26 August 2010

Traditionalism is not necessarily "Right Wing"

I do not approve of any priest who gives up his priestly ministry; so I certainly do not approve of Bruce Kent. But in view of the Damian Thompson recent piece about Kent's views on Nuclear Deterrence, I have decided to repeat this piece (from the beginning of July). If any defenders of Thompson's have anywhere taken up my challenge in the penultimate paragraph below, I would be glad to be pointed to it.

That nasty excrescence of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, the Times of London, has published a vicious and contemptuous attack on Archbishop Rowan Williams' view that the doctrine and practice of nuclear deterrence are immoral.

Traditionalists easily sneer at Rowan. The Damian Thompson mentality finds it easy to deride him as a soppy liberal. Needless to say, I do not agree with many of Rowan Williams' views. But I urge traditionalist Catholics to think twice before jumping onto this particular bandwagon.

More than two decades ago, Germaine Grisez, John Finnis, and Joseph Boyle wrote their definitive treatment of the ethics of nuclear deterrence. The important thing to remember about this trio is that they are the ethical thinkers who, in our time, most consistently, coherently, and vigorously have defended the tradional Catholic teaching on sexual matters, 'Life' matters, and every aspect of traditional teaching which has been attacked by the modern secular establishment. These writers not only subscribe to the whole gamut of Catholic teaching, but delve deep into philosophy, law, and every kind of moral discourse, to sustain it in the fora of modern discussion. They are not just yet another trio of wet modern lefty liberals mascarading as Catholics. They are firmly on the side of traditional Christian morality in all its aspects and irrespective of whether it is found attractive by 'modern' thought.

These writers concluded that the concept of Nuclear deterrence is indissolubly linked with a real intention, in certain contingencies, actually to use nuclear weapons. And they demonstrated, in my view conclusively, that such a contingent intention stands condemned by the traditional doctrine of the Catholic tradition with regard to the Just War.

I do not suggest that these three writers are infallible; or that the infallible magisterium of the Church has formally uttered such a judgement.

But I do suggest that, before joining the bought, chattering, exponents of the Establishment view (neatly expressed in this contemptuously unargued Times leading article), traditionalists should first have read the Grisez/Finnis/Boyle book, and be able to explain to themselves ... and hoffentlich to others ... exactly where (in their view) its logical faults lie.

Traditional Catholic morality often finds more common cause with political views of the 'Right' than it does with those of the 'Left'. But I hope that we are rather more than just chaplains to the 'Right'.

The first fifteen comments date from the first showing of this piece.


Patricius said...

In my experience Father, ''traditionalist'' Catholics are vastly ignorant and unpleasant people with an unfounded triumphalist sort of air about them.

Gideon Ertner said...

In fact, on the 'Catholic FAQ' page of FSSPX USA you will find nuclear weapons soundly condemned (along with other modern ills such as capitalism): http://www.sspx.org/catholicfaqs.html

I have always held a moderate 'Conservative' position on nuclear weapons, until very recently, when by means of thorough moral enquiry (fueled by Traditionalist hermeneutics) I have come to believe that even posession of nuclear weapons is gravely immoral and that it is better for a nation to be enslaved by a foreign power than resort to the use of such dreadful means of self-defence.

The Raven (C. Corax) said...

I have always been of the view that the labels of "left" & "right" are only of any use to worshippers at the altar of political opinion: 'ore normal people will entertain ideas from all sides of the political spectrum (e.g. It is not uncommon for people that hold "rightist" views on law and order to hold "leftist/statist" economic opinions).

As a self identified Catholic traditionalist, Patricius, may I express my high opinion of your erudite, well argued post? To paraphrase one of Dr Williams' illustrious predecessors: Traditionalism is like a swimming pool, all of the noise comes from the shallow end.

Christian said...

I am not sure about this one. My patriotism does make me feel that it is important to keep the nuclear deterrent in order to keep our place in the world and defend ourselves. Far more importantly, the example of the Cold War gives me pause for thought. Surely it was better to have those weapons than let communism triumph. I for one think there is much to be said for the "on to Moscow" in 1945 view.

This said, as this excellent article points out, many excellent moral theologians were deeply opposed to all nuclear weapons and I can see that they are very difficult to reconcile with the classic just war theory.

Interestingly, the arch-traditionalist, rather anti-democratic and integralist Cardinal Ottiviani was very strongly opposed to all nuclear weapons.

GOR said...

I can’t say I have given a lot of thought to nuclear weapons in the past. However, in the evolution of weapons of conflict surely we have been here before? When the coat of mail stymied the effectiveness of the arrow or spear was this not a turning point? When the gun made the bow and arrow obsolete was this not a turning point? Or ironclad ships replacing the wooden variety? Or submarines undermining the behemoths of the surface?

So materially, what is the difference between an atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the carpet bombing of cities in WWII? A difference of degree or kind and is it a distinction without a difference? In peacetime weapons can be a deterrent and prevent conflict (as I believe nuclear weapons have done in the past). In war they are an asset and in all-out war one uses all the assets one has – even to “beating them about the head with sticks because that’s all we have” as Churchill is reported to have muttered in an aside in his “we’ll fight them in the streets…” speech.

Hestor said...

Pot kettle black Patricius

Christian said...


The problem is that if one drops a nuclear bomb then one kills indiscriminately. I know that one could say that in modern warfare, anyone producing anything for the other side is a combatant in some sense but this ignores the presence of children and the handicapped (who are more a drain on enemy resources than anything else). If one kills them then one is automatically committing a grave sin and one looses all legitimacy for the war (see Aquinas on just wars). Ergo, nuclear weapons are immoral.

Christian said...

P.S. Traditionalism is necessarily right-wing in the 19th century sense of the word I suppose. It is just that New Right ideas about free markets and nationalism are not one's which a traditionalist must sign up to (especially free market capitalism, which is immoral if taken to extremes). Then again, Aquinas condemns different tax bands as intrinsically unjust.

Fr Terry said...

It is good to recall that on the very day of Hiroshima a leading American moral theologian issued a condemnation of his country's action as violating non-combatant immunity.Whatever subtle reasoning about intention theologians may use to justify possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, the military stands ready to use them and it cannot be doubted they will be used if it is judged "necessary". Thus , possession exposes us to the risk of causing mass destruction and slsughter.

David Lindsay said...

It was the hero of liturgical traditionalism, Cardinal Ottoviani, who wanted Vatican II to condemn nuclear weapons. Well, of course.

And that condemnation is already implicit: the Church's defined doctrine of the just war, one of two positions that Catholics are now explicitly free to hold (of which the other is a pacifism never formally condemned), is wholly irreconcilable to the manufacture, acquisition, maintenance or use of nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological weapons.

GOR said...

Christian, one could use the same argument about any bomb, not just nuclear devices. Once a bomb is dropped or launched at a target it will kill or maim anyone in the immediate vicinity of the target. It doesn't distinguish between 'innocent' and 'guilty', military or non military personnel.

While the so-called 'smart' and 'precision' bombs of today are much more accurate than the ones dropped willy-nilly out of bombers in WWII, they still kill innocent people.

"War is hell" as William Tecumseh Sherman noted and the innocent always suffer with the guilty.

David Lindsay said...

Numerous Tories with relevant experience – Anthony Head, Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch, Aubrey Jones – were sceptical about, or downright hostile towards, British nuclear weapons in the Fifties and Sixties. In March 1964, while First Lord of the Admiralty and thus responsible for Polaris, George Jellicoe suggested that Britain might pool her nuclear deterrent with the rest of NATO. Enoch Powell denounced the whole thing as not just anything but independent in practice, but also immoral in principle.

The rural populist John G Diefenbaker, who opposed official bilingualism in Canada’s English-speaking provinces, and who campaigned for his flag to remain the Canadian Red Ensign with the Union Flag in its corner, also kept JFK’s nukes off Canadian soil.

Gaitskell’s Campaign for Democratic Socialism explicitly supported the unilateral renunciation of Britain’s nuclear weapons, and the document Policy for Peace, on which Gaitskell eventually won his battle at the 1961 Labour Conference, stated: “Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since that neither strengthens the alliance, nor is it now a sensible use of our limited resources.”

There could not be bigger and more unwise spending, or a more ineffective example of the “Big State”, than nuclear weapons in general and Trident in particular. Diverting enormous sums of money towards public services, towards the relief of poverty at home and abroad, and towards paying off our national debt, precisely by reasserting control over our own defence capability, would represent a most significant step towards One Nation politics, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation. It is what Disraeli would have done.

Ernest said...

People may in this connexion recall the arguments of Elizabeth Anscombe, philosopher (Oxford and Professor of Philosophy, Cambridge). I quote from The Siris website:
< When in 1956 it was proposed that Harry Truman should be given an honorary Oxford degree, Elizabeth Anscombe protested, and the eventual result was a classic of 20th-century just war theory: 'Mr. Truman's Degree'. Her stance was unequivocal:
'For me to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder, and murder is one of the worst of human actions.... She determinedly opposed Truman's honorary degree. She conceded that the bombs might have saved a large number of lives. But this is doing evil that good may come...>
A Catholic cannot content himself or herself with parroting "liberal Western" views on matters such as the validity of (the possession of) nuclear weapons, or indeed on any matter at all.

Sir Watkin said...

A couple of questions:

1. Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki instances of "doing evil that good may come" or of minor malum? If so (either way), why?

2. Would the putative condemnation of nuclear weapons apply to low yield tactical nuclear weapons (e.g. artillery shells) intended for use on the battlefield?

The Moderate Jacobite said...

The difficulty it seems to me is not in the use of strategic nuclear weapons (which would be immoral in all but the most contrived situations), but rather in their possession and non-use for deterent purposes.

It is widely considered that the threat of nuclear retaliation has been a major factor in preventing large-scale conflict since the Second World War - an argument which has much to commend it. It is also a fact that nobody has been killed by British nuclear weapons fired in anger.

The problem is that for the deterent effect to work, their use must be plausible. If we had a Catholic government and a journalist were to ask whether nuclear weapons could be deployed - the only honest answer would be 'no', at which point their deterent effect would vanish.

TheOldCrusader said...

His views on nuclear weapons are one of the very few areas in which I find myself in agreement with the Archbishop.

Sir Watkin: The WWII nuclear bombings cannot be 'doing evil that good may come' because the Japanese government had been trying to find a way to surrender for the best part of a year and the governments of the allied powers knew it.

Fr LR said...

Very true OldCrusader. The powers-that-be wanted a theater in which to "live test" their beautiful new murder machine. Diplomacy would have ended the war with Japan; they are a noble and proud people and if they had been given a face-saving means of capitulation would have accepted terms for surrender.

Capitalism built the bomb. I dare say Henry VIII would have used it to do in France and Ireland what he and the landed peers had done to the monasteries; though I suppose the economic system he nurtured, usury/capitalism, eventually brought them (and all of us) low anyway.

fieldofdreams2010 said...

Capitalism built the first bomb, but Communism was not slow in following, and now everyone wants a bomb.

The Raven (C. Corax) said...


It's rather hard to describe the economies of the US (or indeed the UK) during the Second World War as being "capitalist": both economies, shaped to the necessities of war, were essentially run as command economies throughout the period.

The bomb was and is an artefact of state power, capitalism would never bother with something so destructive of resources and consumers.

Fr Daniel Lloyd said...

I think, pace TheOldCrusader, that the Japanese desire to surrender might have been rather overstated - why, we might ask, did it take until 15th August for the so-called "Jewel-voiced broadcast" which announced the surrender?


Surely the British Right don't really like traditionalist Catholics? Our politics coincide with their politics, but the vapours of foreign-ness pervading our theology surely obscure the congruences in our mutual morality.

Julio said...

I recall reading a journal article by Cardinal Ottaviani which may have condemned nuclear warfare and related things. I cannot find it anymore on the web but it was strong as I recall.

@Patricius-pot,kettle, black.

Священник села said...


The tradition transcends conservative and liberal, or perhaps comprehends both. After all, liberal means generous, and the tradition is exceedingly generous, and grace is without question generous, and no respecter of person. And tradition is certainly about conservation, conserving that which has been handed down - 'traditioned' - to us, known and loved. The generosity of the tradition should give us pause in assuming an alliance with the mean-spirited, vindictive, moralizing of the 'right-wing' as much as the love of the particular, the given, the familiar, the haecceity should make us suspect of all progressive notion, plans, proposals, dabbling...

Bryan said...

"In this spirit, I encourage the initiatives that seek progressive disarmament and the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons, with a view to their complete elimination from the planet."

Pope Benedict XVI's message to the 2010 UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. (06th May 2010)


Regina pacis opn.

Ernest said...

Trying to understand politics (not an easy thing), I venture the following:
"Right-wing" is commonly used to refer to two, not only very different but sometimes diametrically opposed positions:
* One is the type of conservatism that holds that it is generally in the interest of human beings for institutiones (as the Romans said) to be conserved: or, if you like, for the paternal law to be honoured (thus the family and much else too);
* The other position often called "right-wing" is hyper-liberalism, the free market (of goods and ideas), the notion that "each individual is his own supreme authority" and so on (modern social contract theories - as opposed to Covenant doctrines - derive from this ideology).
The British Conservative Party moved from an eclectic mixture of these two positions to a present-day overwhelming dominance of the second, free-market approach, celebrating the narcissism of "his majesty the individual". (Thus the Party is now, philosophically speaking, a leading instrument of visceral anti-conservatism (with a few marginal remnants that are however becoming ever scarcer. But that is not the Church's problem.)
Whether one calls the defence of conservatism (as opposed to hyper-liberalism) "right-wing" is not so important.
Perhaps it could even be called "left-wing" (in opposition to meaning number 2 of "right-wing").
Bertolt Brecht, who was not exactly a Catholic (in fact, he was one of those Communists whom Fr Hunwicke sometimes refers to, not entirely negatively) mentioned that capitalism (hyper-liberalism) would betray any ideal - including God, of course - for a few per cent more profit.
Si exemplum requires, circumspice.

Ernest said...

P.S. - Though the term "liberalism" has various connotations, I do not believe that in its modern sense it most fundamentally means "generous". It means rather "want-regarding" (see Brian Barry, Political Argument) - i.e. consequent liberals insist on doing no more than to register and aggregate what each individual de facto happens to "wants" and NEVER try to insist on any ideal, since for liberalism an ideal - like belief in God - is no more than a private preference ("I like God, you like brown rice, he likes Manchester United").
This, I think, is roughly the reason why Newman wrote his acute denunciation of liberalism - yes, under that very name: see his Apologia and his Biglietto Speech. Liberalism is a "great mischief", he tells us, which he had "opposed from the first".