Academic journal article Theological Studies

Authority, Lies, and War: Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Authority, Lies, and War: Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory

Article excerpt

NO LASTING BORDER between politics and war has ever been fixed. Today, in theological scholarship, the border is in sharp dispute. Scholars who argue that the Catholic just war tradition has a "presumption against violence" or a "presumption against war" see the border as a justifiably difficult boundary appropriate to cross when necessary. Neoconservative writers reject such a high wall of division and understand the justified use of force as a rightfully untrammeled exercise of statecraft and an extension of proper politics. Christian pacifist theologians like Stanley Hauerwas radically redefine the border altogether: For them, the pacifying power of politics today must come from the peacemaking church, because politics in the form of the nation-state has become an inevitable engine of war. This article will argue that Catholic thought on war and peace should be developed in a more democratic direction and that doing so would make clearer the actual nature of the border between politics and war. More specifically, the article will focus on the just war criterion of legitimate authority and on the arguments used by the government of the United States in the course of justifying its war with Iraq. The example of the Iraq War is telling in its own regard and, I will argue, points toward the need for the jus ad bellum criterion of legitimate authority to be developed in order to protect citizens against the indignity of being duped by a government bent on war. But the troubling justification of the Iraq War is also more broadly relevant and points beyond itself in illuminating what should be the sharp split between democratic politics and war. (1)

The argument will proceed in four steps. First, I will consider the American government's arguments for going to war with Iraq in light of theological and philosophical literature on lying and politics. Second, I will argue that Roman Catholic writing on war and peace has been too deferential to the prudential judgment of government officials. Third, I will argue that the use of deception to justify war points toward the need for Catholic thought on war and peace to develop in a direction that highlights democratic citizens' rights and responsibilities in wartime. Last, I will conclude with recommendations for the development of the criterion of legitimate authority and with reflections on lying, politics, and the discursive practices that make war more likely.

An explanation is in order before beginning the heart of the argument. It would be a mistake to assume that the moral significance of the use of deception to justify war pertains only to issues present at the start of a conflict. Rather, it will be the assumption throughout this article that such significance extends far beyond the initial deception that may have launched a war. The moral philosopher Sissela Bok has said that the "most serious miscalculation people make when weighing lies is to evaluate the costs and benefits of a particular lie in an isolated case, and then to favor lies if the benefits seem to outweigh the costs." (2) Rather, she argues, lies germinate amid self-deception and bias and thus distort judgment from the start of a venture. (3) Moreover, lies linger after the fact. They pose ongoing doubts in the body politic about the integrity and judgment of the liars. (4) They establish precedents that propel analogous events of the future: the controversy over the justification of the Iraq War had its pedigree in the misinformation that bedeviled the American involvement in Vietnam. (5) And lies ripple out, affecting men and women in places far removed from the halls of power where the deceit was hatched. (6) It will also be the assumption of this article that the moral significance of such deception may extend into the aftermath of a war itself. The theologian Oliver O'Donovan has argued that political and military leaders in a time of war are responsible for a "certain articulate precision in the account they give of the wrong they propose to remedy, for the way the situation is described determines the shape of the enactment which may remedy it. …

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