This is madness. Failure to meet just war criteria is not a mere technical foible or procedural lapse. An unjust war is among the very greatest of evils. It is mass murder. Yet some people who rightly decry the slaughter of the unborn, fret over potential health hazards of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, and condemn the economic destruction of lockdowns can barely muster a disapproving shake of the head for the dead, the wounded, and the dispossessed of Ukraine. Again, this is madness. What accounts for it?
We find clues in the articles linked to – specifically, in what Lamont has to say about Putin’s false masculinity, in de Mattei’s critique of the oikophobia of Putin’s Western apologists, and in Waldstein’s remarks about the role of the passions in people’s reaction to the war. These factors are united in the delusion that Putin’s actions somehow reflect manful resistance to Western decadence and apostasy.
To be sure, there is no question that the West is indeed There is no question that liberalism is foolish and feckless at best, and that wokeness is . It is nauseating to watch Western politicians, CEOs, and educators routinely grovel before wokeness’s “smelly little orthodoxies” (to borrow Orwell’s phrase), rather than doing everything in their power forever to expunge them from our institutions, root and branch. It is understandable that decent people would be tempted to admire a leader who instead . .
But the temptation must be resisted, and to think that a few traditional-sounding words and gestures make Putin’s invasion of Ukraine one iota less evil is about as stark an example of a non sequitur as can be imagined. Nor is it actually true that he represents a salutary masculine counterpoint to Western effeminacy. Noting the brutality with which Putin targets civilians in war, and the violence and manipulation by which he maintains himself in power, Lamont writes:
This feature of Putin’s rule should be kept in mind by Catholics and conservatives who see him as in some way a defender of traditional or Christian values. Putin’s opposition to gender and LGBT etc. ideology is no doubt genuine. It is of course not a mark of Christian commitment, since Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung also either opposed these things or would have opposed them if they had known about them. The nature and significance of Putin’s opposition to this ideology needs to be understood. It is the opposition of one evil to the evil at the opposite extreme from it. Gender ideology denies manhood entirely. Putin’s actions and ideology spring from an unregenerate masculinity that is twisted into an evil form, that takes the masculine characteristics of aggression and assertion and perverts them into an extreme of brutality and merciless cruelty.
End quote. If the admiration some Catholics and conservatives have for Putin is rash, so too is their apparent forsaking of their own civilization. De Mattei notes how, even when the Western Roman Empire was steeped in decadence, Christians dutifully rallied to its defense against more virile barbarian invaders. They did not let the sins of their homeland blind them to the reality that it was their homeland.
By contrast, some contemporary traditionalists, rather than fighting for the West against all enemies, foreign and domestic, seem more inclined to abandon her to the domestic enemies and root against her in her rivalry with the foreign ones. But genuine masculinity would eschew such defeatism and , in favor of filial loyalty and fighting spirit. De Mattei writes:
The West is the firstborn son of the Church, today increasingly disfigured by Revolution, but still the firstborn. A European who disowns it on the pretext of fighting the New World Order is like a son who disowns his mother…
In the fifth century the Goths, the Vandals, and the Huns invaded the Roman Empire to divide its spoils. Today Russia, China, Turkey, and the Arab world want to seize the rich heritage of the West, which they consider, as has been said, “terminally ill.”
Someone may say: where are you, Stilicho who resisted to the Goths; where are you, Boniface who defended Africa from the Vandals; where are you, Aetius who defeated the Huns? Where are you, Christian warriors who took up arms to defend a world that was dying?
End quote. Now, apart from the situation in Ukraine, the battles most contemporary Christians and traditionalists face are not the violent ones our forebears confronted. They are cultural and political in nature. Yet, as woke insanity spreads throughout government, corporations, the military, and universities, as police are defunded and workers harassed with pointless mandates, the response of some of the people most impressed by Putin’s purported manliness seems to be a “Benedict Option” style retreat: “Flee the blue states! Shun the military and the police force! Run from academia! Quit the corporations! Don’t even bother to vote, the system is rigged! These institutions are all rotten; abandon them to the wokesters!”
Put aside for the moment the irony that a mass exodus of traditionally-minded people from these institutions is exactly what the wokesters want. Put aside the glaringly obvious strategic problem that the more territory you abandon, the smaller and more vulnerable is any area to which you might retreat. The salient question for present purposes is: How is this defeatism manly?
I don’t deny that the circumstances of some particular individuals and families may require relocating, seeking new employment, or what have you. But abandoning institutions to the woke should be the exception rather than the rule. The rule should be fighting tooth and nail for every square inch of cultural and political territory. If an institution is lost, it should never be because it was surrendered. Premature capitulation is not masculine. And, to echo de Mattei, a true son of the West will not despair of her and her institutions or flee from them in fear, but redouble his efforts to reclaim them.
That brings us to some remarks from Fr. Waldstein’s essay:
The passions were given us by our Creator to assist us in acting, to help us respond rightly to the goods and evils that we encounter in this life. The passions are like powerful horses pulling the chariot of the soul toward action. But of course, passion is not a sufficient guide to human action. In order to be good guides to action, passion must be informed and guided by reason. The virtuous man “is not passion’s slave.” This does not mean that he lacks passions, but rather that he feels them in the right way, and toward the right objects, so as to preserve the true good apprehended by reason. Reason is like the charioteer who controls the horses of the passions with reigns and whip, so that they draw the chariot in the right direction, and at the right speed, so that it does not capsize at a corner.
There is a danger in human life of being swept along by passion beyond the measure of reason. This is danger is certainly strong in war time.
End quote. Now, there are certainly some on the anti-Putin side who have let passion cloud their reason – most especially, those eager for NATO to enter the war, which, as Fr. Waldstein argues (and ), would violate just war criteria no less surely than Putin’s invasion does. And some of this fanaticism is clearly motivated by grievances having nothing to do with Ukraine, such as rage at Putin’s anti-LGBT policies and the delusion that the Russians somehow tipped the 2016 U.S. presidential election against Clinton.
But the faults of some of Putin’s critics simply don’t make his invasion of Ukraine any less evil. And those who pretend otherwise have also let passion cloud their reason. If downplaying the gravity of Putin’s crime as a way to “own the libs” has appeal for some, that appeal can only be emotional rather than rational. Needless to say, that too hardly fits any stereotype of masculinity.
At the end of the day, even genuine masculine fortitude and sobriety can only ever be an instrumental cause. From a Catholic point of view, the true solution to the crisis of our age must come from above – from (to give de Mattei the last word) “the triumph of [Our Lady’s] Immaculate Heart over the rubble of the Putin regime, the Chinese communist regime, the Islamic regimes, and those of the corrupt West. Only she can do it; of us she asks an unshakable trust that this will happen, because She has infallibly promised it. This is why our resistance continues.”