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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is there (or should there be) a presumption against war in just war theory?

Yesterday I wondered whether George Weigel is correct in insisting that the Catholic just war tradition does not (and should not) include a "presumption against war."  Jonathan Watson points out James Turner Johnson's article on just war theory, including this excerpt:

The idea that Catholic just war teaching begins with a “presumption against war,” more recently phrased as “a strong presumption against the use of force,” first appears in the United States bishops’ widely read 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace. In the context of its original adoption, this conception had three important roots. First, it reflected a judgment about modern warfare as inherently grossly destructive, so much so that it could never be conducted morally or be an instrument of moral purpose. In the immediate context of The Challenge of Peace this conviction was focused specifically on the question of nuclear weapons and whether they might ever be morally used; the United States bishops’ answer was No, and in this they concurred with a wide range of opponents of nuclear weapons around the world. Though in certain ways this pastoral letter drew on the thought of Paul Ramsey, the statement (without mentioning him by name) explicitly rejected Ramsey’s conception that even in the case of nuclear weapons the key issue is human moral control: Ramsey argued for the possibility of a rational, politically purposive use of nuclear weapons—namely, counter-force warfare—while the U.S. bishops rejected any and all possible “war-fighting” uses and plans for use of such weapons. Their conclusions about the likely result of any war involving nuclear weapons mirrored Jonathan Schell’s contemporaneous image of global nuclear destruction and the end of human life: a “republic of insects and grasses,” as he famously put it in The Fate of the Earth."

And Alabama 3L Abe Delnore comments:

I think that George Weigel's problem, fundamentally, is that he thinks just war is the only intellectual tradition on war within Catholic teaching. In fact there is an older, better-attested rival tradition: pacifism. The presumption against war makes sense if you see just war as a response to pacifism, which of course is how it developed. Furthermore, every presentation of just war I can think of begins with the premise that killing is wrong; however, just war provides an exception to the general rule. So there is a good case for the presumption against war underlying even just war theory. And, of course, Catholics also have access to the pacifist tradition. (Indeed, I think I am right in saying that some Catholics--members of particular religious orders--are obliged to be pacifists; none are obliged to accept just war theory.)


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

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