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The object in war is a better state of peace.
-B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

It has long been our belief--indeed it is the defining theme (such as it is) of this website--that all of human affairs and history in the end traces to the tension between two competing impulses: that towards Freedom vs. that towards Security. Now, obviously, this is an oversimplification and requires a great deal of elasticity in those two terms. Moreover, while the two are ultimately antithetical to each other--devolving into anarchy at one end of the spectrum and totalitarianism at the other--it's self-evident that, because both exert their pull on all men, human societies inevitably end up mixing the two in some proportion or another and it may be possible for an essentially decent society to be constructed to either the Left or Right of the midpoint between the two. However, the longer we've adhered to the basic concept and the more issues we've examined through this lens, the more powerful we think it looks as an analytical tool.

The latest example of the dividends it yields comes in the form of trying to reconcile the strange differences in how conservatives and liberals apply "just war" theory. Let's begin by looking at Michael Walzer's immensely influential book: Just and Unjust War--perhaps the seminal Leftist writing on just war. The book is an odd mix of the incontestable and the unsustainable, in which, unfortunately, the latter predominates. Perhaps the problems begin with Mr. Walzer's purpose in writing the book, which was to justify his opposition to the Vietnam War. In particular, the attempt to portray that war as "unjust" on the part of the United States must lead him into a series of assertions that may not have flowed from an impartial application of historic just war theory. But as we'll see, the problems become even greater because Mr. Walzer is apparently part of a broader movement that includes even those in the Catholic Church to fundamentally alter the just war tradition in a way that dramatically disfigures it. From our perspective, we could say that the effort is to turn a theory that developed to serve freedom into one that serves only security.

To begin, Mr. Walzer states the reasons for having a theory of "just war" in a way that is hard to argue with:
[T]he moral reality of war is not fixed by the actual activities of soldiers but by the opinions of mankind. That means, in part, that it is fixed by the activity of philosophers, lawyers, publicists of all sorts.

[T] he truth is that one of the things most of us want, even in war, is to act or seem to act morally.
This is unexceptionable. It is the essence of morality that it exists outside of our own particular circumstances and that it provides us with guidance regardless of what we think is the uniqueness of our situation. An important corollary of that though is that we should be rather hesitant to tamper with time-tested traditional morality, precisely because the temptation is so strong to bend our "morals" to fit our desires and our behaviors.

Here it is necessary to differentiate between the two branches of "just war": jus ad bellum the justice of war and jus in bello justice in war. The latter concerns the means by which we wage war and there it may be appropriate for our standards to change over time and, especially, to take into account the evolution of new political systems and the developments in technology and the like. Thus, the development of nuclear weapons, capable of annihilating entire cities, does require certain rules for the use of such weapons that the development of the catapult did not, just as it may be appropriate to wage war against a democracy in a different way than you would a dictatorship. But even there, the older rules will provide the framework within which we may erect new rules or, hopefully, just adapt those older rules to meet a genuinely changed situation. We'll have little to say about Mr. Walzer's treatment of jus in bello, because, for the most part, it's hard to disagree with things like the need for avoiding civilian casualties and the fundamental injustice of reprisals or of mistreating POWs.

On the other hand, Mr. Walzer's development of jus ad bellum proceeds from a foundation that we reject utterly: "It is a crime to commit aggression". By aggression he means war, so that he begins from the premise that war is in and of itself a bad thing. The centerpiece of the book is a 6 point legalist paradigm that he says should govern this theory of "aggression":
(1) There exists an international society of independent states. [...] (2) This international society has a law that establishes the rights of its members--above all, the rights of territorial integrity and political sovereignty. [...] (3) Any use of force or imminent threat of force by one state against the political sovereignty or territorial integrity of another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act. [...] (4) Aggression justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of self-defense by the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any other member of international society. [...] (5) Nothing but aggression can justify war. [...] (6) Once the aggressor state has been militarily repulsed, it can also be punished.
As he goes on he offers several revisions to these basic rules:
(1) [S]tates may use military force in the face of threats of war, wherever the failure to do so would seriously risk their territorial integrity or political independence. [...] (2, 3, 4) [S]tates can be invaded and wars justly begun to assist secessionist movements (once they have demonstrated their representative character), to balance the prior interventions of other powers, and to rescue peoples threatened with massacres. [...] (5) Except when they are directed against Nazi-like states, just wars are conservative in character; it cannot be their purpose, as it is the purpose of domestic police work, to stamp out illegal violence, but only to cope with particular violent acts.
And he renders these ideas in their entirety as follows:
The defense of rights is a reason for is the only reason. The legalist paradigm rules out every other sort of war. Preventative wars, commercial wars, wars of expansion and conquest, religious crusades, revolutionary wars, military interventions--all these are barred and barred absolutely, in much the same way their domestic equivalents are ruled out in municipal law. Or, to turn the argument around once more, all these constitute aggressive acts on the part of whoever begins them and justify forceful resistance, as their equivalents would in the homes and streets of domestic society.
Pursued to their logical conclusion, as such things always are, we end up with a theory, as is offered now by the Pope and the Catholic Church and other proponents of this legalist paradigm, that war is always unjust except in the very rare circumstances where the combatants are actually fighting to defend themselves after being attacked, and even then they seem dubious. Basically peace is elevated to the be all and end all, to a value and an end in itself, so that it always gets the benefit of the doubt in just war analysis.

But how can this be? This view would make our coming war to depose Saddam Hussein "unjust"--is that necessarily so? Do those of us who take seriously the need to act morally even in war face the definitive prospect of being immoral in pursuing such a war? Listening to the Church and to others who adopt this paradigm it certainly seems so, but how can a theory that requires us to leave a mass-murdering tyrant in control of weapons of mass destruction possibly be moral, let alone morally required? These are the questions that brought us to this book and the answers were terribly unsatisfactory. And the reason for this is that starting point, that we begin by accepting that war is a crime.

Need this be true? Has this view always prevailed in just war theory? It seemed unlikely to us, and so we looked elsewhere and this search brought us to a singularly helpful essay by James Turner Johnson, Just Cause Revisited. He makes the quite convincing case that folks like Mr. Walzer (who he does not mention) and Church theologians have intentionally altered just war theory. As soon as he cites Saint Augustine on just war we know we're in very different territory:
Those wars are customarily called just which have for their end the revenging of injuries, when it is necessary by war to constrain a city or a nation which has not wished to punish an evil action committed by its citizens, or to restore that which has been taken unjustly.
Unlike modern just war theory, which is wholly focussed on the maintenance of the peace, no matter how unjust that peace may be, here we see real moral concerns. Here we have a theory where the end is justice and war may be one of the means to achieve it. As Mr. Johnson says:
[M]edieval concerns about justified warfare were focused quite differently from such concerns in the twentieth century. For much of the present century...there has been an effort to reduce just cause to the case of defense alone. For the medieval thinkers who helped to define the just war idea in its classic form, the emphasis was different. While they saw defense of the neighbor as being at the very basis of the Christian war idea and as a just cause for resort to the sword, what they emphasized was the right and duty of sovereign rulers to authorize resort to force in order to correct violations of justice. Vanderpol summarized the actions of rulers in uses of force to restore a balance that had been disturbed by the action of an evildoer. Evil acts that might be corrected by force did not have to involve force in themselves; they only had to be evil.

Taken in its totality, the medieval concept of just cause had centrally to do with establishing and enforcing a just political and social order, an order that was necessary for the presence of peace. Thus was the developing just war idea related to the three acknowledged goods to politics: order, justice, and peace.
Note that peace is only one among several goals here, and not the primary one. Indeed, a peace which would freeze in place grotesque injustices--so, for example, a theory that requires us to leave Saddam Hussein in place even as he murders hundreds of thousands of his countrymen--can hardly even be said to be moral. Rather, it seems fair to say, Mr. Walzer's legalist paradigm replaces moral concerns with personal security concerns, replaces the effort to create a just world with an effort to create a secure society, even though that means trading the freedom of the citizens of other nations for security for yourself and your countrymen.

Mr. Walzer does not write from a Christian perspective, so he need not be held to the standards of Christianity, but the Church has no excuse for adopting this position. There is something repellent about the Pope--who I revere as a hero of freedom in most regards--demanding that we not liberate the Iraqi people if it means resorting to war. There's a selfishness about this placing of our security above their freedom--unsurprising from the Left but uncharacteristic of the Church--that we simply can not accept. It is not too much to say that just war theory has been demoralized in order to remove several causes for war. Thus has what started as an attempt to reason about the moral reality of war turned into a utopian, or dystopian, retreat from morality.

If, like us, you've been bothered by the form in which just war theory has been presented to us in the current crisis and you can't believe that justice and moral imperatives would ever require that we leave the Iraqis to Saddam's tender mercies, you'll find solace in Mr. Johnson's essay, which is fortunately available on-line. And, if you're a conservative, and believe that freedom trumps security, you'll be gratified to see that tradition agrees with you where just war is concerned, and that this notion of peace at any cost is a modern bastardization by the Left (Christian and secular), which seeks always and only its own security.


Grade: (D+)


See also:

Michael Walzer (2 books reviewed)
Michael Walzer Links:

    -CV: Michael Walzer
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Walzer (The New York Review of Books)
-ESSAY: Notes on a Dangerous Mistake (Michael Walzer, Liberties Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Democratic Duty: The case for democratic solidarity—and against spheres of influence. (MICHAEL WALZER, OCT 6, 2023, Persuasion)
    -ESSAY: Don't Give Up on the Dream of a Liberal Israel (MICHAEL WALZER, AUG 7, 2023, Persuasion)
    -ESSAY: The triumph of just war theory (Michael Walzer, Winter 2002, Social Research)
    -ESSAY: The Right Way (Michael Walzer, March 13, 2003, The New York Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: What a Little War in Iraq Could Do (MICHAEL WALZER, March 7, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Can There Be a Decent Left? (Michael Walzer, Spring 2002, Dissent)
    -ESSAY: INSPECTORS YES, WAR NO.: No Strikes (Michael Walzer, 09.23.02, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Just and Unjust Occupations (Michael Walzer, Winter 2004, Dissent)
-INTERVIEW: Michael Walzer: ‘I Don’t Know If There Was Any Alternative’: Peter Savodnik spoke to political theorist Michael Walzer in October about whether Israel was fighting a just war in Gaza. (Peter Savodnik, April 8, 2024, free Press)
    -INTERVIEW: "Operation Infinite Justice": Ask Michael Walzer! (Timothy Noah, September 20, 2001, Slate)
    EXCERPT: Walzer and the Legalist Paradigm
    -ARCHIVES: "michael walzer" (Find Articles)
    -ESSAY: Walzerês Razor: Is a reasonable, responsible Left possible? (Steven Hayward, March 22, 2002, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Searching for a Better Left: Since September 11, a handful of leftists have undertaken the project of looking for a principled American liberalism. Will they succeed? (Lee Bockhorn, 03/19/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Can There Be A Decent Left? Michael Walzer's Second Thoughts (David Horowitz, March 26, 2002,
    -ESSAY: War and the Fickle Left (Robert Kagan, 12/23/02, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: My Fellow Lefties . . .: Stop it with the American-bashing. (Michael H. Shuman, 02/18/2002, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: As the Left Says No to War, a Journal's Editor Dissents (DANIEL TREIMAN, JANUARY 31, 2003, FORWARD)
    -REVIEW: of Just and Unjust War by Michael Walzer (Gilbert Meilaender, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Michael Walzer on War and Justice by Brian Orend (Kim Allen)
    -What Is a Just War? a review of Arguing About War by Michael Walzer (Garry Wills, NY Review of Books) -REVIEW: of Arguing About War by Michael Walzer and The Lesser Evil by Michael Ignatieff (Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph) -REVIEW: of Arguing About War By Michael Walzer and The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror By Michael Ignatieff (James Mann, American Prospect) -REVIEW: of Arguing about War (David Gordon,
    -REVIEW: of The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective by Michael Walzer (Jonathan Marks, The Bulwark)
    -REVIEW: of The Struggle for a Decent Politics (Andrew Klavan, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of The Struggle for Decent Politics (Peter C. Meilaender, Public Discourse)

Book-related and General Links:

-ETEXT: St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XIX
    -ETEXT: St. Thomas Aquinas :The Summa Theologica : OF WAR
    -Catholic Just
    -Reflections in a Time of War (The Oak Tree)
    -Just War in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (EWTN)
    -INTERVIEW: Father Richard Neuhaus on the Iraqi Crisis: Editor in Chief of First Things Points to Disarmament as a Just Cause (Father Richard Neuhaus, MARCH 10, 2003,
    -ESSAY: The fading of a moral vision for the world (MARTHA NUSSBAUM, APRIL 28, 2003, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: ON THE JUSTICE AND PRUDENCE OF THIS WAR (James V. Schall, S. J., Fall 2001, The Catholic University Law Review)
    -ESSAY: Just War Theory (Alex Moseley, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    -Religion & the Ethics of War (BBC)
    -Principles of the Just War (Vincent Ferraro)
    -SYMPOSIUM: Iraq and Just War: A Symposium: A debate on how just war principles apply to Iraq. Oct 1, 2002
    -STATEMENT: Pre-emption, Iraq, and Just War (David Blankenhorn, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William A. Galston, John Kelsay, Robert Putnam, Theda Skocpol, Max L. Stackhouse, and Paul C. Vitz, Nov 14, 2002)
    -ESSAY: Excusing Terror: The Politics of Ideological Apology (Michael Walzer, 10.22.01, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Jihad and Just War (James Turner Johnson, June 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Onward, Christian Pacifists (George Neumayr, 3/7/2003, American Prowler)
    Just War - or a Just War? (JIMMY CARTER, March 9, 2003, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Justice in War: Just-war theory: with Robert P. George (Kathryn Jean Lopez, October 15, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Good Wars (Darrell Cole, October 2001, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Looking for Justice: Applying the just-war tradition. (John F. Cullinan, December 19, 2002, National Review)
    -ARTICLE: Catholics Debating: Back President or Pope on Iraq? (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, March 6, 2003, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Give Freedom a Chance: Rather than wring our hands, Americans should gird our loins--that is, to fight to win with the conviction that our cause is just. (William Safire, 3/06/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Just War Theory and Self-Determination (Dr. Jan Garrett, December 1996; modified October 18, 2001)
    -ESSAY: The Pious & the War: Iraq and justice (James V. Schall, S. J., February 13, 2003, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Maimonides on war: A religious tradition that President Bush might appreciate (David Klinghoffer, 3/28/03, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Defining a Just War (Richard Falk, October 11, 2001, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: A Just Cause, Not a Just War (Howard Zinn, November 2001, The Progressive)
    -ESSAY: Questioning the Morality of Military Attacks on Civilians (Peter Steinfels, 6 April 2002, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Iraq war might not be a 'just war' (Christian Bourge, October 1, 2002, UPI)
    -ESSAY: Just War and Rights (David Luban, Philosophy and Public Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Terrorism and the Philosophers: Can the ends ever justify the means? (Jim Holt, April 22, 2002, , Slate)
    -ESSAY: During the Persian Gulf War, did the Coalition Air Attack on Withdrawing Iraqi Forces Constitute Permissible "Just War" Conduct? (Stacy R. Obenhaus, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University)
    -ESSAY: The Gulf War: Just or Unjust? (Captain Grose)
    -ESSAY: Is the Pope Catholic? (Paul Jaminet, 3/20/03, Brothers Judd Blog)
    -ETEXT: The Constitution of Liberty within Christendom (Paul Rahe, Fall 1997, Intercollegiate Review)
    -Resources on Just War Theory (USD Values Institute Forum on Just War and the Balkans)
    -Episcopal Church, USA-Chaplains Just War Resources
    -REVIEW: of Morality and Contemporary Warfare. By James Turner Johnson (Keith J. Pavlischek, First Things)

    -ESSAY: Moral Clarity in a Time of War (George Weigel, December 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: Getting "just-war" straight & Pre-emption, Just War and the Defense of World Order (George Weigel, Zenit)
    -ESSAY: Just War and Pre-emption: Three Questions (George Weigel, The Catholic Difference)
    -ESSAY: Reality of terrorism calls for fresh look at just-war tradition (George Weigel, The Catholic Difference)
    -ARCHIVES: Articles by George Weigel (Ethics and Public Policy Center)
    -Catholic Studies Project (EPPC)
    -REVIEW: of LITTLE SAINT By Hannah Green (George Wiegel, Washington Post Book World)
    -INTERVIEW: The Problems of Modern Democracy Samuel Gregg talks with George Weigel (Policy)
    -REVIEW: of John Paul II ¾Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994) (Philip Zaleski, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. By George Weigel (Jon Meacham, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. By George Weigel (James V. Schall, S. J., Homiletic & Pastoral Review)
    -REVIEW:Witness to Hope (Paul Johnson, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Witness to Hope (Elias Crim, Intellectual Capital)
    -REVIEW: The Man of the Century (Lee Edwards, World & I)
    -REVIEW : of Witness To Hope (Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Christianity Today)

    -ESSAY: "Asymmetrical Warfare" & Just War: A moral obligation (Michael Novak, February 10, 2003, , National Review)
    -ESSAY: Civilian Casualties & Turmoil: Lay responsibility re: Iraq (Michael Novak, February 18, 2003, National Review)
    -ESSAY: War to Topple Saddam Is a Moral Obligation (Michael Novak, February 12, 2003, The Times of London)
    -ESSAY: Pious Nonsense; The unholy "Christian" case against war. (Christopher Hitchens, March 10, 2003, Slate)
    -ESSAY: God and Monsters (Michelle Cottle, 03.07.03, New Republic)

    Will It Be a 'Just War' or Just a War?: Centuries-old guidelines can help societies curb the savagery of mass conflict. (Jean Bethke Elshtain, February 19, 2003, LA Times)
   -REVIEW: of THE DISSENT OF THE GOVERNED: A MEDITATION ON LAW, RELIGION, AND LOYALTY by Stephen Carter (Jean Bethke Elshtain , Books & Culture)
   -ARTICLE: Ethicist Argues Bush Has Moral Case for Iraq War (Karen R. Long, February 19, 2003, Religion News Service)
    -REVIEW: of Just War Against Terrorism: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World By Jean Bethke Elshtain (Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -James T. Johnson Home Page (Rutgers)
    -ESSAY: Just Cause Revisited (James Turner Johnson, EXCERPT: from "Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense, and 'Just War' Today")
Just war tradition addresses the morality of the use of force in two parts: when it is right to resort to armed force (the concern of ius ad bellum) and what it is right to do in using such force (the concern of ius in bello). While these two aspects are related, they are also distinct, and the former has priority: if a given resort to force has not been morally justified, then even the most strictly delimited uses are, according to just war tradition, unjust.

The moral requirements of ius in bello are that a use of armed force be discriminate and proportionate. For ius ad bellum, the requirements are that the resort to force (1) have a just cause, (2) be authorized be a competent authority, (3) be motivated by a right intention, and (4) pass four prudential tests: it must (a) be expected to produce a preponderance of good over evil, (b) have a reasonable hope of success, (c) be a last resort, and (d) have peace as its expected outcome.

    -ESSAY: Jihad and Just War (James Turner Johnson, June/July 2002, First Things)
    -ESSAY: In Response to Terror (James Turner Johnson)
    -REVIEW: of Morality and Contemporary Warfare. By James Turner Johnson (Keith J. Pavlischek, First Things)
The concept of just war, Johnson argues, does not begin with a "presumption against war" focused on the harm war may do, but with a presumption against injustice focused on the need for responsible use of force in response to wrongdoing. Force, according to the core meaning of the just war tradition, is a neutral instrument that can be good or evil depending on the use to which it is put. Indeed the set of criteria classified under jus ad bellum-justification for military action-does nothing else than specify the terms under which those in political power are authorized to resort to force. The presumption-against-war position of the NCCB, Johnson insists, is simply not to be found in classic just war teaching, "even in the specifically churchly theorists Augustine and Aquinas to whom Catholic just war theorists generally refer for authority." Rather, it owes its origin more to the influence of modern Catholic pacifists; a preoccupation with the particular issues posed by the threat of nuclear war; the debates over American involvement in Vietnam; an underappreciation of the state system of international relations; and an overly optimistic evaluation of the United Nations.

The presumption-against-war position, Johnson argues, introduces a certain perverse logic into moral reflection on the use of military force, one that helps us account for the irrelevance of much academic and ecclesiastical teaching on the ethics of war. The resort to military force in just war tradition has historically come to be defined through seven moral concepts: just cause, competent authority, right intention, reasonable hope of success, last resort, the goal of peace, and overall proportionality of good over harm. However, both historically (including the writings of Augustine and Aquinas and the early-modern natural law theorists) and in terms of the inner logic of the just war idea, the criteria are not all of equal importance: just cause, competent authority, and right intention have priority. In the classical view, military force is thought of as one tool among several with which statesmen pursue political goods; each of these three guiding criteria, then, is tied to a particular political goodauthority to the good of order, right intention to peace, just cause to justice. The remaining concerns are not unimportant and must be taken seriously. However, being prudential tests, they "are of a qualitatively different character from the deontological criteria" of the first three.

The presumption-against-war position inverts the priority, so that prudential criteria such as reasonable chance of success and last resort (probably the least helpful of the criteria) often are presented at the center of the tradition. Johnson calls this "a serious distortion."

    -REVIEW: of Can Modern War Be Just? By James Turner Johnson (Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones, Theology Today)

    -ESSAY : The War Party's Theologian : President Bush carries on the liberal tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr. (JOSEPH LOCONTE , May 31, 2002, Wall Street Journal) -ESSAY : In the World, but... : Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture is 50 years old-and still has something wise to say to evangelicals. (John G. Stackhouse Jr., Christianity Today, April 22, 2002)