As always, oversimplification is the enemy. We cannot offer one answer for everyone. Remember that humanity is not homogenous, and we should be very cautious about how we enunciate universal norms for behavior. It is not universality itself that should scare us, for the good is of course universal, and has an objective structure that is what it is always and everywhere. There are certain actions which are always incompatible with the pursuit of this universal good, and so it is possible to make universal statements about moral conduct, but these prescriptions can easily become too narrow. Typically we need to stop short of contingent applications. For example, we can state that man always has an obligation to pursue the good, but beyond that we can only proceed with numerous qualifications that take into account the spiritual type we are dealing with, which is to say the actual person situated within time and place. The pursuit of the good will manifest itself with nuances according to context and the spiritual aptitude of the individual. We cannot ignore the diversity of spiritual temperaments found in man and the differences in vocation that they imply without creating a caricature. In fact, the political and philosophical documents that speak most highly of ‘Man’ without context and in the abstract are the ones that have done the most violence to anthropology.
Especially as to the question of resistance to evil, and to whether it is permissible, and to what degree it might even be obligatory, to take another person’s life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We can say that in principle lethal force can be used to resist evil, but this is almost meaningless in itself, since we have not said for whom, against whom, and under what conditions lethal force may be used, and since, outside these undetermined conditions, lethal force would be emphatically prohibited.
We must emphasize that this is not only a question of so-called cultural relativism or diversity, but of the deep difference in spiritual temperament that we find between individuals themselves. Two men might choose opposite paths in the face of the same evil: one might take up the sword and fight, another might turn the other cheek. We cannot immediately determine which of them acted appropriately, since the appropriateness of the response depends not only on the demands of the concrete situation but on the inner condition of the actor. What would be courage for one man might be cowardice for another, and an act that would vanquish evil in one context might fuel it in another.
Does this mean that our discussion is futile since we cannot easily offer ‘categorical’ prescriptions? The relativists would like us to believe so, and frequently this is used as a cheap way of dismissing the whole question. But just because a question is nuanced and difficult does not mean that it cannot be faced at all. It only means that we need to take care not to oversimplify, not to be superficial, not to be hasty in absolutizing.
First and foremost, the difficulty of the question means that we must be honest about the inequality of individuals since, as will become clear, even among men who share the warrior vocation, the extremes of resistance can only be faced by those possessing courage, spiritual clarity, and a properly formed conscience. This territory is spiritually dangerous to an extreme, over and above any element of physical danger that might also be involved.
Although every person lives on the battlefield where the struggle takes place, the ‘front’ at which we are stationed, the role we play, the means we deploy, and the extremes to which we allow ourselves to go, must be guided by an honest appraisal of the virtues we do (and do not) possess. We say again that the resistance to evil manifested by individuals, while ‘categorical’ in the sense of being obligatory, will vary in its form of.
The answer we propose, therefore, must be sophisticated, far more sophisticated than most public debates can admit. Any kind of vagueness, flattery, or ideological sentimentality must be excluded. At the very same time, we will warn the reader that our response, ultimately, will not be as clean or as comforting as that which is offered by the various competing ideologies of today. Such is the nature of things, that at times there is ‘no good answer’ and we must act and speak and live despite the absence of comfortable certainties.