6 War and Defense of Persons

The two levels of war

Michael Walzer argues that war should be viewed not as a relation between individual persons, but between states: 'The war itself isn't a relation between persons, but between political entities and their human instruments'. 1 This view is shared by Ian Clark: 'The conscript in the opposing trench is at the very least relegated to the role of representative of the enemy'. 2 Thomas Nagel, on the other hand, premises his moral investigation of war on precisely the opposite assumption: 'A positive account of the matter must begin with the observation that war, conflict, and aggression are relations between persons'. 3 David Luban concurs with this judgement: 'Wars are not fought by states, but by men and women'. 4

It seems to me that there is a profound issue here, and one which underlies a great deal of what is morally most difficult about war. For the phenomenon of war may be accessed on two distinct levels each suggesting a distinctive moral point of view: that of the rights and responsibilities of individual persons and that of the rights and responsibilities of states or other 'political entities'. War can at once be viewed as a relation between persons and as a relation between super-personal collective entities. Every military action is ascribable to some kind of collective entity, but it is at the same time constituted by actions ascribable to particular persons.

But both sets of entities—the collective and the individual—are conceived as moral agents, the bearers of rights and the subjects of duties. Which, if either, is the most basic or fundamental level for the moral analysis of war? In our moral investigation of national-defense, should we follow Walzer and Clark in giving primacy to the

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War and Self-Defense
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • War and Self-Defense iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface x
  • Contents xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Self-Defense 15
  • 1: Rights 17
  • 2: A Model of Defensive Rights 35
  • 3: Consequences and Forced Choice 49
  • 4: Grounding Self-Defense in Rights 70
  • Part II National-Defense 101
  • 5: International Law 103
  • 6: War and Defense of Persons 122
  • 7: War and the Common Life 141
  • 8: War, Responsibility, and Law Enforcement 163
  • 9: Conclusion: Morality and Realism 189
  • Bibliography 200
  • Index 209
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