Sunday, September 26, 2004

Not Quite Right, I Think

Sorry to be doing so much Lakoff; but it's a disease that needs to be stamped out before progressives kill themselves with it. In any event, I'm done with it for a bit, I think; except I couldn't resist this little bit, being interested in just war theory. In an article on metaphor and the Iraq War, Lakoff said:

One of the most frequent uses of the Nation As Person metaphor comes in the almost daily attempts to justify the war metaphorically as a "just war." The basic idea of a just war uses the Nation As Person metaphor plus two narratives that have the structure of classical fairy tales: The Self Defense Story and The Rescue Story.

I'm glad Lakoff understands that, properly speaking, justice applies primarily to persons; but the reason we talk about 'just war' is not primarily metaphorical but historical. As I've pointed out before on the blog, 'just war' originally applied to the person who actually warred, i.e., the Prince or Magistrate of the City (or whatever political title and unit there was). The The question it answered was: Can this person go to war justly? And the answer was: Yes, if he is entrusted with the authority to do so, and he does so disposed in the right way for the right purpose. This has since been fuzzed up by lots of things (total war, nation states, military-industrial complexes), but I suppose the way to characterize that fuzzing would be metonymy rather than metaphor. In any case, people may occasionally use 'just war' as a metaphor in the way they describe what's happening; but what they are doing even then is not merely a metaphorical justification but also a confused literal justification of the War Magistrate (in the U.S. this is the President). 'Just war' has also become for many people simply a label, carried over and used in at least a loose accordance with certain features of the tradition; and in such cases, they are doing not a metaphorical but a literal justification of policies (which are allowed to be just or unjust by a non-figurative extension of the term from use for persons). Such is my thought, anyway. There is, no doubt, something of the metaphorical floating around in all these discussions; but let's not have any simplistic accounts of how the phrase 'just war' is used. A linguist should know better.

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