Saturday, February 25, 2012

The idolatry of war

In our fortnightly reading and discussion group ["The Volfians"] today we are looking at two articles by William Cavanaugh.

At odds with the Pope: Legitimate Authority and Just Wars  published in Commonweal in 2003. It argues that Catholics should not support the Iraq war and that contrary to the claims of some neo-conservative Catholics the U.S. government did not meet the criteria of the Catholic Cathecism (2309): "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy [of war] belongs to the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good."

Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the nation state is not the keeper of the common Good published in Modern Theology in 2004.
It makes a strong case that the main driving force in the historical origin of nation-states was the need for ruling elites to organise resources for their wars: collect taxes and recruit soldiers.
Part of the conclusion is particularly apt:

the nation-state is simply not in the common good business. At its most benign, the nation-state is most realistically likened, as in Alasdair MacIntyre’s apt metaphor, to the telephone company, a large bureaucratic provider of goods and services that never quite provides value for money. 
The problem, as MacIntyre notes, is that the nation-state presents itself as so much more; namely, as the keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf. The longing for genuine communion that Christians recognize at the heart of any truly common life is transferred onto the nation-state. Civic virtue and the goods of common life do not simply disappear; as Augustine saw, the earthly city flourishes by producing a distorted image of the heavenly city. The nation-state is a simulacrum of common life, where false order is parasitical on true order. In a bureaucratic order whose main function is to adjudicate struggles for power between various factions, a sense of unity is produced by the only means possible: sacrifice to false gods in war. The nation-state may be understood theologically as a kind of parody of the Church, meant to save us from division.

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