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Rethinking the ‘Just War’

November 15, 2012

Jeff McMahan in The New York Times:

There is very little in the realm of morality that nearly everyone agrees on. Surprising divergences — as moral relativists delight in pointing out — occur among the moral beliefs in different societies. And there are, of course,  fundamental moral disagreements within individual societies as well. Within the United States people hold radically opposing views on abortion, sexual relations, the fair distribution of wealth and many other such issues. The disagreements extend from the particular to the general, for in most areas of morality there are no commonly recognized principles to which people can appeal in trying to resolve their disputes. But there is at least one contentious moral issue for which there is a widely accepted moral theory, one that has been embraced for many centuries by both religious and secular thinkers, not just in the United States, but in many societies. The issue is war and the theory is just war theory.

“Just war theory” refers both to a tradition of thought and to a doctrine that has emerged from that tradition.  There is no one canonical statement of the doctrine but there is a core set of principles that appears, with minor variations, in countless books and articles that discuss the ethics of war in general or the morality of certain wars in particular.  In recent decades, the most influential defense of the philosophical assumptions of the traditional theory has been Michael Walzer’s classic book, “Just and Unjust Wars,” which also presents his understanding of the theory’s implications for a range of issues, such as preemptive war, humanitarian intervention, terrorism, and nuclear deterrence.

The traditional just war theory, allied as it has been with the international law of armed conflict, has sustained a remarkable consensus for at least several centuries. [More]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. The Savvy Senorita permalink
    November 18, 2012 7:57 PM

    Hey, great post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    I believe war is and always has been a redundant process. Defence it may have been, but war only ever occurs when one nation wants to subjugate another and usually for their own benefits. War is filled with fallacy and propaganda, and rules of engagement have become ever more obscure, complex and uncertain. I always question the motives to begin a war, as usually there is money to be made by someone, and in the process there are illegal deals, the involvement of criminal organisations (enforcing people to become soldiers, trafficking weapons and women as prostitutes). In short no one wins for very long, and truces are rarely kept. Plus in history wars and invasions have caused centuries of discontent and prejudices; therefore a war is always waging somewhere with someone and it often mutates into a different war (against drugs, the Mafia, corruption and so on and so on) Look at Northern Ireland, and Iraq.
    Bex .

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