Reflections of a Broken Man

On Just War: Part II – Alternatives by StephenMac

** Currently listening to So Long, So Long – DBC**

Why a moral just war theory? Why not? What are the alternatives?

1. Alternative approaches to war

As mentioned last post, just war theory in one sense sits between two moral extremes – realism and pacifism. Realism is a political science term that has at it’s centre the idea of realpolitik or political prudence. In layman’s terms, whatever gets the job done goes. Realism’s central aim is the preservation and survival of the state, and it will do whatever it needs to to maintain that survival: in a word, prudence. In contrast to just war theory, realism holds that the political and the moral are completely different spheres of thought, and therefore should not overlap. While realism is aware of the “moral significance of political action”, it does not believe that morality should limit action, especially when the state’s survival is at stake. As such, realism will advocate a dual morality: a morality of the individual, and a morality of the state. The individual can say that murder is wrong at a personal level, but this should not filter into the state level, or at least in the same way.

At the other extreme is pacifism. Pacifism argues that all war is inherently immoral, and therefore cannot and should not be fought. Realistically, a majority of pacifist thought comes from a Christian standpoint, based most usually on Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. There are two main types: deontological and consequential. Deontological pacifism argues “that there are no situations, real or imaginary, in which resort to war would be the lesser evil” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 279-280). In other words, war involves killing, and killing is inherently wrong, therefore war is inherently wrong. As such, they advocate “passive non-resistance” and alternatives to war. It is important to note that modern Christian deontological pacifists have become somewhat more consequentialist. Rather than war is “inherently wrong”, they argue that there are situations which could theoretically exist in which war may be permissible, yet “the moral constraints on war are interpreted in such a way as to make it highly unlikely that any war would meet the criteria” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 294). More recently, the Christian perspective has moved in this direction, with the US Catholic Bishops (The Challenge of Peace), and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (The Just War Revisited) both advocating a “presumption against war” or a “presumption against violence”, which argues that the Christian scriptures argue first for a peaceful settlement of disputes, and in “exceptional cases” some use of force is permitted (determined by the principles of just war theory).

Consequential pacifists would argue that it’s not war per se that’s wrong, but rather it’s modern form. They would argue that war is theoretically possible, but modern warfare involves the killing of innocents, and the killing of innocents is wrong, therefore modern warfare is wrong. In difference to deontological pacifists, it’s not that killing is wrong, but the killing of innocents is wrong, and modern warfare inherently involves these innocents. If the nature of warfare were to change, then war would be morally possible, whereas the deontological pacifist would say that war itself is wrong, and can never meet the criteria of being moral.