Friday, January 10, 2014

Just War theory

When I taught a class called "International Relations & National Security Issues" I always included some discussion of the theory of "Just War" in Christian theology. The current National Review includes an interesting review of In Defence of War by Nigel Biggar. From that review:
This book, which is hands-down the most ambitious and consequential defense of the Christian just-war tradition we’ve seen in decades, is, first of all, an argument “against the virus of wishful thinking.”

What wishful thinking? That Jesus was a pacifist; that Paul was a pacifist; that the Christian tradition, when it is true to itself, is pacifist. That Nigel Biggar would call such views — widely espoused by Christian theologians today — “wishful thinking” is but the second sign (the first is the title) that here we have a Christian ethicist of no mean courage. His thought is careful and exact — he really does mean, for instance, that Christian pacifism is “wishful thinking” for the precise reason that it is not grounded in realism and imports into its Biblical exegesis unwarranted assumptions.

Like a contemporary Thomas Aquinas, Biggar begins by laying out the views he disagrees with. He sets forth the pacifist arguments of Stanley Hauerwas (once called by Time magazine “America’s best theologian”) with care, citing, as it were, chapter and verse for each step. He does the same for John Howard Yoder and for Richard Hays; more than anything else, Hays’s influential work has cemented the notion that the New Testament itself eschews violence. (And all this is just the first chapter.) ....

If we admit that the New Testament does not forbid all violence, we also must admit that it calls for everything to be done in love. So, Biggar asks, is it possible to see war as an expression of love?

Start with the Biblical call to forgiveness. The problem is obvious to almost every person: So-and-so has harmed me, perhaps grievously; I know I’m supposed to forgive him; but how do I do that? Biggar sees forgiveness as a process comprising distinguishable moments. Initially, the victim should offer her enemy the forgiveness of compassion. This is unconditional, and amounts to a recognition of fellow humanity. Forgiveness-as-compassion forswears vengeance and intends conciliation. But then the victim offers “proportionate expression of resentment and retribution.” She does this to prevent the wrongdoer from harming others (and thus shows love for others). But it is also to communicate to the wrongdoer himself the wrongness of his actions. And this is done to show love for the wrongdoer, with hope that it will enable reconciliation. Then, should the hope find fulfillment, the wrongdoer repents. And once he has, the victim offers forgiveness-as-absolution. This latter aspect of forgiveness is conditional on the actual repentance of the wrongdoer, and leads to their reconciliation. .... [the review, probably behind a subscription wall]
Related: Was Britain Right To Go To War In 1914? | Standpoint

Peace and Principle | National Review Online