Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is a presumption against war inconsistent with just war tradition?

Commenting on President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, George Weigel laments what he sees as the decline of an authentic just war tradition in our popular discourse.  He is especially concerned that a presumption against war seems to have taken root among those purporting to apply the just war tradition.  Weigel writes:

So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a “presumption against war” (or, as some put it, with a “pacifist premise”) is simply wrong. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate public authority’s moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom. The just-war tradition is not a set of hurdles that moral philosophers, theologians, and clergy set before statesmen. It is a framework for collaborative deliberation about the basic aims of legitimate government as it engages hostile regimes and networks in the world.

Given his outspoken defense of the invasion of Iraq, I take George Weigel's interpretation of the just war tradition with a huge grain of salt.  That said, he knows a lot more about the subject than I do.  If a "presumption against war" is inconsistent with the Catholic intellectual tradition regarding war, then has the Vatican also lost touch with the tradition?  It seems that a presumption against war is an obvious theme in statements by all of the post-WWII popes.  Or check out various statements in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church -- e.g., para. 437 (calling for "the rejection of war as a means for resolving disputes"), para. 438 ("rejection of war"), para. 501 ("engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridicial questions").  Are they wrong?  In past centuries -- when wars were limited and did not threaten the very existence of humanity -- perhaps there was no presumption against war.  But I have a hard time supporting the suggestion that, in the 21st century, any moral or religious framework designed to facilitate serious thinking about war and the human condition should not include a presumption against war.


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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