A Double Life

Our March issue was devoted in its entirety to Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age, a letter drafted by Michael Novak, commented on by many and signed by more than 90. On a later page will be found some additional signatures. Readers of Catholicism in Crisis might have been surprised to see that the April 1 issue of National Review was devoted in its entirety to reprinting the Letter.

Thanks to its appearance in National Review, the Letter reached a far larger readership than would otherwise be the case and that is an enormous plus. That we were not mentioned in the National Review as the journal of origin of the Letter is one of those contretemps to which human events are never immune. William F. Buckley had received a typescript of a draft of the Letter and, convinced of its importance, decided to print it  “. . . unedited, and indeed without consultation with Mr. Novak.” The matter was so urgent that he judged unusual speed was called for. We could not agree more. Mr. Buckley has graciously drawn attention, in his widely syndicated column and in a later issue of National Review, to the Letter’s prior appearance here.

The Letter has thus reached a great many readers and is already exerting a beneficial influence on those concerned about, nuclear weapons and the present geopolitical situation. Buckley recalled that The New Yorker devoted the whole of an August 1945 issue to Hiroshima, recognizing the awesome importance of the beginning of the Atomic Age. A similar sense of urgency led the editors of the National Review to their decision.

Mr. Buckley states the source of that urgency to be the development of “. . . the suggestion that public policy should proceed on the understanding that no use of nuclear weapons is morally defensible, not even the threat of their use as a deterrent . . .” a suggestion he feels is ” . . . nothing less than an eructation in civilized thought, putting, as it does, the protraction of biological life as the first goal of modern man.”

The reader will find below a number of other thoughtful responses to the Letter. Some critics, whose views matter much to us, thought they detected intimations of consequentialism in the Letter, intending by the term a version of the end justifies the means doctrine. That doctrine is as abhorrent to us as it is to them. Father Barry’s article in the April issue should serve to allay those fears but, if not, we shall devote later pages to clarifying the matter.

The Letter, like everything else that appears in Catholicism in Crisis, is both a statement of belief and an invitation to discussion. That is why we are running an unusual number of responses, comments and criticism to it. Alas, we cannot print them all. We have given more space to critical letters although favorable ones were much the more numerous.

Like Mr. Buckley, I made an editorial decision without consulting Michael Novak, and that was to feature his name on the cover of the March issue. He regretted this, feeling that it detracted from the common character of the document, seemingly not acknowledging all those whose comments contributed so much to the final form of the Letter. Well, I think I was right. Michael Novak wrote the original draft and incorporated all the suggestions he received. He is fully deserving of the praise Mr. Buckley and others have given him for the Letter and it is only right that the praise not be diffused.


  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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