This essay explores the idea of just war in two ways. Part I outlines the formation, early development, and substantive content of just war tradition in its classic form, sketches the subsequent development of this idea in the modern period, and examines three benchmarks in the recovery of just war thinking in American thought over the last four decades. Part II identifies and critiques several prominent themes in contemporary just war discourse, testing them against the context, purpose, and content of (...) the just war idea in its classic form. My argument throughout is that the historical substance of just war tradition needs to be respected in contemporary just war discourse, both to discipline that discourse and to engage contemporary moral reflection with the values embodied in just war tradition. (shrink)
Now that mankind has created the capability of destroying itself through nuclear technology, is it still possible to think in terms of a "just war"? Johnson argues that it is, and in the context of specific case studies he offers moral guidelines for addressing such major contemporary problems as terrorist activity in a foreign country, an individual’s conscientious objection to military service, and an American defense policy that requires development of weapons that may be morally employed in case of need. (...) "Remarkable.... A thoughtful and even profound book, which can be warmly recommended."—Adam Roberts, _New Society_ __ "[A] wise, prudential, and moral thesis.... A most important book, one that all Americans who can should read."—George Armstrong Kelly, _Political Science Quarterly_ __ "At its heart, _Can Modern War be Just? _Is a challenge to the common assumption that any modern war must be total—an unrestrained, spasmodic release of one’s entire destructive capacity against the whole of the enemy’s population."—Richard Allen, _Journal of Religious Ethics_ __ "Johnson... seriously attempt[s] to balance principles and respect facts. For this he is to be praised."—Gary Jason, _Chronicles of Culture_ __ "Johnson’s application of just war doctrine to the hardest problems of contemporary warfare is both morally sensitive and intellectually bold. Readers will sometimes disagree with his arguments, but they will be forced to think hard, and they will learn what it is to work within a moral tradition."—Michael Walzer. (shrink)
What is, or should be, the role of defense in thinking about the justification of use of armed force? Contemporary just war thinking prioritizes defense as the principal, and perhaps the only, just cause for resorting to armed force. By contrast, classic just war tradition, while recognizing defense as justification for use of force by private persons, did not reason from self-defense to the justification of the use of force on behalf of the political community, but instead rendered the idea (...) of just cause for resort to force in terms of the sovereign's responsibility to maintain justice, vindicating those who had suffered from injustice and punishing evildoers. This paper moves through three major stages in the historical development of just war thinking, first examining a critical phase in the formation of the classical idea of just cause as the responsibility to maintain justice, then discussing the shift, characteristic of the modern period, to an idea of sovereignty as connected to the state and the prioritization of defense of the state as just cause for use of force, and lastly showing how this conception of the priority of defense became part of the recovery of just war thinking in the latter part of the twentieth century. The paper concludes by noting recent changes in thought on international law that tend to emphasize justice at the expense of the right of self-defense, suggesting that the roots of just war thinking imply the need for a similar rethinking of contemporary just war discourse. (shrink)
In contrast to the period when the "Journal of Religious Ethics" began publishing, the study of religion in relation to war and connected issues has prospered in recent years. This article examines three collections of essays providing comparative perspectives on these topics, two recently authored studies of Buddhism and Islam in relation to war, and a compendious collection of texts on Western moral tradition concerning war, peace, and related issues from classical Greece and Rome to the present.
Recent just war thought has tended to prioritize just cause among the moral criteria to be satisfied for resort to armed force, reducing the requirement of sovereign authority to a secondary, supporting role: such authority is to act in response to the establishment of just cause. By contrast, Aquinas and Luther, two benchmark figures in the development of Christian thought on just war, unambiguously gave priority to the requirement of sovereign authority as instituted by God to carry out the responsibilities (...) of ensuring a just and peaceful order in the world. On this conception it is the sovereign, in deciding whether to resort to armed force, who must make sure to satisfy the other moral requirements of the jus ad bellum. This paper examines Aquinas and Luther on sovereign authority for use of armed force. Recapturing the importance of this conception is important both for the proper understanding of just war tradition and for working out its implications for such contemporary issues as humanitarian intervention and "regime change.". (shrink)
This essay responds to the six essays on my thought above, doing so both directly on particularly important points and indirectly through my own reflections on how I understand my work and its development.
While the origin and development of the just war tradition until the early modern period blended concerns, ideas, and practices from the moral, legal, political, and military spheres, from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth it largely disappeared as a conscious source of moral reflection about war and its restraint. Beginning in the 1960s, however, American theologian Paul Ramsey initiated a recovery of just war thinking in a series of writings applying the principles of discrimination and proportionality, ideas he traced (...) both to Augustinian theology and to natural law, to the debate over nuclear weapons and later to the Vietnam War. Ramsey's work directly engaged both theological and policy debate over military force, initiating lines of reflection that have since developed further and become increasingly institutionalized. This brief essay examines the nature of Ramsey's just war thought and its influence over the last 40 years. (shrink)
Christians have historically differed as to whether the wrongness of an act is to be located in the objective character of the act or in the intention of the agent. By blurring this distinction, Alain Epp Weaver fails to see the real principle of consistency that unites Augustine's analyses of warfare and lying. Likewise, by not appreciating the fact that Augustine analyzes the wrongness of the act in terms of intention whereas Yoder analyzes its wrongness in terms of its objective (...) character, Weaver proposes a conversation between two figures who lack the framework of shared assumptions that makes engagement in conversation possible. (shrink)
Has moral relativism run its course? The threat of 9/11, terrorism, reproductive technology, and globalization has forced us to ask anew whether there are universal moral truths upon which to base ethical and political judgments. In this timely edited collection, distinguished scholars present and test the best answers to this question. These insightful responses temper the strong antithesis between universalism and relativism and retain sensitivity to how language and history shape the context of our moral decisions. This important and relevant (...) work of contemporary political and social thought is ideal for use in the classroom across many disciplines, including political science, philosophy, ethics, law, and theology. (shrink)
In addition to noting significant differences of interpretation between me and Kristopher Norris on understanding classic just war thought and judging its importance, this Comment flags errors of fact and faulty logic in the Norris essay.
The late twentieth century has provided both reasons and occasions for reassessing just war theory as an organizing framework for the moral analysis of war. Books by G. Scott Davis, James T. Johnson, and John Kelsay, together with essays by Jeffrey Stout, Charles Butterworth, David Little, Bruce Lawrence, Courtney Campbell, and Tamara Sonn, signal a remarkable shift in war studies as they enlarge the cultural lens through which the interests and forces at play in political violence are identified and evaluated. (...) In his review of the contribution made by these texts, the author focuses on the cohesion of just war theory, the asymmetry between Christian and Islamic attitudes toward holy war, and the need to develop just war theory into a tool adequate to assist in the moral evaluation of violent conflicts within, not just between, nation-states. (shrink)
Abstract [Remarks at the 10th-anniversary conference for the Journal of Military Ethics, Oslo, Norway, 9 September 2011, arranged by the journal in collaboration with the Norwegian Defence University College, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Bj?rknes College.].
Beginning with the support given by religious groups to humanitarian intervention for the protection of basic human rights in the debates of the 1990s, this essay examines the use of the human rights idea in relation to international law on armed conflict, the “Responsibility To Protect” doctrine, and the development of the idea of sovereignty associated with the “Westphalian system” of international order, identifying a dilemma: that the idea of human rights undergirds both the principle of non-intervention in the internal (...) affairs of states and the idea of an international responsibility for humanitarian intervention in cases of oppression. The pre-Westphalian conception of sovereignty as moral responsibility for the common good is then examined as an alternative that avoids this dilemma, and the essay concludes by suggesting that religious ethics also has other resources that, if used, may shed useful light on resolving this problem. (shrink)
“Stab, smite, slay!” These are not the words of Bashar al-Assad telling his forces how they should deal with the Syrian rebel movement, or indeed those of any other contemporary political leader, but rather the words of Martin Luther exhorting the German nobility to a harsh response to the peasants' rebellion of 1524–1525. His writings show that he sympathized with many of the peasants' grievances so long as these did not issue in rebellion, but when they turned to force of (...) arms, he responded sternly. This was not a peculiarity of Luther. Consider the following from an English courtier, Thomas Churchyard, writing admiringly of the treatment of Irish rebels in 1579 by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, commander of the English army sent to put down the rebellion: He further tooke this order infringeable, that when soever he made any ostyng [military campaign], or inrode, into the enemies Countrey, he killed manne, woman, and child, and spoiled, wasted, and burned, by the grounde all that he might, leavyng nothing of the enemies in saffetie, whiche he could possiblie waste, or consume. (shrink)
Can history serve to uphold democracy as an ethical standard of governance? The author suggests that the basic and cross-temporal cornerstones of morality, the family and religion, serve as "intermediate" social structures in attaining the central virtues of a moral democracy.
While Biggar in chapter 2 of his In Defence of War cites Augustine in support of an argument for forgiveness and reconciliation, this paper argues through a close look at Augustine’s Letters 95 and 139 and Book I of his On Christian Doctrine that Augustine’s view of how the Donatists should be treated focused on their punishment, not on reconciliation in the sense Biggar describes.
Since World War II human rights language has come to occupy a central place in moral and legal discourse on the justification and limitation of armed conflict. At the core of contemporary international humanitarian law, concern for human rights has also developed as a vehicle for identifying and expressing moral concerns held in common across diverse cultural systems.
In its classic form the doctrine of the just war, whether enunciated by theological or secular theorists, had two main components: the jus ad bellum, which defined the morally acceptable limits within which a sovereign could and even should go to war, and the jus in bello, which set limits to the conduct of war. By contrast, today the problem of just limitation of war is addressed almost entirely by legal and theoretical attempts to refine the jus in bello, while (...) there exists only a morally truncated and politically ineffective jus ad bellum. What is the contemporary status of the jus ad bellum and what makes it politically and morally inadequate are the issues I wish to address directly in this paper. Indirectly, however, I wish to speak to more fundamental questions: what are the ingredients of a moral doctrine limiting resort to war, and what is required for this to be politically workable as well? The final goal, which is far beyond the scope of this paper, is to reconstruct for our own time a doctrine on the just limitation of war which would restore the dual thrust of just war doctrine in its classic form. (shrink)
Beginning with a sketch of the major moral ideas contained in just war tradition, this essay applies them to three controverted issues in contemporary military debate: nuclear deterrence strategy, the strategic defense initiative, and the possibility of building and deploying fractional megatonnage nuclear weapons on delivery vehicles of extremely high accuracy. It is argued that in terms of the criteria of just war tradition, deterrence in its present form poses grave moral problems. The two new weapons systems are then examined (...) in terms of whether, by just war criteria, they represent more moral means of defense than contemporary nuclear deterrence. (shrink)
This essay explores the convergence of theoretical or foundational, historical, and comparative concerns in religious ethics through the examination of two religiously informed traditions on statecraft, that shaped by Augustine's idea of the civitas dei and that shaped by classical Islamic juristic thought on the dar alislam. Three issues are examined for each tradition: the concept of normative political order, the nature of justified use of force, and the implications of their rival claims to universality. The essay shows how the (...) normative logic and implications of each tradition can be properly understood only by attention to its historical development. It further argues that possibilities for conversation between these traditions, difficult or even nonexistent in terms of the original statements of the Augustinian and juristic ideals, may be identified by attention to the historical working out of these ideals in the practice of statecraft within the two cultures. (shrink)