Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just War Theory, Authority, and Self-Defense

Last week, we discussed whether or not Christian organizations could, in good faith, hire mercenaries to defend the genocide victims of Darfur. Neatorama linked to the post and had its own discussion on the subject. In the comments here at Locusts & Honey, John Lomperis pointed out that such an effort would be a violation of a core tenet of classical Just War Theory:

Would such a private, religious army be an appropriate executor of violent force for the sake of justice. A: NOT according to Just War theory, which has as a key tenet the need for military force to be used by a proper government authority

One major consensual expression of this principle is Thomas Aquinas' statement that:

In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil"; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): "Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner"; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): "The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority." Summa Theologica 2.2.40

I've never been comfortable with this demand, as it assumes that the existing government over a people (or an individual) can be relied upon to act in good faith of behalf of its people. If it cannot, how can an oppressed people rebel and remain in accordance with this principle? If people are so powerless that they cannot even constitute a governing authority (e.g. a slave revolt) should they simply accept injustice?

Or let's say that we're not talking about a minority group, but a single individual. If violent resistance to evil is justifiable for a group of people, is it not for a person? I've long thought that a wrong cannot become a right simply because it is perpetrated by a government.

But I'm going down a train of thought that is based upon civil liberties, not Biblical exegesis -- although Just War Theory's exegetical basis is pretty flimsy to begin with. Still:

Is there a Just War basis for individual self-defense?

Is there a Biblical basis for individual self-defense?

And yes, these are pretty much two separate questions. I'd like to write more, but I'm still thinking through these ideas, and Spongebob Squarepants is about to come on TV, so I'll stop here for now.

5 comments:

Kenny said...

I don't really do Medieval philosophy/theology, but I think Aquinas sets some pretty rigorous standards for what constitutes a legitimate government. In another example, if I recall correctly, Calvin says that, while no individual can ordinarily revolt against the state, a LOWER LEVEL MAGISTRATE can rightfully lead a revolt against the state that is over him, if that state ceases to be legitimate. I think the idea is that if the overall government ceases to be legitimate, the local government does not necessarily thereby cease to be legitimate, so you can't just unconditionally revolt, because it isn't your call whether the actions of the illegitimate government call for violent response - that's the magistrate's call. I don't know whether Aquinas would agree with this, and I don't know how far Calvin would take this. For instance, if we live on a block together and we learn that the government has begun a politically motivated prosecution on trumped up charges to silence Locusts and Honey, and they have a warrant for a midnight raid against your house to confiscate your computer (and will do severe property damage, for which you will never be compensated) along the way, can the elected captain of our neighborhood watch marshall everyone on the block to defend your house against the police? He or she probably counts as a magistrate, right?

At any rate, it seems to me that, if we go this route, a head of household ought to count as a magistrate too, Biblically speaking, because he is responsible for the care and protection of all those in the household. If this is the case, then a head of household has the right (and responsibility?) to take action to protect his own household.

This sits well with my intuitions, in general. For instance, it is my intuition that, in general, a man has not only the right, but actually a moral obligation to use whatever means necessary, up to and including lethal force, to prevent an abortion from being performed on his wife. (I use this example because it is one I think about a lot, since it is one of the only cases in which I can imagine a developed modern nation-state killing a family member without any sort of legal proceedings.)

As for the Bible, there are, of course, some provisions for defense, and even revenge, in the Law, but it isn't entirely clear how they are meant to apply in the New Testament.

John said...

For instance, if we live on a block together and we learn that the government has begun a politically motivated prosecution on trumped up charges to silence Locusts and Honey, and they have a warrant for a midnight raid against your house to confiscate your computer (and will do severe property damage, for which you will never be compensated) along the way, can the elected captain of our neighborhood watch marshall everyone on the block to defend your house against the police? He or she probably counts as a magistrate, right?

Suppose that my neighborhood watch marshall -- or, in fact, every single person in my neighborhood other than myself -- refuses to intervene, or sides with the oppressors, do I have a right to resist as an individual?

I hold, as a premise of my political philosophy, that the basic unit of governmental sovereingty is the individual, so I would answer 'yes'.

Kenny said...

So would I :)

I was just trying to treat the problem from the perspective of just war theory, like you asked.

John said...

Yeah, Peter, Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas seemed to have an unhealthy trust in government.

Michael said...

I think the rigorous standard was established by Jesus when He challenged us to "turn the other cheek" and to prepare for a certain and violent reality if we were to choose to "live by the sword" and subsequently "die by the sword".

A case for "just war" could be made by WWII, even if the US entry into this war seemed only in response to an unprovoked attack. Jews were being sytematically slaughtered by the millions. I think a case could be made for Darfur for this reason alone.

Neither of these can be applied to us as individuals, however, because of certain biblical realities of returning evil for evil. In defense of the weak or otherwise disadvantaged, however, I think a case can be made for an individual who would risk personal safety for the sake and well-being of another.