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Longing for the Apocalypse, Now

The longing for justice should direct us in humility toward God.

An aerial view of Mariupol, Ukraine, shows smoke rising from damaged residential buildings following an explosion March 14, 2022, during Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azov Regiment Press Service via Reuters)

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has been hard to resist the lust for justice. Putin’s brutal tactics, along with the pathos of his victims and the courage of Ukrainian resistance, all shared online in real time, induce wrath and a desire to set things right. And it is right to be angry at evil and to desire that justice be done to the wicked.

But the demand for justice must be tempered with prudence and humility, as well as mercy. Let justice be done though the heavens fall? Against a nuclear-armed adversary, the heavens might really fall, with the power of the stars exploding over cities. Though justice may demand that Putin be hanged for war crimes, he is untouchable so long as he controls Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

And so we are left yearning for judgment that is only available through apocalypse. We want the wicked to receive the penalty for their sins and for those who mourn to be comforted. But, contrary to the hawks who imagine the US can impose its will on the world in general and Russia in particular, we are stymied in administering justice on earth. As for divine justice, our culture, at most, half-believes in judgment in a world to come.

Thus, it seems that Putin will get away with it. If peace is made, as we should hope it soon will be—not just for the sake of the combatant nations, but also for those around the world who depend on their grain exports—it will be a peace inclusive of injustice. Putin will achieve some of the ends of his unjust war, though they may have cost more than he expected. But these burdens are not being born by him, but by ordinary Russians who are being impoverished by sanctions and whose sons are dying. The tyrant himself is untouched, and free to enjoy an assortment of pleasures.

In response to this realization we might turn to philosophy, which at its birth addressed the problem of apparently triumphant injustice. Plato provided a portrait of the tyrant as the most wretched of men, for he is enslaved by passions and constantly mutilating his own soul with his wickedness. It seems likely that Putin has made himself incapable of happiness.

Yet that does not seem sufficient. When we consider the misery Putin has inflicted, is it enough that he may not be truly happy? Indeed, even the justice meted out by his defeat, arrest, trial and execution would be insufficient (assuming it were even possible). Sentencing Putin to dance the hemp fandango will not mend the rent bodies of children killed by Russian artillery, nor could years of torture could equal the anguish he has inflicted.

Thus, though we may not believe in it, we nonetheless long for divine apocalypse, with righteousness cleansing the world of its wickedness. Indeed, Plato, despite his arguments for the misery of tyrants, also created myths of rewards and punishments in the afterlife, with the wickedest sentenced to perpetual torment. We desire justice—so long as it is limited. In heaven as on earth, justice comes with risks; we want the war criminals punished, but do not want to be judged ourselves, for though our sins may be lesser, they still keep us far from holiness.

Consequently, we cannot be excluded from a world under judgment, either individually or nationally or culturally. That it is easy to condemn Russia does not mean that critiques of the West do not bite in their turn. Putin’s war is wicked—and the West is decadent. We should be able to recognize that America, as well as our adversaries and rivals, is under judgment.

Acknowledging the universal reality of evil in human hearts does not necessitate moral equivalence or relativism. Rather, understanding it restrains the desire for an apocalypse that applies only to our enemies. Acknowledging our sins, individually and corporately, may thereby encourage us to necessary reforms in our own spheres of life and culture. It will also enable the pursuit of genuine morality in international affairs, an effort that must begin by rightly understanding human finitude and fallibility. It is sometimes necessary to fight, but force of arms cannot eradicate the seed of evil from the hearts of men.

The vision of a military victory that will “make the world safe for democracy” or “end all wars” or even bring “an end to evil” is just a secularized eschaton; an illusion of a one-sided apocalypse. Such dreams are dangerous. At best they are diversions from the prudential practice of statesmanship, at worst they encourage self-righteous military recklessness that prevents peace.

The longing for justice should direct us in humility toward God, rather than to earthly schemes for apocalypse now.


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About Nathanael Blake 13 Articles
Nathanael Blake, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has focused on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre and Russell Kirk. He is currently working on a study of J.R.R. Tolkien’s anti-rationalism. He writes from Virginia.

18 Comments

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article.
    While the West maybe decadent, private charities in the US alone have contributed tens of millions of dollars, perhaps more, to provide relief in the Ukraine. I would say far worse than decadence is the West’s intrinsically evil practice of abortion. 80 years ago, the US allowed the lesser evil—but still evil—of racial segregation. Nonetheless the US was on the side of angels in taking arms to defeat evil in Germany and Japan. While not lasting, that will still needed justice at the time. Now justice requires that Putin be stopped.

  2. Possibly a bridge too far, this: “The vision of a military victory that will ‘make the world safe for democracy’ or ‘end all wars’ or even bring “an end to evil” is just a secularized eschaton.”

    Earlier points well made, but then seeming to equate Ukraine militarily resisting Putin’s aggression with President Wilson’s expansive ideological delusion toward an eschaton is not fitting or convincing.

    But, now, in support of your overall thesis: “[compared to totalitarianism] “there is no less grave danger [from] an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 101). Considering the Western “culture of death” and now the implications of gender theory and even the lavender mafia within the Church (etc.), might we even speak of making the world safe FROM such democracy?

    This brings us to an accurate understanding of Catholic Social Teaching as the negation of all ideology. And, as based instead on moral theology and moral absolutes (Centesimus Annus, n. 55). Surely the “endless” synodal process and, this week, the “reform” of the curia will better advance this witness and message with unambiguous clarity…

    • What you say is very true, but in a human condition where sin is never extinguished, the lies we desire to live with never leave us. Thus, we are ever prone Orwellian voices of deceit, sadly, currently from our own Pope, who has trivialized and dismissed the liberating clarity of received Catholic moral precepts as “ideology.”

  3. A proxy war engaged by the US, Nato to defeat Russia in Ukraine absent of a negotiated bilateral agreement is virtually equal to inciting nuclear conflict as is a direct military incursion by the West into Ukraine.
    Nathaniel Blake is among the few perceptive ethicists aware of the premonition of a real Apocalypse Now.

    • No one but Putin is responsible for waging this war of aggression. So there are not two sides to this story, but only one.

      Pope Francis called it right for once as on Sunday he identified Russia as the aggressor.

      • “We thought that the president’s media background would predispose them to solve questions of information and freedom of speech like media types who understand these subjects well, said Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine. But unfortunately we see otherwise. The past four months have seen a surge of attempts to control the media. This included pressure on publication owners, demands to political talk shows, attempts to cancel the screening of a documentary film and threats of criminal prosecution against media outlets and journalists (How Zelensky’s administration moves to dismantle press freedom in Ukraine. The Kyiv Independent March 22, 2022).

      • Vladimir Putin is morally responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Added are considerations that do not justify and injustice rather give us a more complete knowledge of democracy in Ukraine.
        “Ukraine has enacted a number of positive reforms since the protest-driven ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. However, corruption remains endemic, and initiatives to combat it are only partially implemented. Attacks against journalists, civil society activists, and members of minority groups are frequent, and police responses are often inadequate” (Freedom House). “During the weekend, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government suspended 11 Ukrainian political parties citing their alleged ‘links with Russia’. While the majority of the suspended parties were small, and some were outright insignificant, one of them, the Opposition Platform for Life, came second in the recent elections and currently holds 44 seats in the 450-seat Ukrainian Parliament” (Al Jazeera).

      • You are correct that there are not two sides to the question of responsibility. The United States is entirely responsible for this war. It knocked over the previous government and installed a puppet regime, to which it then proceeded to move into the U.S.’s military orbit, all the while turning a blind eye to the brutal suppression of Russian rights in the country. As such, Mr. Putin is waging a war of defense and liberation. HH is in error.

  4. https://www.thedivinemercy.org/articles/time-his-visitation – ‘ I have all eternity to deal with them ..’ Lord’s words to St.Faustina ,to help us to see the trials of this life being often like the labor pains that are forgotten afterwards ..
    Lord desiring us to have a taste of heaven too , in taking in the hope and trust as His mercy , to thank and praise Him even in the here and now ,

    as did our Bl. Mother filled with great joy as well as tears on our behalf , from the moment of her Conception ..

    The Love as The Divine Will that poured forth into the Sacred Humanity of The Lord in the pains of The Passion , making reparations for every evil thought and deed ..

    https://www.ltdw.org/newsletter-subscription—publication-orders.html

    Adam,in possession of the Divine Will, blessed to requite The Love with which he was created , bilocating in all of creation seeing the Father’s Love being poured forth in everything , thanking and praising Him ..

    https://www.littlechildreninthedivinewill.com/how-to-pray-the-rounds#:~:text=The%20rounds%20are%20simply%20an,I%20praise%20You!

    Holy souls in purgatory , desiring in earnest to behold the Face of The Father , yet seeing the imperfections from every rebellious thought, awareness of its effects, drawing back in the desire to be purified more in the flames of Love ..

    The hope and trust that purification of minds and hearts , in the grace of repentance in seeing the physical destruction around us being a manifestation of the spiritual destruction that is more rampant ,yearning for the Reign of the Divine Will in hearts and nations as The Way to heal and restore much – such a truth to also counter and spare many from the enemy induced lie to bring on destruction as the means to speed up The Kingdom ..

    Ironic that as the Feast of Annunciation and Consecration approaches , there seems to be efforts through articles even in places that would seem to desire to counter the negativity ,instead inducing contempt / leaven of the Pharisees against the Holy Father , in articles that ‘magnify’/ distort the truth , of the kind of calumnies that were allowed by the errors and lies fed by those around
    St.John X111 and others as was in the life of St.Padre Pio ..
    ? errors from the greed and pride in the wealth – its intricate networks ..
    after all , if one has billions at one’s disposal to feed the ego and lust for vainglory , using God Himself , from the ‘user ‘ mentality at flood water levels through rampant sins against life in own ship , yet coveting in envy – after the Holy Ark ..

    May the invitation of The Father be heard again far and wide , above the snickering whispers of mocking and slander, the grinding of teeth in envy , to let The Spirit open ears to let the words be heard in its depth of tenderness and compassionate Love ..
    to help bring forth the Reign of the Divine Will as the Remedy of all evils ..

    FIAT !

  5. To the editor. How do I post a comment when the firewall prevents it assering I’m patching, when in fact I’m quoting reports not patching?

  6. Thankfully we have an intelligent and experienced President Joe Biden in charge who has the wisdom to handle the situation instead of the last Putin loving idiot.

  7. “That it is easy to condemn Russia does not mean that critiques of the West do not bite in their turn. Putin’s war is wicked—and the West is decadent. We should be able to recognize that America, as well as our adversaries and rivals, is under judgment.”

    You are describing the human condition as it is and has been since Genesis 3. The so-called West has engaged in all variants of decadence, from the jackboots of Rome to the colonialism of European royals and their aristocracy.

    People don’t really long for the apocalypse. St Augustine once described the temptation: they want one more day to indulge. They don’t see it coming, and when the prophet suggests that now is the time, they want to interpret a wider definition that includes tomorrow, next year, this era.

  8. I seem to recall that Blake was a cheerleader for W. Bush’s pointless war in Iraq that was based on lies. Yet when called out on why he had not volunteered to go fight as an able bodied young man he gave the lame excuse that it was others job to do that just as some people are cut out to be policemen, some are firemen, some are soldiers. Not his job in other words. Just go do god’s work but do not include me. (It was on Townhall or an another conservative rag I do not care to look up.)

    Funny that he pontificates on the morality of the war in Ukraine from a point of view against the West now that Muslims are not the target. He seemed to have been all for an apocalypse against Muslims back then. Why is this different?

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