Thursday, September 12, 2013

Just Revolutionaries and Guerrillas




by Andrey Derevyankin, an Eternal Revolutionary

   The Christian Church has always recognised the popular right in the last resort to rise up against a tyrant or tyrannical regime. Numerous governments have already capitalised on worldwide condemnations of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network by applying the "terrorist" tag against domestic opponents. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has indicated that he expects moral approval for a campaign against Chechen Resistance. India has stepped up its onslaught against separatists in Kashmir, and China has used the occasion to repress "religious extremists" in Xinjiang. Thus, for the first time, a universal global justification is being asserted for action against local disorders.
   Human rights groups like Amnesty International are warning of an "opportunistic clampdown" on civil liberties. "While the world is looking the other way, abuse and repression can be carried out without fear of rebuke", Amnesty said in its statement (October, 2001). "The horror of the 11 September attacks should not result in other communities around the world being victimised in the name of fighting terrorism."
   The problem looks set to worsen until clearer definitions are established. But these, by accident or design, have been kept vague during the current "war against terrorism". Terrorism, defined as the deliberate targeting of civilians and non-combatants to achieve a climate of fear conducive to the achieving of political ends, can never be justified. Yet in conditions of dictatorship and foreign occupation, resistance can often be used legitimately. In this sense, the attacks on the United States have been a massive stab in the back for human rights everywhere, by threatening to delegitimise the very notion of active opposition to injustice.
   Christian teaching has an important contribution to make in this area.
   St Thomas Aquinas reflected at length on the twin imperatives of obedience and resistance. After considering St Augustine's adage, "Without justice, what else are kingdoms but huge robberies", he concluded that obedience was a moral virtue since it observed "the mean between excess and deficiency". Yet obedience could only be a duty insofar as the order of justice required it. If a prince usurped his authority or issued unjust commands, his subjects were not bound to obey him. Aquinas saw two preconditions for just opposition to tyrannical government.
   First, proportionality: the tyrant's rule must not be "disturbed so inordinately that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government".
   Second, concern for the common good: the tyrant himself must have rebelled against his subjects by asserting "the private good of the ruler to the injury of the multitude".
   With St Thomas's two conditions in mind, the popes of history showed no hesitation in supporting popular revolt where it seemed appropriate. Paul IV announced the deposition of schismatic Protestant rulers and ecclesiastics in 1559, and declared that those abandoning fidelity to them would not be liable to censures or penalties.
   His successor, Pius V, excommunicated and deposed "the servant of vice, Elizabeth, pretended Queen of England, with whom, as in a place of sanctuary, the most nefarious wretches have found refuge", and commanded her subjects to refuse obedience.
   In his famous Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX condemned the notion that "it is lawful to take away obedience from legitimate princes and even rebel against them". On the other hand, he added that where injustice had de facto succeeded, the situation detracted from the binding character of laws.
   In a 1937 encyclical letter, written after anti-Church excesses in Mexico, Pius XI also recalled that the Church "condemns every unjust rebellion or act of violence against the properly constituted civil power". However, "if the civil power should so trample on justice and truth as to destroy even the very foundations of authority", he warned, "there would appear no reason to condemn citizens for uniting to defend the nation and themselves by lawful and appropriate means".
   The Vatican has shown greater circumspection since the Second World War. Although Pius XII called for "a war of effective self-defence" when Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, later pontiffs proved increasingly reluctant to endorse any possibilities of armed struggle.
    In his encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963), Pope John XXIII recalled that people could not be bound by laws or commands "contrary to the moral order and therefore to the will of God". Two years later, however, the Second Vatican Council, in its constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, cautioned that modern armaments had forced "a completely fresh reappraisal of war", adding that these current complexities could "cause incipient wars to develop into full-scale conflict by new methods of infiltration and subversion". In his social encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967), Paul VI called for "solidarity in action" to tackle the material poverty of "those who lack the bare necessities of life", as well as the moral poverty of "those crushed under the weight of their own self-love". But "everyone knows", Paul VI insisted, "that revolutionary uprisings - except where there is a manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country - engender new injustices, introduce new inequities and bring new disasters".
Note the exception.
   Justifications for armed struggle and resistance have been further circumscribed under John Paul II. The Vatican's Instruction on Human Freedom and Liberation of 1986, the second such document to be issued amid heated controversy over liberation theology, warned that the "modern liberation movement" is "contaminated by deadly errors about man's condition and freedom". While the Church's teaching authority accepted armed struggle as a "last resort" against an "obvious and prolonged tyranny".
   In the 1990s, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has extended the paradigms set out by Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, this time listing five conditions for legitimate armed opposition. It can be acceptable when "there is certain, grave and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; all other means of redress have been exhausted; such resistance will not provoke worse disorder; there is well-founded hope of success; it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution".
   And the last two notes.
The most "pacific" men are slave owners:
From twelve Christ's apostles nine were executed...

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