The Necessity of Force

When one reads pacifists it is easy to assume they have forgotten about sin. Pacifists tend to downplay sin and how ugly the world gets. They assume that all men are reasonable and therefore violence is never necessary. Andrew Fulford responds to this at the end of his book, Jesus and Pacifism.  In this section he is critiquing Stanley Hauerwas’ critique of C.S. Lewis.

What I will note is a false assumption…the idea that all people ultimately have a good will. That is, some pacifism assumes that all violent individuals can ultimately be reasoned with, and therefore force is never really necessary. But this is simply not true, or at least we have no evidence to think it is. Violent sociopaths are people who violate this stricture: they are aware they hurt people and that what they are doing is wrong, but they do it anyway. And Scripture testifies that our experience is correct, that such rebellious people do exist…So in fact there is no good reason to assume we can always talk violent people out of their behavior, and that deep down they are all just folks like us. Sometimes they not.

Force is necessary at times because some men are so wicked that they will not listen to reason. For most of us this is as plain as the sun rising. But some pacifists cannot see this at all. I wonder if the Anabaptistic view of sin is one reason why they lean towards pacifism? That question will need to be answered another day. For now, it is clear that violent force is at times necessary.

Six Arguments for Pacifism Answered

Jesus Cleanses the TempleAndrew Fulford in his excellent little book Jesus and Pacifism gives six common arguments pacifists use for “absolute non-violence.”

  1. The Cycle of violence: violence always provokes further violence and never really solves anything.
  2. The Limits of human knowledge: human beings can never truly determine the guilt of another person, and so coercive judgment can never be verified as just.
  3. The Immorality of punishment and vengefulness: the very idea of retribution and vengeance are immoral and barbaric.
  4. The Unloving character of violence: violence is inconsistent with the virtue of love.
  5. The Utopian character of violence: violence can never truly achieve real justice or common good, even while claiming that it can.
  6. Hierarchy as intrinsically dominative: any sort of hierarchy is unjust intrinsically, and thus so too for one person to punish someone under his or her authority.

Fulford writes that all these arguments do not assume that at one point violence was okay, but now it is wrong. Instead they “imply that non-violence has always been ethically obligatory.” The value of this list is that it helps the reader easily spot which argument is being used by a pacifist. Next time you are arguing a pacifist try to decide which argument is being used. He also does a good job of keeping these arguments before the reader as he unfolds his own argument that pacifism is wrong.  Continue reading

Just War Criteria #2: Right Intention

Earlier I looked at the first just criteria for going to war, just cause. Here is the second in the words of Charles and Demy.

Right Intention: Morally guided force will seek to advance a greater good and secure a greater peace then heretofore had existed. Aquinas insists that belligerents should have a right intention “so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.” “It may happen,” he notes, ” that war is declared by the legitimate authority and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through wicked intention.” Unjust war is perhaps best illustrated by what does not constitute right intention. Such scenarios include a sovereign’s pride or reputation, vengeance, national aggrandizement, blood-thirst or lust for power, and territorial expansion. For war to be just, its aim must be a greater good, and that greater good is justly ordered peace…A just response acknowledges the greater goal of a just peace and goes beyond sentiments of hatred and vengeance that are so typical of human behavior. It is cognizant that anything apart from just cause negates the morality of the response.

Again, referring back to my last post, this criteria assumes a moral standard that can be determined through time and wisdom. Many of us look at this criteria and throw up our hands saying, “Who can really know if an intention is good or bad?”  But this assumes no moral standard or at the very least an inability to determine right from wrong in concrete situations.

One more thing to remember is that this is not the only criteria. In other words, good intentions are not enough to make a war righteous. Many a country has violated other just war criteria by declaring that their motives are good.

Just War Criteria #1: Just Cause

tank

There are two different types of just-war criteria. First, there is criteria for going to war. What conditions are necessary to enter a war righteously? Second, there is the criteria for conducting a just war. What is righteous when waging war?  It is possible to violate the first,  in other words go to war for an unjust reason, but conduct the war in a just manner. There are three criteria that just-war thinkers use to determine whether or not going to war is just. Here is the first. This entire quote is from Charles and Demy’s book War, Peace, and Christianity. 

Just Cause. To establish the justness of a cause is to make fundamental moral distinctions-for example between innocence and guilt, between the criminal and punitive act, between retribution and revenge, between egregious human-rights violations (“crimes against humanity”) and the need for humanitarian intervention to restore basic human rights. In principle, just cause is motivated by two chief concerns: to rectify injustice or to prevent injustice; hence Aquinas can argue that “those who are attacked are attacked because they deserve on account of some wrong they have done.”

As fundamental as this idea is to Christianity and to humanity, in our age it difficult to swallow. Why? Many people, even Christians, are not sure objective truth can even be discovered. Can we really tell who is right and who is wrong? Aren’t all sides wrong in a war?  Aren’t we just talking about degrees of guilt with no real innocence? Who can even determine if a cause is just or not? Relativity has infected us to such a degree that many Christians not only cannot tell the difference between innocence and guilt, they are not sure such a difference even exists, at least in the practical area of day to day life.

As I read Charles and Demy’s book one thought that struck me over and over again was that just-war thinking only works in a world of objective truth. If we cannot know what is true and good then justice is lost. For just-war thinking to prevail there must be a standard of guilt and innocence and the belief that with time and wisdom we can determine who the guilty party is in a conflict.

A Presumption Against Injustice, Not War

D-Day

One of the key insights from Charles and Demy’s book is the shift in just-war thinking since World War II. The just war tradition used to proceed on a presumption against injustice. When injustice occurred coercive force could be used to correct that injustice. The use of coercive force would not only be just, but a necessary act of love. We all understand this in domestic situations. If a man steals another man’s car an injustice has occurred. Force could be used to correct that injustice. To allow the thief to go free for the sake of peace is morally repugnant.

But since WWII there has been a move or rather a subversion of just-war thinking where now the presumption is not against injustice, but against force, violence, and war itself. The authors spend quite a bit of time addressing this shift. They do not see it has  good one. It is not in keeping with just-war tradition and most importantly sides with the oppressor and leaves the weak trodden underfoot. Here are a few quotes from early in their book which address this shift.

Thus already in 1960, Roman Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray could write that the use of force was no longer considered a moral means for redress of violated legal rights. The justness of the cause, he worried, has become “irrelevant, ” and [the words in quote marks are from Murray. Bold mine]

“There simply is no longer a right of self-redress; no individual state may presume to take even the cause of justice into its own hands. Whatever the grievance of the state may be, and however objectionable it may find the status quo, warfare undertaken on the sovereign decision of the national state is an immoral means of settling the grievance and for altering existing conditions.” [End Murray quote]

What Murray conceded is applicable to the present day. There exists today-perhaps less so among laypersons but overwhelmingly so in academic circles and in many religious circles-a presumption against war and force in general rather than a presumption against injustice. 

After citing numerous sources that agree with this shift, including the 1983 statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops The Challenge of Peace, Charles and Demy say this

The authors assume that peace is the starting point for thinking about justice and that force cannot be a moral entity…the just-war tradition, however, proceeds on a different assumption. Without justice, peace itself can be illegitimate. Again, in the words of Aquinas, “peace is not a virtue, but the fruit of virtue.” The animating spirit of just-war thinking, properly understood, is that “social charity comes to the aid of the oppressed.” [Citing Paul Ramsey] Therefore, if we categorically rule out the possibility of war or coercive force, we then categorically rule out intervention, which may on occasion be an requirement of love rightly construed. The just-war tradition, hence, strongly qualifies “peace” by acknowledging that if this “peace” is not justly ordered, it may well be illegitimate, even oppressive…As thinkers such as Aquinas and Suarez argue, those who wage war in just manner are not opposed to peace, unless, of course, it is an evil peace.

The authors of these sundry statements [denominational papers against war] mistakenly assume that the just-war tradition begins with a presumption against war; however, this reveals a basic misunderstanding of the tradition.  In its moral justification, the classic just-war position issues out of a presumption against injustice and evil…The just-war position proceeds on the assumption that coercive force per se is not evil and that its application depends on the moral character of those employing it. Correlatively, it understands that there are occasions arising from gross injustice in which, reluctantly, we may need to apply coercive force, even if this means going to war, for the protection and preservation of a third party.

Book Review: War, Peace, and Christianity by Charles and Demy

War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War PerspectiveWar, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective by J. Daryl Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my circles people talk about just war all the time. But rarely was it defined or described. What is a just war? I bought this book hoping for two things: 1. It would give me the basic parameters of just war theory. 2. It would give a me a lot of footnotes that would point me to other sources. I got both of these in spades.

The authors use a question and answer format to describe what just war is, what it is not, some questions that still need answered, and the history of just war. They talk about just war in relation to philosophy/natural law, history, the statesman, the theologian, the combatant, and the individual.They rely heavily on Aquinas, Grotius, Vitoria, and Suarez. The also use a lot of O’Donovan and a current just war writer named James Turner Johnson. They address terrorism, nuclear war, humanitarian intervention, the UN, post war development of countries, non-lethal weapons, “turn the other cheek,” does war violate the command to not kill, did Jesus change our approach to war, is just war only a Christian idea or it can it be found in non-Christian sources, Bonhoeffer’s attempt on Hitler’s life, Ghandi’s pacifism, C.S. Lewis’ writings on war, supreme emergency, the early church on war, including Roland Bainton’s pacifistic reading of the church fathers, criteria for going to war, criteria within a war, private military contractors, ethical development of weapons, Romans 13, etc. etc. The great value of this book is how much ground it covers. You will not get an in depth chapter length discussion of terrorism and just war, but you will get some basic ideas on it. It is an excellent introduction to just war thought, though I doubt any reader will agree with all.

The only drawback I would note is there is a quite a bit of repetition. The reason would seem to be the nature of the book where the questions and answers in various sections overlap with questions and answers in other sections. There are other areas that I would have like more discussion on, such as what makes an authority legitimate, but the sources cited should give provide those if the reader wished to pursue them.

View all my reviews