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Katie van Schaijik

Weigel on just war theory

Dec. 14, 2009, at 11:21am

George Weigel has posted a short article and NRO in response to President Obama’s recent speeches: one announcing a troop increase in Afghanistan and the other accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. In both of these speeches the president attempted to address the apparent contradiction between pursuing peace and executing war. Weigel wants to show that this contradiction is the result of modern moral mis-thinking that made a presumption against war the root of just war theory.

In fact, however, the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice: The just prince is obliged to secure the “tranquility of order,” or peace, for those for whom he accepts political responsibility, and that peace, to repeat, is composed of justice, security, and freedom. There are many ways for the just prince (or prime minister, or president) to do this; one of them is armed force.

The article is good for clearing the air of some fog. Much pious pacifism plainly is rooted in confusion and naivte. And it’s definitely true that a preference for conflict-avoidance and “conflict resolution techniques” has tended to overwhelm a passion for justice in Christians of our day, to disastrous effect.

Still, I dislike the tone of the article. I dislike its snide dismissal of all modern anti-war thought, as if it’s of a piece with bogus liberal pieties. Some of it, surely, is more serious and more challenging to the tradition than he seems to allow. Some of it is the fruit of deep moral reflection on the experiences of 20th century atrocities and on the mystery of the human person. Some of it, in my opinion, represents a vital development of moral philosophy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were not utopian theorists, but agents of social and political change—Non-violent defeat of gigantic evils. Likewise the solidarity movement in Poland. It is interesting to consider that MLK, Gandhi and Wojtyla—all great proponents of non-violent resistance—all took bullets for their pains. Absorbing evil and violence in their own flesh, while giving witness to peace.


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