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.