finnis, Boyle, and Grisez do. One sees why they do this. They don’t want to appear to be saying: Do what is right and get out of the nuclear deterrence business and it will also turn out to be a paying policy. They are right in supposing that such an imperative would remind us irresistibly of the caucus race in Alice, when in response to the question who had won the Dodo replied: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”
The fundamental argument of Finnis and his colleagues will seem strange to many, even to those who in principle accept that there are absolute prohibitions in morality and that consequentialism is false. We have the idea that any plausible and morally defensible posture on defense must have in mind certain objectives, among them preserving the West’s independence and protecting the lives of those threatened by nuclear destruction. We move, then, from this to the idea that any morally approvable policy must not only respect such absolute prohibitions as there may be, but also produce a good result for the West—independence and survival.
Many considerations, therefore, dismissed by our authors still keep a hold on our minds. For instance, it may be argued that given that we are in this messy situation with nuclear weapons and delivery systems in position, what has so far made the deterrent effective for both sides is that there is a radical uncertainty whether or not the weapons would ever be used. On this view it is the mere existence of nuclear weapons in position that deters, not the never-to-be fathomed intentions of their custodians. Again, so long as how to make nuclear weapons is a matter of diffused knowledge, small powers and even bandits will be in a position to extort concessions from the great (now disarmed) powers. And if nuclear weapons were to be discarded by the present political authorities, it seems possible that in the United States, Britain, and France a radical populism would grow up, and mad leaders, willing to help on the day of Armageddon, would take power and reinstate the nuclear armory. Innocent life might then be more at risk in the confusion of the era of Western disarmament than in the present situation.
The authors are aware of all these arguments, and others of the same family, and concede that the consequences of giving up the deterrent might be bad. But they would insist that all this is beside the point. They write:
We have not held that it is better to be Red than dead. We have not claimed that the consequences of unilateral renunciation would be better than those of maintaining the deterrent “until mutual nuclear disarmament.” Nor have we denied or disregarded the high duty of defending the justice and other good things of our societies, and of meeting forcible violation of them with forcible, even death-dealing resistance.
What they do hold is that if consequentialism is a false doctrine and if the prohibition of the killing of the innocent, intentionally and deliberately, even as a means to some worthy end, is absolute, then no considerations of policy can properly prevail over this deliverance of the moral law. They acknowledge that many will find “something perverse about the logic of this argument.” But this is where they stand and they believe they can do no other.
That the authors of Nuclear Deterrence are Roman Catholics will no doubt be a cause in many quarters of astonishment, puzzlement, irritation, and concern. That their tractate comes to us from the Clarendon Press may also remind us how much things have changed in the past twenty years. It is more than twenty-five years since the collection of essays by Elizabeth Anscombe, Peter Geach, and others, edited by Walter Stein, under the title Nuclear Weapons and Christian Conscience (in the United States Nuclear Weapons: A Catholic Response) appeared. It was then commonly thought that such concerns were those of a small minority of Catholics and that a fervent anticommunism kept most Catholics close to the governments of the Western countries. The situation now is that Catholics are no longer considered reliable custodians of conservative or moderate policies. The most striking recent example of the alienation of even rather conventional Catholics from the moral consensus of the West is not so much the Catholic position on abortion or contraception or pornography—these are the issues on which it is thought Catholics are characteristically stuffy and unprogressive—as the statements of the American bishops on warfare and on the economy, and their refusal to take a patriotic line on American policy in Central America.
It is almost as though there are two radically different kinds of Catholics: the kind represented by the late William Casey and the kind represented by liberal Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit or the editors of Commonweal; and stretching between them a variety of other standpoints. It is perhaps important that in looking for Catholics who are a strong element in the New Right one thinks first of laymen. Laymen gathered into such groups as Catholics United for the Faith seek to organize a kind of counterrevolution and not only attack what they think to be impermissibly radical political attitudes but also resist the general drift of ecclesiastical opinion in matters of theology and historical and biblical criticism. The militantly anticlerical layman who is also a strong conservative is something new.
Eric O. Hanson has given us a detailed survey that provides much of the background to these changes. He uses the methods of the social sciences to describe the institutional structure of Catholicism, the ethos that pervades and animates this or that grouping within the Church, and the tensions between sections of the Church and sections of the world and the tensions within the Church itself. He pays great attention to the role of the Papacy, and to the policies of the present Pope. He even gives us in the first chapter a frugal sketch of the development of Latin Christianity from the time of Constantine. His decision to do this probably springs from his experience as a university teacher. Even the otherwise well-informed and the piously educated rarely know much about Church history.
Much of his work is descriptive in the contemporary mode of the social sciences. Explanatory models drawn from Max Weber and Troeltsch are used freely in the descriptive analyses. Its great merit is that it informs a Catholic public, and any others interested in the role of the Catholic Church in modern society, of much they may not have taken note of. There are excellent sections on the Lefebvre movement, on Opus Dei, on liberation theology, on the vicissitudes in recent years of the Society of Jesus, on the Vatican’s policy toward Eastern Europe; he brings out, what many American Catholics find hard to credit, that the general drive of the Vatican in world politics is different from that of the United States in particular and of the NATO powers generally. What the right-wing Catholic journal The Wanderer dislikes in the liberal social and religious policies of Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle is often close to the policies pursued by Cardinal Casaroli, the secretary of state of the Vatican. On all such issues there is much useful information in Hanson’s pages.
I pick out the following changes as being especially significant; in part I rely on Hanson’s fine work, in part on my own observations. The first and most obvious change in Catholicism is perhaps the hardest to get right, and yet it is a precondition of most of the other changes: it is the change in intellectual style. That such a change—what the French theologians Congar and Chenu called “the dismantling of baroque theology”—was in preparation was clear before the Second World War and before the Council. The elaborate scholastic language into which most things Catholic were rendered was for the most part a piece of literary pastiche beneath which important and serious issues were discussed, but in enigmatic ways that needed decoding. Some, like Congar himself, were expert at this, as were others, especially Henri de Lubac (now Cardinal de Lubac) and his colleagues at the Jesuit house of studies in Lyons; and the rationale of scholasticism, in its medieval origins, was ably explored by Etienne Gilson. But it became plain that as language and as method the Neo-Scholastic approach was so tied to its origins in the medieval schools that it was incapable of handling, without deep modifications, modern intellectual problems. It was a source of false confidence. It used to be said that Catholic thinkers were able to answer the great questions about life that defeated the secular thinker. A believer would certainly hold today that this is true of the Gospel and of fundamental theological reflection on it; but it was a mistake to suppose that Catholicism had a gnosis in a great variety of matters, one superior to that available to others.
All this was clear enough in Europe before 1939, but it wasn’t at all clear in North America. When it did become evident in North America that the Neo-Scholastic style was being quietly dropped, even by the most authoritative Catholic thinkers, there was some panic and a lot of homemade philosophies took its place. But speculative thought was not a major interest among American Catholics and controversy tended to center upon practical issues, such as those issues concerned with how best to organize a state based upon law and with how best to rid Catholicism of the frightful burden it carried—the doctrine, only discarded at Vatican II, that in principle the Church had the right, when the circumstances were fitting, to call upon the power of the state to coerce heretics and protect the true faith. Thus the maverick of an earlier generation of American Catholic theologians was the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, who was a great believer in the American constitution and thought the Church had been grievously wrong in its traditional attitude to civil liberties.
The decline of Neo-Scholasticism was accompanied by three other changes that affected the ethos and to some extent even the structure of Catholicism. First, other philosophical models became fashionable. Heideggerian philosophy became powerful through the work of the theologian Karl Rahner; phenomenology became a widely used method (John Paul II is the best example) and was given more prestige through the beatification of Edith Stein, Husserl’s former assistant; through the work of Jean-Baptiste Metz, Marxism began to enter the stream of theological speculation; and in the English-speaking countries the work of Wittgenstein and of analytical philosophy generally became influential, as we see in Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism. Curiously, though perhaps not so curiously, the decay of Neo-Scholasticism was accompanied by a growing interest in Aquinas’s theology, especially his moral theology.
Then came the acceptance, hesitant but real under Pius XII, and final, so far as one can see in the present period, of the historical criticism of the Bible. The effect was to make the Catholic mind more open to a great many issues connected with history and anthropology in general as well as to those connected with the Scriptures. Finally, the growth of ecumenism transformed the Counter-Reformation image of Catholicism. Once the Index had been discarded, the liturgy rendered into the vernacular languages, and the ideal of state-enforced orthodoxy abandoned, it became impossible to look at those Christians who were the children of the Reformation in the old way. With this change in the attitude toward Protestants—how radical the change is may be inferred from the presence in Catholic hymn books of Luther’s great battle hymn of the Reformation, “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott“—there came, though the causes were different, a change in attitude toward the Jewish people. Catholicism had always in principle been close to the Orthodox churches, but deeply divided from them by historical memories: the sacking of the great Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople by the Crusaders was to many of the Orthodox peoples what Cromwell’s massacre of Drogheda was to the Catholic Irish.
Such changes as these have produced an enlargement of spirit whose consequences are growing all the time and whose further effects are incalculable. They have had their effect in political life too. The extreme right is on the whole schismatic in tendency, as in the case of Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers. The various societies, originating in Brazil but now present in many countries, “for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property,” are similar in their outlook and seem to think that the present institutional Church is hopelessly corrupted by liberalism and Marxism. On the opposite fringe there is a handful of liberation theologians who identify the triumph of communism with the redemption of the world by Christ. In between there are many tendencies. What is perhaps characteristic of the Catholic center, and this puzzles many American Catholics, is a kind of social democracy. John XXIII’s encyclicals on social questions seemed to presuppose a social democratic ethos, as does the present Pope’s encyclical Laborem exercens.
There are many serious unsolved problems. One set of problems—all those concerned with the place of women inside the hierarchical structure of the Church—is perhaps thought to be serious only in North America and Western Europe. The question of celibacy for priests of the Latin Rite has more general importance. (Most of the Eastern Rite churches in communion with Rome ordain married men, though there is a tendency, especially in the case of the Ukrainian Rite, for Rome to make this a matter of privilege and not of right.) South America, Africa, and the Far East were evangelized almost exclusively by the Latins, who constitute for historical reasons most Catholics in communion with Rome. Thus clerical celibacy is a general norm. What began in the early Middle Ages as a papal policy to stiffen the discipline and educational and moral standards of the parochial clergy, by transforming them into quasi religious, monks without a cloister, ended as a generally imposed condition of ordination in the Latin Rite. (There are a few married Latin Rite priests, all of them, so far as I know, former clergy of the Anglican, Lutheran, and other bodies.) In many European countries it looks as though there will be fewer and fewer celibates available for ordination; and the situation in Central and South America is already catastrophic and may soon be so in Africa. In these countries there are many married catechists who look as though they would make excellent priests. It is known that the present Pope has very strong views on the value of celibacy; but it may be hard in the future to attach immense importance to what is admittedly a peculiarity of one Catholic rite among many and to leave, as is often now the case in Central and South America, very many Catholics without the basic ministrations of the Church.
I have not done justice to the depth and penetration of Hanson’s book. It is the best study of its kind that has so far appeared. It is noteworthy for the scrupulous fairness with which it handles contentious issues.
We return to the big question raised by Finnis, Boyle, and Grisez. There is no doubt that they believe themselves to have presented—and this reviewer agrees with them—an irrefragable case for the view that the principles of Catholic morality, principles that are traditional and not in the least novel, require Catholics to forswear the policies of deterrence and to do what they can to persuade their governments to abandon the policies. But if they are right, how are we to account for the obvious fact that no substantial body of bishops supports their conclusions? Nor does the Pope, as they themselves note:
No pope has condemned the deterrent. In fact, the present pope has seemed to endorse it. In a message to the UN in 1982, John Paul II stated that, provided certain conditions are met, “deterrence…may still be judged morally acceptable.”
Faced with such judgments of Catholic authorities, they comment:
This statement has been taken by some to express a considered judgment that the Western nations’ present nuclear deterrents are morally permissible. But both the context and the content of the statement tell against that interpretation…. The question of the moral permissibility of nuclear deterrence is relatively new and quite difficult. It was considered (1964–65) by the Second Vatican Council but not answered. John Paul II constantly takes the Council as the frame of reference for his own statements. His statement concerning deterrence was part of a wide-ranging message concerning disarmament, addressed to the United Nations. Such a context is hardly one in which any pope would be likely to try to answer a grave moral question left open by his predecessors and a council of his church.
As to its content the statement is indeed ambiguous…. But…there is no analysis in the message of the various forms, components, and levels of existing deterrents. The Pope does not identify and find morally acceptable the intention to city swap or to execute the threat of final retaliation.
They believe that
the statement was intended to leave questions about the morality of nuclear deterrence open for enquiry and debate, and to admit the legitimacy of diverse judgments: deterrence “may still” (but perhaps not when the question will have been fully clarified) “be judged morally acceptable.” This interpretation seems to us reasonable…. John Paul II’s message…, reasonably interpreted, provides no solid ground for thinking that the threats of city swapping and final retaliation, with the intentions they actually embody, are consistent with the norm which forbids intentional killing of the innocent.
The jury is still out on this question. The members cannot safely bring in a verdict unless they attend carefully to the argument of this book.4
November 5, 1987
By syndrome-thinking I mean something like this: those who oppose, and those who defend, nuclear deterrence tend to hold clusters of other views that seem somehow to go with their moral position. Critics of deterrence may oppose capital punishment, be in favor of abortion on demand, and defend “animal rights”; those in favor of nuclear deterrence may be supporters of free enterprise, capital punishment, no gun controls, and so on. I believe that what glues such views together in a cluster is not logical implication but an ideological compulsion that rests upon extralogical grounds. ↩
On this and other related issues see my “Nuclear Catholicism,” The New York Review, December 22, 1983. ↩
See my review of Walzer’s book in The New York Review, December 8, 1977. ↩
There is a lot of Catholic hostility to those who push the argument on deterrence as hard as do Finnis and his colleagues. They are said to lack “realism” and to neglect the sound tradition of American Catholic politics, always concerned with the possible and striving, often by compromise, to make a political climate within which gradual improvement is possible. Such a standpoint is hard to explain clearly, for when crucial moral questions come up the traditional Catholic principles are not denied but simply removed from the realm of the possible. A good example of this type of thinking is George Weigel’s recently published Tranquillitas Ordinis (Oxford University Press, 1987). One of his theses is that sound Catholic social thought was fatally wounded by the modes of thought represented by Dorothy Day, Gordon Zahn, Thomas Merton, the Berrigan brothers, and James Douglass. This thought represented a simple-minded and mistaken view that relations between states ought fundamentally to be governed by the same moral principles as those that apply to personal relations between individuals. ↩