Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Evening Note for Tuesday, April 11th

I read with interest a recent verbum ipsum post on an argument by Andrew Fiala for 'pacifism in practice', based on just war theory. As Lee summarizes the argument:

Fiala argues that, in practice, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a citizen to know whether the ad bellum and in bello criteria of just war theory are met by any particular war. Therefore, the prudent thing to do is to "err on the side of peace" and oppose all (or nearly all) wars.


The problem with this approach, as I see it, is that the criteria of just war theory weren't formulated to guide the judgment of citizens, but the judgment of statesmen -- princes, originally, although a lot can remain the same, mutatis mutandis. Citizens, even in a democratic society, even in liberal government, are a different matter entirely. When the United States goes to war, for instance, citizens (as such) have nothing to do, one way or another, with the matter. We do not go to war by plebescite, we do not wage war by vote. We have delegated representatives whom we have explicitly given the power to decide such matters; what is more, the whole point of delegating to representatives is to have people who, unlike the rest of us, can explicitly and fully devote themselves to the examination of reasons for doing this rather than that. So the only real question is whether the just war criteria would require statesmen to oppose all (or nearly all) wars. And the answer, I think, is fairly clearly that they require that there be a presumption that peaceful solutions are better than ones involving war, and that statesmen follow prudence (that most statesmanlike of virtues) in being very cautious and wary about anything remotely resembling war. But the reason it requires this is just that the standards to which just war theory holds statesmen are very, very high. The epistemological reason suggested by Fiala is not a serious factor, I think. It's easy to see why someone might think it would be. As Lee says,"Since war is a 'capital case,' shouldn't we be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt before throwing our support behind it?" And that, I think, is very true. But the question is really, 'What constitutes reasonable doubt?'. And in the older forms of just war theory, which are discussions about virtue (personal justice), the only standard of reasonable doubt for the statesman is something like this: "Did you, in your best-formed and inmost conscience, do whatever you could prudently do to avoid war without unnecessarily endangering the lives of the innocent and the people in your care or engaging in injustice yourself?" And in the later forms, such as we begin to find in the Spanish scholastics, which begin to focus at greater length on matters pertaining to the law of nations (legal justice), the standard would be something like this: "Did you take all the steps that can reasonably be demanded according to law (positive, natural, and revealed), so that you had legal grounds for your actions?" These are extremely difficult questions; and woe to the statesman who answers them glibly or easily. But this aspect of just war theory -- the primary aspect -- is about the statesman (his soul and his legal grounds).

Of course, just war theory is relevant to citizens as well as statesman, but not as directly. Citizens simply have a power of review (through moral suasion, assembly, petition, and election), and insofar as this power comes into play, citizens will need to include the question of whether their statesmen are acting unjustly in their evaluation. But this will proceed in exactly the same way any evaluation of injustice in politics will proceed: citizens who are prudent and just do not make such evaluations assuming that they are in exactly the same position as their statesmen -- if they ever could reasonably assume that, it would be a sign that their statesmen were utterly, radically incompetent, and needed to be removed anyway. Rather, what they do is to demand answers to questions that will help them to determine, to the limits they can, whether there is adequate reason (under the circumstance) for thinking that the statesmen can be given the benefit of the doubt. We don't ever ask anything more than this exercise of political prudence on the part of the citizen. Yes, it's true, most citizens don't know all the relevant legal ins-and-outs, or all the facts; and it's certainly true that the no private citizen knows the inner soul of a statesman. But if we were to start requiring such a level of knowledge for citizens to exercise their review favorable to the statesman, government would fall apart, since citizens would have to presume almost everything the statesman does to be unjust -- few if any citizens are in a position to know whether all the laws and actions of their statesmen meet the criteria of legal justice, and perhaps none at all are in a position to know with certainty whether their statesmen are really just of character (and not, for instance, merely apparently so). But no one could reasonably require that.

I think Fiala brings up a more serious point in a passage quoted by Lee:

I admit that my position hinges on a certain amount of distrust of those in power. This distrust is rational, however, in light of a long history that shows a tendency toward manipulation and abuse of power by those in power. In liberal states--which, since Locke, have been understood as fiduciary institutions--citizens have a right and a duty to raise skeptical objections to ensure their trust is not abused. This is especially true with regard to actions as momentous as war.


I think this is a much better argument; it is one that turns on the principles of liberal theory rather than the principles of just war theory. All just war theory tells us is that there are certain conditions under which a statesman can be just in the actions of war, and that there may arise certain conditions under which the statesman would be unjust in not engaging in these actions, because he would then be violating his obligations to his people. If you want to know how citizens should be involved in all this, you turn not to just war theory, which is one element of a theory of justice, but to theory of government.

Links of Note
* Galactica Season Three at "Jimmy Akin" -- predictions for the upcoming season; most of them very plausible. I agree with a commenter, though, that the Sharons should be distinguished by their love interests -- which, after all, are their most distinguishing features.
* Biblical hype at "The Elfin Ethicist" pours proper scorn on some recent claims by journalists on the religion beat.
* Hostile Media Effects at "Mixing Memory" discusses the complicated puzzles of perceived media bias.

Currently Reading
Balzac, Droll Stories
Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
Soderberg, Finishing Technology
Tolstoy, Resurrection

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