Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CCC on Armed Resistance

A while back some friends and I were discussing the conditions that must be met in a hypothetical scenario for armed resistance against the government to be justified according to Catholic social teaching (don't worry - it was really only hypothetical). We used the guidelines laid down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2243) as our norm. As we discussed various hypothetical scenarios, using the CCC as our guiding light, I began to see that this question is not nearly as easy to parse out as I thought and that the CCC's "guidelines" for when we can have recourse to armed resistance are practically useless when you attempt to apply them concretely.

Let's review what the CCC says on the issue of armed resistance. Here is paragraph 2243:

Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution. 

These will be our five criteria in examining when, in a given situation, it is just for persons to resort to armed resistance against their government. In this strictly hypothetical scenario, the government in question will be our own government and the conditions will be our current conditions or future ones that are reasonably able to be deduced as the outcome or logical end of our current condition.

1)  There is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights.

My first question upon reading this is what is a "fundamental right?" Usually the phrase "fundamental rights" is used to denote life issues and abuses relating to human dignity, the fundamental right to life, etc. But is this narrow interpretation of "fundamental rights" really justified? If we look to another part of the CCC, the section on sin, we find a listing of the traditional "sins that cry to heaven for vengeance." They are:

The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel [murder], the sin of the Sodomites [homosexual acts], the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt [political oppression], the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan, injustice to the wage earner (CCC 1867).

May we reasonably conclude that any of these "sins that cry to heaven" could be said to be violations of "fundamental rights" if done on an institutional level by some government? I think this is reasonable; it is hard to see how a sin that is so horrendous that it "cries to heaven" would not be a violation of a "fundamental right." In fact, we could make the connection that these sins cry to heaven precisely because they violate some fundamental right.

If this is so, then we have to take into account not only offenses against life (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) but also social ills like the widespread acceptance of homosexuality and even economic factors (defrauding workers of their wages). But in order for the presence of these evils to be relevant to our discussion of armed resistance, it seems that they would to be not only present in society, but actively tolerated and even supported by the government.

Obviously one could (and many have) had this discussion in the context of government sponsored abortion. But what about laws that grant homosexuals a privileged legal status by extending "civil rights" to their lifestyle? More intriguingly, what about excessive federal, state and local taxation? A worker has a right to his wages. While some taxation is just, is it just to take up to 32% of a man's income in fees, federal, state and local axes and witholdings in order fund excessive government waste, abortion, and a bloated bureaucracy that has a legendary reputation for inefficiency and corruption?

Another question - whose "fundamental rights" have to be violated for resistance to be just? For example, what if the rights of only a small minority are being violated (e.g., the unborn)? Are the vast majority of those whose rights are perfectly secure justified in revolt on behalf of the small minority whose rights are not safeguarded? Or does the CCC envision an oppression that is more broad and general?

One could of course say that if the rights of a minority are not secure, then really nobody's rights are, since it is conceivable that a government that can't respect the right to life of a baby will not respect the right to life of anyone else. However, the CCC says that the violations need to be certain (not hypothetical); they need also be grave and prolonged (i.e., not occurring once in awhile but on a constant, institutional scale).

Taking all of this information together,we can see that this first guideline leaves a lot of things up in the air: How grave is grave? Does "fundamental rights" apply strictly to life issues or to broader things, such as institutional support of "sins that cry to heaven?" How much of the population has to be deprived of these rights before recourse to arms is just? Also not addressed is whether a non-oppressed segment of the populace can have recourse to arms on the part of the oppressed element, who may be incapable of aiding themselves. If so, when and who makes this judgment?

One last thing - it is interesting to look back at history and various rebellions Catholics have been engaged in and see how violations of "fundamental rights" were interpreted in the past. The German Catholics of the 11th century felt justified in open revolt against Emperor Henry IV based solely on the fact that he had been excommunicated; the Catholic of England during the Pilgrimage of Grace had their justification in Henry VIII's closure of the monasteries and the promulgation of the Book of Common Prayer. Do the authors of the CCC envision these scenarios as just revolts?

2) All other means of redress have been exhausted.

This one leads to the most problems - no matter what one does to try to secure peace, one could always conceivably suggest that more could have been done. How is anyone to tell with certainty when "all" other means of redress have been "exhausted?" Perhaps negotiations have failed, but it could always be said that more negotiations may have produced a different result, or perhaps trying with different people involved, or at a more fortuitous time, etc. In short, one can always make the claim that there are still more "means of redress" that have not been exhausted before one resorts to armed resistance. It is a very ambiguous and practically meaningless guideline if one is trying to use it to make concrete, prudential decisions. I suppose it has value in a very generic way: try everything first before resorting to violence. That's a helpful platitude, but it breaks down as soon as you attempt to apply it to your situation - okay, have we really tried everything else?

For example, when, practically speaking, do pro-life Americans decide that "every effort" short of violence has been made to stop abortion? Some could argue of the great gains that the pro-life cause has made in recent decades, successful state bans of partial birth abortion, etc. But others could argue that, after 37 years, if abortions are still happening at a rate of about 4,000 per day, then clearly our strategy is lacking and perhaps every other "means of redress" has been exhausted.

This brings up another problem - who decides when every means of redress has been exhausted? Does the CCC envision some sort of organized "Committees of Correspondence" type delegation making these decisions, or is it something left to the conscience of the individual? For example, back in February of this year, a man furious with the IRS committed suicide by crashing his plane into an IRS office building in Texas (story). The guy was a raving madman and of course suicide is never condoned, but here is an interesting thing to think about: every means of redress had been exhausted, for him. When Scott Roeder shot abortionist George Tiller in 2009, clearly Roeder felt every other means of redress had been exhausted in this case. In both of these situations, individuals were motivated to commit acts of violence on the personal belief that they had exhausted all other avenues.

Now, many will jump up and say, "But that's not for them to judge!" Then whose job is it? When the CCC says that armed resistance to the government is not legitimate unless all other means of redress have been exhausted, does this mean every individual makes this judgment in their conscience? Or does it refer to perhaps some organized "revolutionary" body making these judgments? And, since the CCC views all armed revolts as almost always unjustified, how can a revolutionary organization make such a judgment with any legitimacy?

3) Such resistance will not provoke worse disorders.

Like the second point about all means of redress being exhausted, this guidelines suffers from the fact that nobody can know if and how it will ever be met.

First, what constitutes a "disorder?" Violence is obviously a disorder. Is economic collapse a disorder? Is, say, 1/4 of Americans losing their homes a disorder? What about an environmental disaster? What about corruption at high levels, etc. We really can have no way of knowing what sorts of disorders, other than violence, the CCC is speaking of here.

Which leads to the following question: if armed resistance cannot provoke "worse disorders", how do we objectively measure which disorder is worse than another, especially if they are of two different types? Is the displacement of 100,000 people a worse disorder than the killing of 100? Is an economic collapse a worse disorder than rampant abuse of power? Is the subversion of the Constitution by a powerful elite a worse disorder than a Constitutional crisis in the wake of some sort of uprising? How can we even begin to measure these sorts of things against one another and determine when "worse disorders" will be provoked?

Even if we were talking strictly about violence, are we to automatically take a mathematical approach, for example, "Well, if we resort to armed resistance, we can kill about 50 of their guys, but they might kill 51 of ours, so 51 is worse than 50 and therefore we can't have recourse to arms"? Nobody makes judgments based on that sort of thinking in real life; besides, even if numbers were equivalent, this approach does not take into account what types of casualties are being incurred. For example, is 100 men killed in combat "better" than 25 innocent civilians killed? Even though 100 is four times the amount, many would make the argument that, if anybody has to risk their life, its better than people be killed in battle, armed, than that even a small amount perish who are unarmed.

My point with all this is, as with the second criteria, there is no meaningful way to measure when a "worse disorder" will occur as a result of ones actions, especially when there can be no certainty of how the other side will react.

Furthermore, even supposing the government being revolted against would employ harsh measures against a revolt, provoking "worse disorders", is this really a sign that the people should not have recourse to armed resistance, or is it perhaps evidence that they should? For example, suppose the government said (and this is purely hypothetical), "In the case of an armed revolt from the citizens of Texas, we will immediately apprehend, detain and deport every single inhabitant of the state of Texas to concentration camps for an indeterminate amount of time." This would be an obviously draconian measure, and certainly could qualify as a "worse disorder." Yet, would not the fact that the government would make this kind of threat (in this scenario) constitute a greater reason for revolt against it rather than a reason to submit?

4) There is well-founded hope of success.

How on earth can anybody know that ahead of time? Sometimes even the best-planned revolts/coups fail (consider Hitler's "miraculous" escape from the Stauffenberg bomb plot) while revolts that nobody would bet on succeeding end up gaining momentum - would anyone who saw the rag-tag Lexington militia flee before the British on April 19th, 1775 imagine that the colonists would ultimately win their independence from the mightiest empire on earth?

Furthermore, it depends on what success is defined by. Is it independence, as in our own revolt against Great Britain? Is it secession? Whole scale revolution and the dismantling of the previous system? Is it the simple recognition of previously unrecognized rights, as occurred in ancient Rome in the struggles of the plebeians against the patricians? I can see that there should be some potentially attainable end - it makes little sense to resort to violence if the case is absolutely and utterly futile. But going back to my above point, sometimes it is only in retrospect that one can determine whether or not a cause was futile. The Pilgrimage of Grace was futile, but it didn't seem that way to those involved in it.

And, as with all of these criteria, who makes the judgment of whether the cause has a well-founded chance of success?

5) It is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

This seems like a restating of point two about "exhausting"other means of redress, but a few things:

"Impossible" - very strong word. How do we know when something is not only unlikely but downright "impossible"? Especially when we are not talking about an outcome but just aour ability to "foresee" a better outcome. When is it impossible to "foresee" something?

"Reasonably" -who decides?

"Better solution" - See my above comments on "worse disorders" and means of redress being "exhausted."

What's the conclusion here? Even if you into account everything the CCC gives us on when it is just to have recourse to armed resistance, there are so many variables and questions still left to be resolved that it basically seems to devolve upon the individual to make this judgment for themselves - or at least to acknowledge that there is really no certain way to make this judgment based on the CCC's criteria. Obviously all of Catholic Tradition and history militates against the idea of revolution or rebellion as noble ideas - but there are times when it is justified and it is important to know when. Unfortunately, the CCC does not seem to help.


Nick said...

I'm working my way through Pope Leo XIII encyclicals, and the CCC seems to be pretty in line with the brief "parameters" I've seen in these Encyclicals.

I think it is actually good that this is a 'difficult' question to answer, especially since Leo comes down very hard on insurrections and condemns them quite a bit. And rightly so, since they overturn law at one's whim and destabilize society, as well as undermine the fact all lawful rulership derives it's authority from God and thus must be obeyed (cf Rom 13:1-8).

The intention of these 'guidelines' is not so much to give Catholics something to work with as it is to keep Catholics away from going that direction. The proposition is not outrightly condemned, but the hypothetical grounds are so complex as to cause the individual to think twice (and not stop).

This is indeed the thrust of "traditional" Catholic thought on the matter, and this became very apparent to me while reading Leo XIII.

Just imagine how scary and disturbing it would be if you (or anyone) in a blog of all places could lay out clear grounds for an insurrection. Such would prove ruinous for so many reasons.

Providentially speaking, God allows various political set ups for a variety of reasons, ranging from punishment to preventing a worse evil to a path to a greater good.

Athanasius said...

The big issue with number 4 is that success against the government is highly unlikely. I always tell people who I meet who stockpile weapons, are you going to beat an Abrahms tank? A military helicopter which can fill ever square inch of a football field with a .50 caliber round? Against drones, bombs, and then some of the best trained troops on the planet?

Not likely. Guns are useful against civil unrest, but they are simply useless when we are talking about the government. Thus I think in the modern context #4 is nearly impossible to realize.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Thanks Boniface!

The "Pilgrimage of Grace" troops did have reason to thing they would succeed. They outnumbered the kings men 6 to 1

Another important example is that of Mexico's Cristeros in the late 1920s.

In both cases, the Catholic rebels held a strong hand and then lost most everything thru negotiations.
(the Mexican government rounded up and executed around 5000 of them in the subsequent years) The Church mediated the negotiations!

Jean Myer, in his chronicle of the war, described the Cristero's Foe with whom the Church decided she must negotiate.....One Federal General fell his men in with 'Viva Satanas!' (this was probably to parody 'Viva Cristo Rey'), others would ride horses into Churches and trample the Holy Eucharist underfoot.


BONIFACE said...

I think we need to remember that not all armed resistance is "rebellion" or trying to "overthrow" something. I can envision certain scenarios where persons might be forcibly resisting their government but not trying to overthrow it or otherwise revolt against it. For example, it can hardly be said that the people at Waco in 1992 were trying to "overthrow" the government, yet they took up arms against the Feds when they came. Comments?

Sam Urfer said...

Defining a "Just War" is also a huge headache, nigh close to impossible. And this is not accidental. War and rebellion are morally problematic propositions, under the most ideal circumstances. The ancient Romans really, really hated the very idea of "Rerum Novarum", "New Matters", with a special distaste for "new". On top of that, Christian tradition didn't see the worst evils that the Roman Empire was capable of as a valid reason for rebellion. So, yeah, the bar for valid rebellion is pretty high. Though there are exceptions, as have already been noted.

This is more of a side point about the sins that cry to Heaven for vengence, but it is important to note what is traditionally meant by the sin of Sodom. While homosexuality is by no means a good thing, it is not what God condemned the Sodomites for doing:

"Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her, and of her daughters: and they did not put forth their hand to the needy, and to the poor. And they were lifted up, and committed abominations before me: and I took them away as thou hast seen." (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

And Josephius records:

"the Sodomites, overweeningly proud of their numbers and the extent of their wealth, showed themselves insolent to men and impious to the Divinity, insomuch that they no more remembered the benefits that they had received from him, hated foreigners and declined all intercourse with others. Indignant at this conduct, God accordingly resolved to chastise them for their arrogance... " (Antiquities I: 194-5)

Certainly, the sexual antics of the Sodomites are not unimportant or acceptable, but their principle sin was that of oppressing wayfarers and perverting hospitality. In the book of Judges, the whole of Israel goes to war with the Benjaminites for what is equated as the sin of Sodom, though there the crime is gang rape of a woman passing through. The issue is the mistreatment of strangers, not necessarily the homosexual nature of the scene in Genesis.

Seán said...

I'll sort of throw out a bit of self-promotion. I published a compilation of two parts of Fr Rickaby's works on civil authority. One chapter addresses this called "Resistance to Civil Power". This material is also online, because it is public domain, but I brought it into one volume. I think he addresses this and other topics well even though we are separated by 90 years or so. I also think the topic is pertinent since armed rebellion is talked about more and more each day.

Alcuin said...

If you'll excuse a tangential question:

the sin of the Sodomites [homosexual acts]

Is the sin of the Sodomites homosexual acts alone, or is it that in combination with other things? While scripture is quite clear that homosexual acts are not okay, that only seems to be part of the Sodomites sins:

Genesis 19:
'...the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”'

Can you point to a source offering a clear definition (preferably with explanation)?

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I expect that these types of questions cannot be truly answered, at least in a manner better than that which the catechism has already laid out.

Which of us, confronted with injustice by our own government, is ever in a position to contemplate these questions?

Rather, we all will fall on our own hill. Some, to protect our children from satanic indoctrination in the schools. Others, from persevering to provide for our families in the face of oppressive taxation and regulation. Yet others, who shall fall upon the hill of "doing the Lord's work." Who will continue to feed the hungry, teach the ignorant, or shelter the homeless, regardless of the licenses, permits, and other red tape from the state. Many will fall just from trying to live their lives according to the example of Christ. Their enemies will be legion: Child Protection Services, ATF, FBI, Local and National Police, Armed Forces, BLM, Various Departments of the Feds or of States, IRS, school boards, EPA, etc. Also to be included are the local collectives such as feminism, talmudic judaism, hollywood, homosexual militants, paganism, homeowner's associations, sharia law, amoral society, and heretics.

We see abuses and animosity of these groups and many more around us every day. How many people have been killed, raped, or maimed by the ghetto rap culture? What? "You can't blame it on the music!" No. The music is to blame, though not entirely. The criminal is just as guilty if he is inspired by rap songs, as if he is inspired by the esprit de corps of the 'thin blue line.'

Our battles must be fought alone. The academics of this question will never be ours to answer in blood, because even if we join ourselves to the Cristero movements of the future, we will not be involved in the larger picture.

Instead, like Christ, we will partake of our Chalice, and suffer our Passion mostly alone. We will have been abandoned by many of our friends and families, by those whom we have helped, yet we will find consolation from those who participate in our trials, such as unwilling Simon of Cyrene, Dismas the good theif, and the centurian who admitted that Christ was the Son of God.

It was a failing of Judas, and many like him, to expect that there would be a situation where all would be made clear, and Christ would reign from an earthly throne. We have only to look to the martyrs to see the example we should follow. They gave all for their duty, and neither contemplated the benefits of their actions, nor weighted the possible outcomes. The simply remained steadfast in their love of Christ and their neighbor.