Monday, June 01, 2009

On the murder of George Tiller

I have seen a number of Catholics question whether the killing of the child-murderer George Tiller was actually an act of murder. In more than one place I have seen an analogy drawn between the act of the killer and the assassination of Hitler planned and attempted by Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. The thinking seems to be that, since both Hitler and Tiller were mass murderers, if killing one can be justified, so can killing the other. The analogy not only fails, but it does dishonor to the memory of Colonel Stauffenberg by associating him with a murderer. I will take the time to spell out why and in what ways the analogy fails for the sake of honoring a true German patriot and hopefully shedding some light on some bad moral philosophy and theology.

First, the analogy fails because Stauffenberg did not attempt to assassinate Hitler simply qua mass murderer, but qua tyrant. And even this can be argued as potentially suspect, since tradition has generally held that a tyrant by usurpation can be justly killed but a tyrant by oppression must be deposed by legal, not extra-legal, means. Indeed, the Syllabus of Pius IX condemned the proposition that, "It is lawful to refuse obedience to legitimate princes, and even to rebel" (prop. 63). See the article from the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia for more information.

Now, it can be argued that a tyrant by oppression can become a tyrant by usurpation when they extend their power in a manner that is contrary to the law and constitution of their nation. As far as I can see, such an argument appears sound. Thus Hitler would have been a tyrant by usurpation after illegally taking the presidential power for himself following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, if for no other reason - and I'm sure that at least a few more, if not many, could be found. But even given this, the analogy fails.

The second reason the analogy fails as follows: even if one is acting against a tyrant, one is only justified in acting if doing so will do less harm to the tyrant's subjects than the tyrant's continued rule (Summa Theologia (hereafter ST), II-II, q. 42 ad 3). Even if Tiller where somehow analogous with a tyrant qua tyrant, this does not hold. The potential lives saved - and they are only potential, since we neither have evidence that anyone who was signed up for an abortion with him would have gone through with it, nor that he would not have eventually been stopped by legal means due to performing abortions after it was legal to do so, nor that the grace of God would not have moved him to repentance, nor that some other doctor will not now willingly step in and take his place due to the fact that the pro-abortion crowd can now treat him as their own twisted version of a martyr - these potential lives saved do not seem to outweigh the potential lives lost due to the marginalization of the pro-life message that will be attempted following the act, a marginalization that will further set back the legal battle against abortion.

But even if the lives saved do potentially outweigh the lives lost, the analogy still fails for a third reason. Tiller was not a tyrant. He did not have any special authority over the abortion laws of his state or of the union. Indeed, he willingly violated those laws that did exist. He was an evil man, but no private individual has the right to take the life of an evil man of his own volition. This authority rests with those people who have responsibility for maintaining the common welfare of society, and here only through those means as set out by the law (ST II-II, q. 62, a. 3c).

Finally, some have offered a hypothetical situation: suppose we find out that the man who killed Tiller was acting in the defense of a child or grandchild who was scheduled to be aborted by Tiller later that week? Even if this hypothetical is true, the act would still be murder for at least two reasons.

First, because self-defense must be proportionate to the threat (ST II-II, q. 62, a. 7c). Since the hypothetical child we are speaking of was not immediately under Tiller's knife, the violence used was not proportional to the immediate threat to the hypothetical child's life. Tiller's attacker could have first attempted to convince the mother of the hypothetical child not to go through with the abortion. Failing that, he could have restrained her until she gave birth. Such an act would have been illegal, but the attacker apparently had no qualms in breaking the law, and such an act would have been proportional to the threat at the time.

Second, even if the physical force used would have been proportional to the threat, a private individual still cannot intend to kill an attacker, only to repulse the attack with the force necessary for doing so (ibidem). To intend otherwise would be to violate the aforementioned rule forbidding private individuals from taking the life of an evildoer of their own volition.

There is no analogy between Tiller's killer and Colonel Stauffenberg. The tradition of Catholic moral philosophy and theology clearly appear to condemn the killing of Tiller as an evil act of murder. We may not do evil that good may come of it. And of those who say we can, I offer only the words of St. Paul: damnatio iusta est, "their damnation is just" (Romans iii.viii).

As for the fall-out of this act, my opinions have already been written. They once again boil down to this: "Unfurl the black banner. Quarter neither asked for nor given. No Surrender, no retreat."

I know that, given the ludicrous, hysterical and void of documentation Homeland Security Report we found out about not two months ago, I may be suspect as a "domestic terrorist" simply because I called a spade a space and said that Tiller was a murderer and evil, even though I did it while condemning his own murder. But I already had a Ron Paul bumper sticker on my car, so I was suspect long before writing this. I plan to become even more suspect by eventually adding a Gadsden flag bumper sticker, a Bonnie Blue flag bumper sticker, a 1st National flag bumper sticker, and maybe even a Jolly Roger bumper sticker. So color me not all that frightened.

Indeed, given that same report, and the fact that the last such murder or attempted murder was over ten years ago, I am not yet certain that this whole thing is not simply a false flag. But I take heart in the fact that today is the memorial of St. Justin Martyr. To quote the saint: "For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us" (First Apology, Chapter 2). "You can kill, but not hurt us." Words to remember when things seem darkest.

No comments: