April 27, 2009


Are wars ever just?: The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan raise complex questions about the moral and legal use of force (Costas Douzinas, 4/21/09, guardian.co.uk)

The apologists of the emerging cosmopolitan order claim that it is genuinely democratic, founded on judicial equality, the constitutional protection of individual rights, representative government and market economics. "Humanitarian" law, the old law of war, combined with human rights law, has created a new "humanity's law", which restricts government brutality both during war and at peacetime. Its indicators are everywhere. Sanctions are imposed on states to protect their citizens from their evil rulers. Human rights, democracy and good governance conditions are routinely inserted into trade and aid agreements with developing countries. Last but not least, in humanitarian wars, we kill humans in order to save humanity.

The concept of a just war

Throughout history, kings and rulers have added a veneer of high principle to murderous campaigns. In the west, the quest for moral justification has taken the form of the "just war" theory. However the lack of an arbiter who could sift through the conflicting rationalisations of the warring parties has made the just war one of the hardest moral mazes. As the poet Wyndam Lewis put it: "but what war that was ever fought, was an unjust war, except of course that waged by the enemy."

The "just war" theory was developed by the medieval church, in an attempt to serve Caesar without totally abandoning its pledges to God. A just war restores a violated moral order. Theologians concentrated therefore on defining criteria for determining the goodness of a war (the jus ad bellum). [...]

Human rights were conceived in the 18th century and still remain a defence against the domination and oppression of individuals by public and private power. But when they become tools of western universalism or communitarian localism their purpose is undermined. The universalists believe that cultural values and moral norms should pass a test of universal applicability and logical consistency. They often conclude that if there is one moral truth and many errors, its holders have a duty to impose the truth on others. Communitarians start from the opposite observation: they believe values are context-bound and often impose them on those who disagree with the oppressiveness of tradition or culture.

The individualism of universalists forgets that we all come into existence in common with others. Being in common is an integral part of self: the self is exposed to the other, the other is part of the intimacy of self.

But being in a community with others is the opposite of common being or of belonging to an essential community. Most communitarians, on the other hand, define community through the commonality of tradition, history and culture; the various past crystallisations whose inescapable weight determines present possibilities. In Kosovo, Serbs massacred in the name of threatened community, while the allies bombed in the name of threatened humanity. Both principles, when they define the meaning of humanity without remainder, find everything that resists them expendable.

One can hardly hope to untangle the moral confusions of someone who treats as equal principles the assertion of particular racial superiority and that of universal God-given rights. But the author raises one good point directly: the idea of basing intervention on secular "humanitarianism" instead of divine justice attempts to replace the Judeo-Christian foundation of just war but is incapable of doing so. If an objective moral standard exists--which can only have come from God--then it is always just to enforce it, regardless of whether we choose to do so or not. If the standard for rights is nothing more than a human construct it is subjective and there is no rational basis for preferring your own to the next guy's. If such is the situation that obtains, then the very concept of justice is rendered nugatory. War, or any enforcement of standards, is naught but an exercise in force and the imposition of one's own selfish will.

Of course, Americans, with rather few exceptions, reject this latter sort of multiculti secular rationalist nonsense and happily embrace the self-evident truths upon which our very Republic is founded: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." For us, to deny what the author calls "the
cosmopolitan order" would be to deny America and deny God, Hisownself.

So where Mr. Douzinas's intended audience, Europeans, have to answer his ridiculously easy question in the negative--wars can never be just, by definition, because their atheism excludes justice--we face a quite different question here in America. Particularly given the ease with which we can effect change once we turn our attention to states where unjust regimes prevail--Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, Southern Sudan, etc.--the genuinely difficult moral question becomes: is it ever just for us not to war against such regimes? Do we implicate ourselves in the injustice when we fail to remove the dictatorships in Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Burma, the PRC, etc? Does the universal applicability of our Founding impose some moral obligation upon us to advance the march of Liberty wherever and whenever we can?

That's a pretty awesome burden and it's easy to see why the massively self-absorbed seculars want no part of it. But it isn't one that the residents of the City on the Hill can ever dodge more than briefly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2009 7:32 AM
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