Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carnival of Citizens II: Justice, War, and the Quest for Peace

Welcome to the second edition, and first themed edition, of the Carnival of Citizens. The Carnival of Citizens is devoted to cultivating a deliberative and reflective atmosphere on matters of politics and society. Our theme for today is JUSTICE, WAR, AND THE QUEST FOR PEACE; and our goal is to provide serious food for thought on problems related to war and peace. To this end, I've decided to discuss just war theory and pacifism. My thoughts on this are rather long, so those who are more interested in the links for this carnival can scroll down; I've marked each of the accepted submissions to the carnival with a candle for peace.

As I wrote my comments on issues related to just war theory and pacifism, they grew longer and longer -- far longer than would be comfortable reading in a single blog post. Since a hefty portion of my discussion was on just war theory, I decided to move that to a post of its own and just treat it as if it were a submission; that way people not interested in the topic can more easily find a topic that does interest them.

Candle for Peace In Two Approaches to Just War Theory I suggest that there are two approaches, different although not necessarily mutually exclusive, that are commonly called 'just war theory' -- a virtue-oriented approach and a law-oriented approach.

I think it's clear that there are serious dangers with a law-oriented approach, particular if it becomes severed from the virtue-oriented approach, as it often seems to be: it becomes legalistic and abstract. However, it must be emphasized that it was a matter of vital concern to those who first began to develop it. People like Vitoria or Grotius were not considering the problem as an abstract one to be considered in idle moments; they were considering the problem because they saw a clear and undeniable need for steps to be taken to curtail and limit the ravages of war. And to this end they did contribute something fundamentally important -- namely, a vocabulary by which people might take things done, both those leading up to war and those done in war, and examine them closely for ethical failings. This provision of a common vocabulary for ethical discussion should not be underestimated, and even those like myself who prefer a more virtue-oriented approach to these matters should, I think, be thankful that it was developed, whatever problems and limitations we might think it may have.

Given this value for public discussion, it isn't surprising that there has been some serious and worthwhile discussion of modern conflicts that make reference to just war criteria. Two of our submissions are such discussions:

Candle for Peace One of the major contemporary challenges for just war theory is how to handle the issue of terrorism and the role of civilians as collaborators and hostages on a large scale. The Rev. Dr. Kate of "Meditations from the Messy Middle of Things" discusses this issue with regard to events this summer in Qana in Because No One Will State the Obvious.

Candle for Peace Not surprisingly, there has been considerable discussion of the War in Iraq, and the larger 'War on Terrorism' in just war terms, asking similar questions. In Institutions, Iraq, and Just War Theory, Brian Berkey of "Philosophy from the Left Coast" looks at an argument by Allen Buchanan that just war theory requires reformulation in light of the 'new conditions of terrorism'. Buchanan argues for institutionalizing just war theory to limit how justifications for war can be applied, and Berkey carefully examines what's right and what's problematic about this proposal.

When we talk about just war theory, two major alternatives are usually assumed, pacifism and realism. Pacifism shares with just war theory its moral concern and emphasis on peace; however, it differs from it in thinking that just war theory makes war too viable. Particular versions of pacifism seem to differ considerably over their reasons for thinking this, or even over what precisely it means. Some pacifists would accept an argument, similar to Thomas Nagel's argument in his article War and Massacre, that any use of force to make someone comply needs (at least minimally) to be such that we can give the victim some moral justification for it; but this requires a personal element that is lost in the violence of war. We stop justifying each particular use of force against a person, and try to lump everyone together; which is an affront to human dignity. Nagel doesn't use this type of argument to argue for pacifism, since he allows for the possibility of 'moral blind alleys', i.e., cases where we can be morally committed to avoiding all of the only options we have available. People who accept the argument and reject the possibility of unavoidable moral blind alleys, however, clearly have the beginnings of an interesting and serious argument for pacifism. Most people, however, are inclined to see difficulties with pacifism. One of our submissions discusses one such difficulty:

Candle for Peace In Some Thoughts on Pacifism, Richard of "Philosophy, et cetera" makes a distinction between 'absolute pacifism' and what he calls 'epistemic pacifism'. While the latter can avoid a number of problems with the former, Richard notes a point on which it still may be weak, namely, not allowing exceptions for humanitarian intervention.

One might think that pacifism and realism are as far apart as can be. While pacifism is usually a very morally oriented doctrine, realism is not; in fact, it tends to be associated with skepticism about our ability to discern what is morally right in matters of war, and in particular with the view that moral concepts cannnot be properly applied to the affairs of nations. While pacifism rejects all war on moral grounds, realism thinks war is justifiable on purely pragmatic grounds when the necessities of state interest require it. Interestingly, however, one of the classics of twentieth-century just war theory, Elizabeth Anscombe's Mr. Truman's Degree, argues that pacifism and realism are in one sense birds of a feather, since from the just war theory they both refuse to make the same moral distinctions that just war theory insists upon.

Unfortunately, no one submitted a defense of realism, either. However, it's noteworthy that the issue of humanitarian intervention, which came up in Richard's post above, is a tricky point for all three views. Pacifism seems to accept its goals but reject it as a means. Just war theorists have never settled how much room there is for humanitarian intervention in just war theory; certainly those who insist that the only legitimate wars are defensive can't accept humanitarian intervention. Realists have no problem with accepting the legitimacy, but they have difficulty doing so for the reasons we usually want to give -- we usually want to give moral reasons for humanitarian intervention, but once we allow moral reasons to justify such actions, realism becomes distinctly less plausible. Perhaps, as some would argue, there is a need for a fourth, interventionist, position; or perhaps it is because the notion of 'humanitarian intervention' is itself none too clear.

Candle for Peace Although I decided to focus on self-submissions rather than nominations, when Timothy Burke's War and Peace, Horn of Africa Edition was nominated, I knew I had to include it. Burke looks at the possibility of intervention in the recent rise in tensions between Ethiopia and Somalian Islamists. He argues that proposals of intervention overlook just how limited the power of states is to effect the sort of change required, particularly in comparison with global social and economic institutions or local social histories.

As one might expect from as complicated a subject as war and peace, there are many issues related to the subject that don't directly relate to the central concerns of just war theory or pacifism but are important nonetheless. This is not to say that just war theorists, pacifists, or realists don't consider them; only that they are not what is at dispute in debates among the three. So it's not surprising that we have a miscellaneous category of submissions, which discuss some important problems from very diferent perspectives.

Candle for Peace In Truce that Doesn't Give Peace a Chance, Obadiah Shoher of "Samson Blinded" criticizes a recent truce negotiated by Israel, arguing that it shows a sort of schizophrenia.

Candle for Peace One of the issues that has shown itself over the years to be of far greater importance than one might originally have respected, is accurate reporting from the front. Hakim Abdullah, of the weblog "Hakim Abdullah", points to a recent project, called Unembedded, as a recent attempt to go beyond typical portrayals of the Iraq War.

Candle for Peace At "Political Dishonesty", Kevin writes an open letter in response to Ahmadinejad's open letter to Americans.

And that concludes this edition of the Carnival of Citizens. Posts that were submitted to this edition of the carnival but did not fit with the theme will be automatically sent to the host of the next carnival, which should take place on January 7 at Sportive Thoughts. Keep an eye on the Carnival Newsletter for further updates. Submissions can be sent very easily via the Blog Carnival Submission form. Also if you are willing to be a host for a future edition of the carnival, be sure to let Richard know.

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