Replies to Neoconservative Objections

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by Craig White by Craig White Previously by Craig White: A Classic Moral Theory and a War


Chapter 11 of Iraq: The Moral Reckoning

Armed with such realism, the student of Augustine has no illusions about the utopia of the world state. He is prudent, cautious, and restrained. . . . he is braced for the interminable conflicts of world politics, for pressure, tension, and power politics are inherent in the nature of things human, and no panacea of human construction can eliminate these realities.

— John East, "The Political Relevance of St. Augustine"

The bedrock Catholic conviction [is] that stuff counts. . . . Whenever and however it appears, though, gnosticism teaches the same seductive and devastating message: stuff doesn't count . . . what counts is the gnosis, the arcane knowledge, that lifts the elect, the elite, out of the grubbiness of the quotidian.

— George Weigel, Letters to a Young Catholic


Having set out in preceding chapters an analysis of how well the war met each of the six classic just war criteria, it is now appropriate to consider one set of objections as a group. In the run-up to the war, some of the most prominent voices proclaiming how just war theory should be applied to the war belonged to a small group that, on this issue at least, seemed strongly identified with the American neo-conservatives: Weigel, Neuhaus (RIP), and Johnson. While they used the six criteria used here, they clearly showed themselves, despite occasional diffidence, to be part of the pro-war camp.

These writers claim for themselves the just war theory mantles of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Cicero. Classic just war theory, they wrote before and after the war began, was a far different thing from what many anti-war writers were assuming or stating. However, many of the claims they made concerning others who spoke and wrote on the subject seem based on distortions of classic theory carefully considered. Five major themes of these writers, and one major omission, bear critiquing.

The "Presumption Against War"

The Problem As Some Neoconservatives See It

There is a struggle within the ranks of just war theorists over how to frame the theory. Certain writers have made heavy weather of the statement by the Catholic bishops of the United States, and others, that just war theory begins with "a presumption against war," or sometimes "a presumption against force." Johnson, for example, writes (in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein, 27),

The Challenge of Peace [by the Catholic bishops in 1983] described Catholic just war doctrine as beginning with a general "presumption against war" and represented the jus ad bellum criteria as guidance for determining whether this presumption should be overruled in particular cases or not. The classical tradition, by contrast, had thought of the use of force as morally neutral, good when a war was determined to be just (justum bellum), a use of force by the sovereign authority of a political community for a just cause, rather narrowly defined, and with a right intention, defined negatively as the avoidance of a number of wrong motives, including self-aggrandizement, theft, bullying, and action out of hatred of the other simply for being the other, and defined positively as intended to establish or restore peace. To cast the just war idea as beginning with a general presumption against war was to make it into something different from what the classic idea had been.

For Johnson, this different beginning turns the whole of just war theory into a different thing. He poses the question "whether the just war proponents here did not give up too much [by adopting the "presumption"], making the idea of just war over into a position effectively pacifist in practice. But the deeper question is whether the result was faithful to the classic idea of just war at all." (War to Oust, 28),

The "presumption," besides being wrong, also leads in the wrong direction. A little later (War to Oust, 29), Johnson remarks,

I have often wondered why the aim of peace was left out of the just war jus ad bellum as stated by The Challenge of Peace; I think it is because once one has begun by describing war as something always negative, it is conceptually impossible to represent it as a way to peace. This is profoundly different from the sensibility expressed in classic just war thought, where armed force is a tool that may be used for good or ill and where the assumption was not "against war" but against the evil and injustice that unfortunately abound in the affairs of men and nations, which armed force may be required to remedy. Augustine explained the end of peace in these terms: "We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace." This is an idea wholly lacking in The Challenge of Peace, which frames peace wholly in terms of the absence of war, despite the threats to peace that may remain.

Thus, for Johnson, this starting point is so badly mistaken that if you begin just war theory here, you are already wrong, and you are almost sure to go further wrong. Besides the prevailing fear of nuclear war, Johnson blames the adoption of the "presumption against war" among the Catholic bishops on a desire to share as much ground as possible with pacifists within the Church, as well as to accommodate a general pacifist sentiment: "The presumption against war idea provided a middle ground on which those who favored a just war approach and the pacifists could come together: both shared that presumption" (War to Oust, 28).

Johnson is far from alone in this critique. Weigel made much the same point in 1987 in his book Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace. According to Peter Dula, the book alleges "that liberal Catholic theologians and ethicists, under the influence of u2018an anti-anti-Communist' ideology and a naïve pacifism, abandoned a proper understanding of the just-war tradition." In the buildup to and during the Iraq war, Weigel returned to these themes in a series of articles in the magazine First Things. Many of Weigel and Johnson's writings on just war in recent years include long, detailed rebuttals of those who believe in "starting" just war thinking with a "presumption against war."

After Johnson covered this ground in an essay in First Things in January 2005 ("Just War, As It Was and Is"), to its credit, First Things went on to publish an "exchange" ("Who Wants War? An Exchange") in April of that year between Paul Griffiths and George Weigel on the "presumption." Griffiths argued that as a matter of logic alone, for any action that is permitted in some circumstances but not permitted in others, there is a presumption against that action. He argued that the various restrictions against granting drivers' licenses in his state (the age restriction, requirement to pass tests (vision and driving), etc.) amounted to a rebuttable presumption against granting licenses. Griffiths wrote that Johnson's argument against the "presumption" in his January 2005 essay "amount[ed] to nothing more than the blowing of thick clouds of smoke." Weigel replied, beginning with a humorous parable about a father who, after numerous warnings, finally spanks a child who is playing with matches and trying to set a pile of leaves by the garage on fire, a story meant to demonstrate that there is not "a presumption against spanking." He went on to list numerous minor, straightforward conditions for getting a driver's license, rhetorically asking, "Does any of this reasonably constitute u2018a presumption against licensing drivers' which the state can u2018override' when certain other conditions are met?" Just because there are conditions to be met before some activity is permitted, in other words, that does not constitute a presumption against that activity.

Just War Theory Is Not Pacifism in Disguise

Before embarking on a critique of Weigel and Johnson and the "anti-presumptionists," it should be stated that they are correct in their assertion that some writers have defined just war theory in such terms that it is either much weaker than the teaching of Aquinas, or even verges on pacifism. Griffiths himself, in an earlier paired article with Weigel ("Just War: An Exchange," April 2002) in First Things, claimed that accurate knowledge of whether there is a just cause for a proposed war is impossible for citizens to get, therefore they may not, according to just war theory, consider any war to be just. While Griffiths' seems right that getting accurate information on a proposed war is quite difficult, his response effectively turns just war theory into a road that leads to no destination but pacifism. If the theory has any validity, it must be valid despite such difficulties, which have always been with us. Despite such difficulties, Augustine seemed to believe that just wars had been fought. There are likely enough many other ways in which a tendency toward pacifism has crept into contemporary just war theory, Catholic and otherwise. The frustration Weigel and Johnson show over such attempts to use just war theory to prove the impossibility of a just war is understandable.

Cautionary Note: Distinguishing among "Goods" and "Evils"

"The presumption against war has smuggled into just war thinking a pacifist premise — armed force is wicked — that classic just war thinking rejects," wrote Weigel in his debate with Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams (Williams and Weigel, "War and Statecraft: An Exchange," First Things, March 2004). Johnson writes "Just war tradition has to do with the possible good use of force, not finding exceptional cases when it is possible to use something inherently evil (force) for the purposes of good" (War to Oust, p. 36). Here it is useful to recall the way thinkers like Aquinas used these terms. For Aquinas, sin is an "evil," and sickness is an "evil" (with sin being a greater evil). Existence itself is a "good," so that a wicked person is "good," at least to the extent that he exists (and if he has strength, intelligence, and charisma, those are also "goods" in themselves). In this sense, to the extent that war deprives human beings of life and limb, it involves "evil" and is not in itself "good." On the other hand, a war may be "good" in the sense that it is justly begun and waged in defense of the innocent. Yet to the extent that war deprives some persons of life, health, sanity, or liberty, it can be said to involve "evil," since these things are good and generally humans are endowed with them. These meanings should not be confused. In these particular quotations from Weigel and Johnson, that confusion appears to exist. Those who approvingly use the phrase "the presumption against war" are often not saying it is always morally evil to go to war or use force (pacifists say that), but they are indeed implying (or stating) that war and force always involve the "evils" of depriving human beings of life or liberty. Just war theory is precisely about how to determine when it is morally good to use something that involves evil (the destruction of things that are in themselves good) in order that a greater good may come. If there were no "evil" involved in war, there would be no need for just war theory. (There is no "just eating theory" or "just walking theory.")

The Ordinary Meaning of a "Presumption against" an Activity

Weigel and Johnson appear to be wrong about this phrase, for many reasons. First, in ordinary usage, and as the Catholic bishops and many others use it, the phrase "presumption against war" simply means that a government should not begin a war without very good reasons. A presumption against an activity simply means that it is not to be considered normal, natural, and freely permitted: it is instead permitted only under certain conditions, and those wishing to undertake them must justify them. Many activities are normal and everyday and need no particular justification; others are not, and must be carefully justified — concerning these latter, we can say there is a presumption against them. Take a few trivial examples: cracking one's knuckles is in the former category. There is no particular need to justify this act. The fact that it is not an appropriate thing to do when everyone else is silent during a church service or corporate meeting does not constitute a "presumption against" knuckle-cracking — it does not rise to that level. Slapping a stranger hard on the back, or grabbing him from behind and squeezing hard, are in the latter category. If the person is choking, one of these may be exactly the right thing to do. It is not that they should never be done, just that they should be done rarely, and with very good reasons, and never without such reasons.

Another, weightier example: there is a presumption against carrying concealed weapons in public in the laws of the United States. Permits may be obtained for this activity, with varying requirements. There is certainly a presumption against using such weapons against others: such use must be carefully justified, in terms of self-defense or defense of others. The culture and law of the United States do not say that backslapping strangers, or carrying concealed weapons, or use of concealed weapons by civilians, are evil in and of themselves. Not at all. Nonetheless, unlike knuckle-cracking and running hands through one's hair, they carry serious consequences, and must be justified. It is reasonable and natural to say that there is "a presumption against" them. The Catholic bishops and others appear in general to be simply saying that war is in this latter category. The "presumption against war" means simply that a government planning to go to war needs to have compelling reasons (although in a clear case of self-defense, the justice of repelling an attack under way is self-evident). It must share these reasons with its citizens and the world. This thought is not just fully compatible with classic just war theory, one might almost say that it is the essence of that theory.

Structure of the Theory in Accord with Presumption against War

Contrary to Johnson's claim, it is actually rather clear that the very structure of just war theory that Johnson and Weigel outline presupposes a presumption against war, understood in the normal sense of those words outlined above. If there were not a presumption against war, if making war were actually considered as normal as issuing drivers' licenses, to take Griffiths' example, then the whole theory would be set up the other way around. Just war theory sets up, in every case, restrictions on war: just cause, right intention, competent authority, reasonable chance of success, proportionality of ends, and last resort delineate circles within the conjunction of which war may justly be waged. Outside the area of overlap where all the conditions obtain, war is not permitted, it becomes sinful, unjust, or as Aquinas wrote, "unlawful." If there were no presumption, then just war theory would instead point out the narrow circumstances in which war would be wrong: unjust cause, wrong intention, lack of competent authority, and so forth. Outside those circumstances, the theory would say, make war at will. It would be like knuckle-cracking, permitted except in a narrowly defined set of circumstances.

Weigel notes that Aquinas places his discussion of just war within the treatise on charity ("caritas," divine love) in the Summa. (Weigel, Against the Grain, 209). Weigel's fundamental point seems to be that for Aquinas, a just war is an act of love by the ruler, in that he is defending his people from harm even at risk to himself (something that may be questionable for modern rulers). Nonetheless, it is inescapable that Aquinas, in that discussion of war, is carving out a very narrow set of circumstances within which war can be just, and outside which war is indeed sinful. As Williams put it in his exchange with Weigel, "Formally, this is a consideration of those conditions under which what would otherwise be gravely sinful would not be so" ("War and Statecraft," 15). The only just wars, for Aquinas, are those that fall where all three of his conditions hold, that is, where the restrictive circles in fact overlap.

This point is more clear when we look at the way Aquinas actually frames his argument on just war. The first "question" is "whether it is always sinful to wage war?" The question itself, given the restrictions that follow, strongly implies that it is often sinful to wage war. It is followed by four objections, which state the points of view that Aquinas intends to refute. All these "objections" are framed in absolute terms: "it would seem that it is "always sinful to wage war," "war is always sinful," "war is always a sin," and "war is a sin in itself." Each objection presents a biblical or logical reason for this conclusion. When Aquinas rejects these positions and states his own, in his "On the contrary," he quotes Augustine to the effect that "If the Christian religion forbade war altogether" then John the Baptist would have counseled soldiers to give up soldiering — but he did not. In other words, the objectors claim war is always sinful, and Aquinas replies, in effect, "no, not always — it is not altogether forbidden." This is hardly a ringing endorsement of war.

Not only that, but consider again Weigel's point that Aquinas places his discussion of war within his treatise on charity. Weigel believes this is to show "that rightly constituted authority is under a strict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility" (Against the Grain, 209). But a look at the whole treatise on Charity in the Summa gives a different impression. First comes a discussion of charity itself, and then of the "acts" of charity, all very positive. Then comes a list of the vices opposed to charity: the "questions" in this section begin with the following titles: "hatred, sloth, envy." Next is a series of "vices opposed to peace" (as peace is the effect of charity): "discord, contention, schism, war, strife, sedition, scandal" (Summa II-II). The first article for each of these questions asks whether it is a sin, or a mortal sin, or a special sin, or always a sin, and the answer is always "yes." "War" is the exception, in that the question is whether it is "always sinful," and the answer is, in effect, "no, not always." (Under sedition, Aquinas casually calls war a "sin." "I answer that: sedition is a special sin, having something in common with war and strife, and differing somewhat from them. It has something in common with them, in so far as it implies a certain antagonism, and it differs from them in two points." War in general for Aquinas is here just one more sin, unless it meets the exceptional requirements of a just war.) There is no evidence here for Weigel's contention about why "war" falls under "charity." In fact, war is generally caused by a lack of charity, just like the other vices in the list. That is why it is listed here, in line with Aquinas' usual practice throughout the Summa, listing and considering under a major heading not only the subsidiary virtues under the larger virtue, but the vices that are contrary to that virtue. Archbishop Williams is vindicated by the table of contents alone, as well as the details: war in general is "gravely sinful:" it is only when it meets the exceptional requirements of just war theory that it is just.

Aquinas' full answer ("I answer that . . .") begins with restrictive conditions: "In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary." Clearly all three conditions must be met, according to Aquinas, and so any war that fails to meet even one of the three is unjust. (He explicitly states that a war may meet the first two requirements and be "rendered unlawful" through a "wicked intention," violating the third.) Anyone who had read Weigel and Johnson before reading Aquinas might have expected a long preamble on the obligation of the sovereign to promote justice outside his borders, and the main question to be "whether it is ever sinful to wage war." Instead, a careful reading of Aquinas shows that he seems to live in much the same moral universe as the Catholic bishops.

Force, Sometimes Necessary, Violates Human Dignity

The reason the use of force in general on human beings is problematic, and that it may be used only when positively necessary and then carefully justified, is that freedom is the natural state of human beings. Use of lethal force is even more of a violation of human freedom and dignity, and has often irreversible consequences. Where is the dignity of human life if governments may casually take it, for weak reasons and with little or no explanation? As Williams wrote in his response to Weigel's essay "Moral Clarity," ("War and Statecraft, 15), for Aquinas:

Violence is an external force compelling certain kinds of action; as such it is bound to appear as against nature or against justice. . . . The ruler who administers the law may use coercion for the sake of the common good in domestic policing and in international affairs. But such coercion will always need publicly available justification in terms of the common good, since otherwise it will appear as an arbitrary infringement of natural justice.

To reinforce that point, in another context Christopher West wrote "persons — precisely because they are persons — are meant to be their own masters. Their dignity demands it. [Pope] John Paul [II] stresses that the person u2018surpasses all measures of appropriation and domination, of possession and gratification'" (West, Theology of the Body Explained, 403). Simone Weil, in a work published in 1939 on the eve of war, "defines force as u2018that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing,' either literally as a corpse or figuratively as a defeated foe begging for mercy or a slave." (Quoted in Achilles in Iraq: The Poem of Force). It is a terrible act to turn a person into a thing, unless absolutely necessary. If compulsion of one human being by another (as in prison, for example) must be rare, and requires careful justification, how much more the taking of human life.

Usually, Justice Can Be Promoted without Force

It is important, in the context of the Weigel/Johnson thesis, to stress that most of the time, in fact, justice is promoted without force. Anyone who has lived in a reasonably happy family or a decent small town, or has studied or worked in a well-run school, knows that authorities are most often able to defend the peace of right order through implicit acceptance of their authority by those under it, an acceptance that is strengthened by parental instruction to children, peer pressure, civic rituals, exhortation, the work of individual consciences, and, most especially, the perception that their authority is in fact in the service of justice. The more this is so, the less is force necessary. Authority figures may have force available to them, but if things are going well, they can deal with problems without needing to resort to using it. (Even tyrannical authorities typically try to use these same factors (minus conscience and plus fear), rather than endless force, to gain obedience.) Force is available, under the right conditions, as a last resort. It is a last resort in part, of course, because (what Weigel and Johnson rarely if ever seem to mention) even the best governments can be carried away by power. "Power tends to corrupt," as Lord Acton noted, and once we make the use of force into something expected and without the need to be explained, the use of force by government itself is more and more likely to be employed for unjust ends.

"Morally Neutral" Is False Language for the Use of Force

A key consideration here is Johnson's claim that "The classical tradition, by contrast, had thought of the use of force as morally neutral, good when . . . determined to be just." Is this accurate? Consider a range of actions: going for a walk, taking a meal to a sick neighbor, sexual intercourse, cutting off someone's leg without anesthesia, and killing one's neighbor. Going for a walk is not generally considered to be on a high level of moral importance. Although it can be abused (someone might do it habitually to avoid responsibilities), walking is generally healthy but otherwise morally neutral. Taking a meal to a sick neighbor is almost always a good idea, although you could spoil it if your main purpose was to gloat over her sickness, or, in a bizarre but not inconceivable case, to figure out how to rob her later. There are greater consequences here, for good or evil, than in taking a walk. Sexual intercourse is a much more serious matter. For everyone with a system of morality, it is a morally important act with serious consequences, and serious restrictions (including at the least that it must always take place without coercion.) It can be either a great good, or a great evil, depending on the circumstances, but it would be quite strange for anyone (at least from the Christian or any classic tradition) to call sexual intercourse in general "morally neutral."

Cutting off someone's leg without anesthesia can be precisely the right, lawful thing to do, if you are with a group of soldiers under siege, with no hope of short-term rescue, the leg is gangrenous, and you have no anesthetics. It might be the right thing to do, and take a great deal of courage, but it would be agonizing to do, and the loss of a leg is always, in itself, a cause for sadness. In almost any other circumstance, cutting off a leg is a hideously evil act. Killing one's neighbor may result from legitimate self-defense, or defense of another, if he attempts rape or murder, but there will never be joy involved. It could be called "good," but only in a rather technical sense: not good in itself, but good only as preventing a great evil.

The range of acts listed above runs from morally neutral to deeply morally consequential. War clearly falls at the latter end of this range, a long way from the category of taking a walk (neutral), or helping one's neighbor (usually good, but not deeply consequential in itself). War is sometimes permitted, and can be the right thing to do, but only rarely, and only under highly restricted circumstances, and it is never something that objectively should cause rejoicing. Loss of human life (much more than loss of one leg) is always, in itself, a cause for sadness (even a vicious killer has the potential, by grace, to become a good person), and the certain loss of many lives, much more so. If we found someone arguing that sexual intercourse should be seen as "morally neutral," or that cutting off legs, or killing one's neighbor, needed to be seen as "good when . . . determined to be just" we would find that very argument a use of confusing and misleading language.

Support for this approach can be found in the Summa. Question 18 of the "First Part of the Second Part," entitled "The good and evil of human acts in general" (Summa, I-II, 18, 2-4), makes it clear that for Aquinas, the good and evil of human actions is determined by their objects, and affected by circumstances as well. For a specific example, consider what Aquinas wrote about sexual intercourse: "The conjugal act and adultery, as compared to reason, differ specifically and have effects specifically different; because the one deserves praise and reward, the other, blame and punishment" (Summa, I-II, 18, 5, reply to objection 3). Consider Thomas' description of an action which is "indifferent in its species" (i.e. of good or evil): "it may happen that the object of an action does not include something pertaining to the order of reason; for instance, to pick up a straw from the ground, to walk in the fields, and the like: and such actions are indifferent according to their species." (Summa, I-II, 18, 8, "I answer that"). Taking a walk or picking up a straw may be called "morally neutral;" but the use of force is either good or evil, depending on the aim and the circumstances. (As with several insights in this book, I am indebted to one of the tutors at Thomas Aquinas College for directing me to this section of the Summa.)

Classic Just War Writers Used Strong, Negative Language for War

Not only is this language of "moral neutrality" unfitting, it is emphatically not the language used by the classic just war thinkers. A few quotations from Augustine and Aquinas (especially significant due to the constant appeals to these two giants of the "classic tradition" in Weigel and Johnson's works) will make this clear. Begin with Augustine, whom Aquinas quotes continually in his article on war in the Summa. First, nowhere in those quotations does Augustine state that war itself, even just war, is or even can be "good." Johnson, in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein, quotes Augustine numerous times, and again nowhere in those quotations does Augustine say the use of armed force, or war, can be "good" — nor, in fact, that it is "morally neutral." It would be odd if he did, since in The City of God, Book 19, Chapter 5, Augustine writes "On all hands we experience these slights, suspicions, quarrels, war, all of which are undoubted evils." In Chapter 7, he laments,

but how many great wars, how much slaughter and bloodshed, have provided this unity [of the Roman Empire]! And though these are past, the end of these miseries has not yet come . . . But, say they, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars. . . . Let everyone, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. And if anyone either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling.

All wars, then, for Augustine are "undoubted evils" and even just wars are "miseries" and "great evils" that no one with "human feeling" should think of "without mental pain." Much later, in Aquinas' article on war, when war meets the three, restrictive conditions he sets, he describes it not as "good" but as "lawful." Later still, Alphonsus de Liguori offered what is surely common sense wisdom when he wrote: "There is no doubt that since war generally brings in its train so many evils and so much harm to religion, to innocent people, to the honor of women, etc., in practice it is hardly ever just if declared on probable reasons of justice alone and not certain reasons." (De Quinto Praecepto Decalogi, quoted in Neo-Conned!, 226. I take "certain" here to mean "reasonably certain," not "absolutely certain" for de Liguori. However, it here to mean "reasonably certain," but it must mean at least "beyond reasonable doubt.")

From an author often acknowledged as one of the great neo-Scholastics, Suarez: "Jus belli est odiosum, et poena ejus gravissima; ergo restringenda est quod fieri potest." "The right of war is hateful, and its punishment is most grave; therefore it is to be restricted as far as can be." (Francisco Suarez, S.J., De Caritate, XIII, 7, 4 (quoted in Neo-Conned!, page preceding dedication). To cite an analogous concept from Islam: within Islam divorce is permitted, but it is explicitly called "akrah al-masmoohat," "the most hated of the permitted things." In Islamic thinking, in other words, God himself hates divorce, but permits it. The concept illustrates how even just war seems to be viewed in the actual writings of classic just war thought — while unjust war is, of course, viewed with complete horror in this tradition. These kinds of frank acknowledgments of the certain miseries of war — slaughter, bloodshed, misery, harm, dishonor — are, doubtless, a part of the "distinctive moral texture" (Against the Grain, 209) of warfare in classic just war theory, even if they are generally quite hard to find in the writings of Weigel and Johnson.

Up to this point, the positive argument has been made that the phrase "presumption against war" can be and most naturally should be understood as well within the bounds of classic just war theory. There are more specific logical errors in the Weigel/Johnson campaign against "the presumption," and the overall negative consequences that result from their push in the opposite direction.

Lost Distinction: "Presumption against" Vs. "Prohibition Of"

It seems Weigel and Johnson have muddied the distinction between "presumption against" and "prohibition of." Possibly as a result of this, important errors have crept into their own statements about presumptions. This appears to begin with Johnson's statement above that "The presumption against war idea provided a middle ground [for Catholics] on which those who favored a just war approach and the pacifists could come together: both shared that presumption." Not so: pacifists believe in a prohibition of war rather than a "presumption against" it. The "presumptions" against force, violence, and war are not shared with pacifists. It is true that strict just war theorists and pacifists may end up in practice in a similar position: opposing some wars. It is this that is the middle ground, not "the presumption" (and there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking and finding such a political middle ground: real politics is packed with such alliances). Another example of this muddying is found in Johnson's quotation above where he writes that "in classic just war thought . . . the assumption was not u2018against war' but against the evil and injustice that unfortunately abound in the affairs of men and nations, which armed force may be required to remedy." This is serious confusion: war in just war theory is a grave undertaking, with important moral consequences, that is permitted under conditions. "Evil and injustice," on the other hand, are never permitted under any circumstances. Thus there is neither an "assumption" nor a "presumption" against evil and injustice, but an absolute prohibition against taking part in them. The parallel is false. Weigel falls into the same error when he writes, in "Just War: An Exchange," (p. 34) that "[j]ust war thinking starts with u2018a presumption for justice,' not a u2018presumption against violence.'" These too are false parallels. It is a government's duty to avoid doing injustice in all situations, even, as Weigel notes in another context, when the cost to the rulers is high. It is not its duty, according to just war theory, to avoid violence in all situations. In addition, as noted above, there is often no need to set the pursuit of justice in opposition to the avoidance of violence, because in most cases justice can and should be pursued without the use of force.

Red Herring: A "Priority" without Consequences

In his "exchange" in First Things with Williams, Weigel never directly addressed the Archbishop's point concerning Aquinas' article on war that: "Formally, this is a consideration of those conditions under which what would otherwise be gravely sinful would not be so" (War and Statecraft, 15). Weigel asks, "Why can a sovereign ruler override what Dr. Williams calls Aquinas' u2018prima facie case against war,'" thus quietly allowing that Aquinas makes such a case (if not, it would be meaningless for Weigel to say it can be overridden). Weigel insists, though, as if the point contradicts that "prima facie case," that rulers have "a prior moral obligation, a responsibility to defend the peace of right order. That prior obligation is the beginning of all morally serious thinking about the use of armed force for morally serious ends."

The "priority" of the obligation should be analyzed. In looking at the work of government from any non-anarchist and non-libertarian theoretical standpoint, it is necessary at some point to posit the duty of the government to establish a just and peaceful order, at least within the borders the government controls. In a consideration of the work of government, this duty is likely enough to come prior to considering the issue of war. However, just war theorists (as opposed, generally, to pacifists and anarchists) believe in a government that is authorized to use force at least some of the time. That is true even of openly "presumption against war" just war theorists. Therefore, the issue Weigel is so concerned about here is simply a given for the majority of Weigel's non-pacifist opponents. The reason they do not hammer away at the issue is not that they do not believe it; rather, it is because it is so fundamental to their beliefs that it does not cross their minds to raise it.

But does prior acknowledgment of this moral obligation actually makes a difference? Let someone begin by positing that a government has an obligation to establish "the peace of order," using force when necessary, at least within its own borders. It seems certain that Williams agrees with such a statement — the Church of England does not pick anarchists to be Archbishops of Canterbury. Next, the question arises: when may the same sovereign make war outside his borders? We have now "begun" in the right place, according to Weigel, we have got our priorities right, yet — the question is just as difficult as if we had not done so. Why? Because there is almost always another government there, with rights and responsibilities, one would think, within its borders. When is it right, therefore, for a government to use force beyond its own borders to promote peace (however defined) against the will of another government, especially if the first government's country is not under any visible or demonstrable attack? How are all the conflicting claims of sovereign authorities to be reconciled? Weigel gives no direct answer to these questions in his answer to Williams. It seems that using Weigel's prescribed starting point simply doesn't help at all in resolving the nitty-gritty question of when a war is actually just or unjust.

Consider a parallel case, the presumption of innocence in court. The presumption of innocence in law is in practice a presumption against a jury's believing the prosecution (i.e. the government), until it proves guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This presumption may be looked at both in terms of where it falls in a theory of criminal justice, and in terms of whether it prevents or discourages prosecutions. There would be little point in debating where thinking about criminal justice ought to begin, as somewhere in the theory government is said to be in the business of enforcing the laws. Somewhere else along the way, at least in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, juries are said to be under a duty to assume the innocence of the accused until their guilt is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Although the duty of government may be logically prior to the presumption of innocence, the presumption of innocence already assumes that government is at work enforcing the laws. What difference does it make whether this assumption about the government enforcing its laws is made explicit or not? In practical terms, hundreds of years of the presumption of innocence in Anglo-Saxon law have not prevented governments from prosecuting criminals, nor from winning convictions against them (including, sometimes, the innocent — it is worth not forgetting that). It seems clear that the order of considering these two facts within the theory makes no practical difference, and beginning with the presumption of innocence would in practice make no difference in the fact of prosecutions and convictions. (Perhaps, though, if there were an effort to try to drown out talk of the presumption of innocence due to a perceived "conflict" between that and the obligation of governments to enforce the laws, it might erode the presumption of innocence — not to the benefit of citizens, since that presumption is vital precisely because governments too can be immoral, and power corrupts.)

And what is the effect of this presumption against believing the government, when a prosecution is successful and the jury finds against the defendant? In fact, because of the existence of this presumption, citizens are more sure the jury did rightly — it did not lightly decide to deprive the defendant of money, liberty, or life, but only after it overcame the presumption of the defendant's innocence. This negative presumption actually strengthens our confidence in the rightness of the action the government wished to take, without in any way making convictions impossible. (I am [again] indebted to my friend, Thomas Aquinas College tutor John Nieto, for this observation.) There is no reason for a "presumption against war" not to have the same effect.

Not Seeing That Standards Cut Both Ways

Weigel wrote against Williams, a few sentences after his remarks on the "prior obligation" of the sovereign, that the "presumption against war" has not reinforced the "obvious" truth that "public authority has to make a moral case that the use of armed force in defending the peace of right order is the only reasonable option in this instance, because other nonmilitary means have failed or have been reasonably judged to be unavailing, given the threat and the aggressor." On the contrary, surely by its nature it reinforces that very truth, to the extent that people think about it, and many did before the Iraq war. The government "has to make" the moral case for war, precisely because other "public authorities" have a presumptive right not to be attacked, and because, as Williams notes, war is "gravely sinful" if fought for the wrong reasons: war is "presumed to be unjust" until convincingly demonstrated to be otherwise (and ugly, as Augustine notes, even when it is the right thing to do). That is precisely why Aquinas wrote that war is only just when it meets certain conditions, and why governments strive to show that they have met those conditions. Weigel appears to ignore the possibility that some of those opposing the war did so not out of pacifism but precisely because they did not believe the public authority had convincingly made "a moral case that the use of armed force . . . is the only reasonable option in this instance, because other nonmilitary means have failed or have been reasonably judged to be unavailing," and because they judged the evidence about "the threat and the aggressor" insufficient. It appears that Weigel nowhere in that essay accounted for this possibility, but in fact, many opponents of the war were obviously not pacifists. Many opponents of the war, whether pacifists or not, in fact made many of their arguments against the war in precisely these terms: they argued, with evidence, that "public authority" had failed to "make a moral case" in favor of the war. Like Johnson at times, Weigel appears in this passage unable to see that a standard, by its very nature, can cut both ways. In this case, if a standard shows when a war is just, it can also, by definition, show that a war is unjust.

False Analogies and a Missed One: JWT and Force in General

Looking carefully at Weigel's spanking example at the beginning of this appendix, and his use of Griffiths' driving license example, one finds serious problems, as well as a missed chance to broaden the application of the theory. There is not a presumption against spanking — but that is because the word "spanking" itself already includes the idea of a controlled and proper use of force (rather like "just war"). There is, of course, a presumption against the use of force against children, which is nicely parallel to just war theory: the use of force against children should not be a normal, unrestricted activity. It should be used only for a right cause, with the right intention (for the child's good, not to satisfy parental fury), it should be practiced by the competent authority (the parent, or a designated guardian, or, in an emergency, a competent adult), it should be proportionate to the disobedient act, and it should be a last resort, not used if a lesser sanction, such as a stern warning, will be sufficient. (Reasonable chance of success is more or less a given, or perhaps this is why sixteen-year old boys are rarely spanked.) In this analogy, the pacifist would be the "never spank" parent, and the "war is normal" theorist the casually violent parent who smacks or cuffs a child without warning and for any reason. The word "war" is properly parallel to "force," not "spanking." (To make parallel concepts of war and spanking is an ugly idea, in part because a proper spanking almost never causes lasting physical damage at least, whereas even the best-justified war involves death, chaos that allows ugly violence free rein, and destruction.) Weigel's humorous little spanking parable actually reinforces Griffith's point.

While Weigel is right that Griffiths' example of licensing drivers is a strange use of language, that is because issuing driving licenses is a natural, everyday activity, with very minor restrictions. There is a range of human activities — as noted above, some (like knuckle-cracking or taking a walk) come with a very few, very minor restrictions or none, while others come with heavy, serious restrictions. To use "presumption against" language when there are few, minor restrictions is an odd use of language, because we usually restrict such language to activities with serious possible consequences. But when Weigel accepts Griffiths' licensing analogy while denying that there is a "presumption against" issuing licenses, he implicitly accepts a parallel between making war and issuing drivers' licenses, with a presumption against neither. That parallel would make war an everyday, normal occurrence — an activity that every "sovereign authority" should practice as often as his heart desires, a tool of statecraft as unexceptional as sending ambassadors or organizing cultural exchanges. To make war equivalent to issuing licenses in explicit terms would be horrifying, but that is the direction in which Weigel's language pushes him. The whole parallel expresses an overreaction in theory that, in rhetoric at least, has lost touch with the underlying reality.

Weigel misses a much better analogy than that of spanking and war. First, one can one in fact say there is a healthy presumption (understood in the normal, natural sense) against the use of force against any human being, whether by the forces of order or by other citizens — force should only be used under certain highly restrictive conditions. It is not normal to use force against human beings, but at times it may or should be done. However, if we ask when it is permissible to use force, just war theory offers an excellent analogy to other situations. One more example: the police. When do we as citizens want to see the police use force? Well, for a just cause, with a right intention, when they have the proper authority under law (just because they are the police does not prove they are enforcing the law in a particular instance), when the ends are proportionate to the means, when there is a reasonable chance of success, and as a last resort. The parallel with just war theory is excellent. Perhaps Weigel missed it because he has come to think of war as normal and unexceptional, something quite alien to the thought of Aquinas.

Confusion on Private Use of Force

Weigel also claims that the "presumption against violence" "collapses bellum into duellum," or "conflates the ideas of violence and war." For Weigel, "duellum" signifies "the use of armed force for private ends by private individuals:"

If the just war tradition is a theory of statecraft, to reduce it to a casuistry of means-tests that begins with a "presumption against war" is to begin at the wrong place. The just war tradition begins somewhere else. It begins by defining the moral responsibilities of governments, continues with the definition of morally appropriate political ends, and only then takes up the question of means. By reversing the analysis of means and ends, the "presumption against war" starting point collapses bellum into duellum and ends up conflating the ideas of "violence" and "war." The net result is that warfare is stripped of its distinctive moral texture. Indeed, among many American religious leaders today, the very notion of warfare as having a "moral texture" seems to have been forgotten (Against the Grain, 209).

In fact, Weigel appears to collapse the private use of force into violence, and to have the wrong idea of what makes the use of force moral. Say a stranger rushes at my wife in the street, red-faced and shouting. I interpose myself, and, when the man tries to shove me out of the way, I wrestle him to the ground. This is private use of force, with no sanction by the state at all, and for a private end — the defense of my wife. Yet, is it immoral? Surely not. Surely it would be fully justified and moral. It is not, as Weigel appears to imply, that government use of force is good and private use is not — that is simply confusion. Instead, there are moral and immoral uses of force, both for individuals and for governments. In both cases, there is a "presumption against violence." If the same stranger, instead of rushing at my wife, shouted at her from across the street, "I hate you! Watch out, you're going to get it," would I be justified in crossing the street and pummeling him, with fists or some weapon, or shooting him if I had a pistol with me? No, but not primarily because it would be a private use of force, rather because the presumption against violence rules it out. While the words are hostile, there appears to be no imminent danger. The ideas of "last resort" and "proportionality" interpose themselves as well, just as they should for a government in an analogous situation. It is not the private use of force that is ruled out, but the use of force that is not in accord with justice and prudence.

It is true that in Augustinian and Thomist thought, a soldier is justified, during a just war, in seeking to kill enemy soldiers because of the command of a right authority, whereas the private person, for Aquinas, is justified in killing even in self-defense only by "double-effect" reasoning — he aims to defend himself, rather than to kill, even if the proportionate defensive action he takes does in fact kill his attacker. Nonetheless, even this permission to aim to kill in warfare does not grant blanket permission to kill enemy soldiers. For example, a slaughter of enemy soldiers who have laid down their arms and surrendered is most definitely not a moral act according to just war theory, whatever the orders of superiors may be. There is no blanket permission in just war theory to use force in warfare, even in a just war, any more than in private life. For the state and for the individual, the use of force must be justified.

When Weigel refers to "the distinctive moral texture of warfare" in this context, perhaps he is unconsciously guilty of government-worship. Warfare has the same "moral texture" (in one sense of the term) as any human activity: if in accord with prudence and justice, it is moral; if not, it is immoral. Warfare is different from the private use of force not because one is moral and the other immoral, but because warfare is a corporate activity, subject to different rules from those that govern private action, even if those rules are based on the same underlying principles. But what is truly distinctive about the moral texture of warfare, as opposed to other corporate activities, it is precisely its hatefulness even when right, an idea strongly supported by the writings of Augustine, Alphonsus de Liguori, and Suarez, as well as the list in which Aquinas places "war."

Getting the Practical Consequences of "the Presumption" Wrong

A counterexample to Weigel and Johnson's claims the phrase "the presumption against war," or the concept as an introduction to just war theory, leads by some powerful inner logic to pacifist conclusions is found in the Bishops' letter "The Challenge of Peace" itself, the very document that seems to Johnson to lead in the wrong direction. In the first instance where the phrase is used in that document, the full paragraph (70) runs thus:

As we have already noted, however, the protection of human rights and the preservation of peace are tasks to be accomplished in a world marked by sin and conflict of various kinds. The Church's teaching on war and peace establishes a strong presumption against war which is binding on all; it then examines when this presumption may be overridden, precisely in the name of preserving the kind of peace which protects human dignity and human rights.

First, the bishops state that the over-riding concern is the "protection of human rights and the preservation of peace." Peace is defined in a variety of ways over the preceding sixty-nine paragraphs, but is expressly stated not to be merely "the absence of war" (see paragraph 68). The bishops then state that there is a presumption against war, and immediately that it may indeed be overridden (in other words, to be crystal clear, the bishops are stating here when wars may rightly be begun), precisely to preserve a peace that is not just the absence of war, as Johnson wrongly complained of their description, but a peace "which protects human dignity and human rights."

In fact, it appears quite inaccurate to say, as Johnson does, that "The Challenge of Peace described Catholic just war doctrine as beginning with a general u2018presumption against war.'" It would be more accurate to say that "The Challenge of Peace" begins its discussion of war with a long, multi-faceted discussion of peace, including the idea of justice, and then moves on to just war theory only after that context has been established. In fact, the sixty-nine paragraphs that precede that mention of a "presumption against war" are largely about the deeper meaning of "peace," in all its complexities, including the requirement of right order, or justice. In one of the first attempts to define "peace" in biblical terms the document states, "true peace implied a restoration of the right order not just among peoples, but within all of creation" (paragraph 32). Soon after, it states: "The lament of Isaiah 48:18 makes clear the connection between justice, fidelity to God's law, and peace" (paragraph 35). And, in paragraph 68 (with slight repetition):

Peace is not merely the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is richly and appropriately called "an enterprise of justice" (Is. 32:17). Peace results from that harmony built into human society by its divine founder and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice.

It is indeed possible to move directly from a "presumption against war" to a discussion of how and when to go to war in response to grave injustice, and that is explicitly stated by the very document Johnson and Weigel single out as exemplifying the trend toward pacifism. Note that, despite Johnson's dark suspicions about "why the aim of peace was left out of the just war jus ad bellum as stated by The Challenge of Peace," Weigel himself left that aim out of his own short list of jus ad bellum criteria in "Moral Clarity in a Time of War" (Against the Grain, 210). The likeliest explanation in both cases is simply that the "aim of peace" falls rather naturally under "right intention," as Johnson himself notes in his January 2005 essay ("Just War, as It Was and Is," 20), as well as in his book The War to Oust Saddam Hussein — and Aquinas discusses the aim of peace under right intention as well.

Conclusion on "the Presumption"

"The presumption against war has smuggled into just war thinking a pacifist premise — armed force is wicked — that classic just war thinking rejects," writes Weigel contra Williams. Not at all — the "presumption against war" is simply a restatement in new terms of the classic position. Classic just war theory allows war under limited conditions, but shows a strong and well-justified distaste for war, which is gravely sinful if it does not meet the conditions. Classic just war theory does not "begin" with a broad, general obligation of all rulers to stop evil everywhere (see section below on "The Sovereign's u2018Obligation'") because such an obligation would not solve precisely the problem that (except in a purely and clearly defensive war) needs solving: when is the lack of rightly-ordered peace in the other state so great that war is justified? "The presumption" does not presume that "armed force is wicked," as Weigel claims, but rather that the use of armed force conflicts with what is normally good — liberty, and that its full-blown use kills humans — which is tragic. Weigel's logical fallacy here is the "excluded middle." Either you believe force is inherently "wicked," or you regard it as completely normal and "neutral." The truth is in the middle — war is often wicked, and when it is lawful, it is still regrettable. If pacifism has been smuggled into the classic just war tradition (and regrettably, that is often true), there is no reason to blame it on "the presumption."

On the one hand, the attempt to show that just war theory has been weighted toward pacifism is a perfectly legitimate one — the case can easily be made. However, the overreaction by Weigel and Johnson in their long fight against "the presumption against war" basically tips the just war theory boat over on the other side, toward a "presumption in favor of war." It does this first in the very denial of the concept of a presumption against war, because if there is no presumption against some activity, that activity has to be considered normal, natural, and always acceptable, like issuing a driving license, picking a straw off the ground, or taking a walk. It is doubtful that classic just war theory ever described war in such terms. Secondly, it harms just war theory by an overwhelming use of positive language about war, with only token remarks about its negative certainties.

Weigel even writes in one essay, "Thus, in the just war tradition, war is not an abandonment of the moral realm; war is a moral category–war is the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force by the legitimate public authority in order to secure certain worthy public goods. Anything else is brigandage, in one form or another." (Against the Grain, 232-33. Unfortunately, this statement is not taken out of context. There is nothing in the immediate surrounding text about the possibility of an unjust war. It is true that Weigel elsewhere discusses unjust wars, but to write statements like the one quoted appears to demonstrate a serious loss of balance. Coupled with his assertion that Aquinas article is on "iustum bellum," rather than "bellum," it strongly implies a presumption in favor of the justice of war in Weigel's thinking. Aquinas' writings carry no such presumption.) Yet if it were true that "war" in the just war tradition is "the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force by the legitimate public authority in order to secure certain worthy public goods," there would have been no need for Augustine and Aquinas to write of "just" and "unjust" wars, nor for Aquinas to put "war" in the middle of his list of uncharitable acts. In Weigel's definition here, all wars are just, and only "brigandage" is unjust.

In a similar vein, Johnson writes "Just war tradition has to do with the possible good use of force, not finding exceptional cases when it is possible to use something inherently evil (force) for the purposes of good" (War to Oust, 36).

While this is partially correct, it is also sharply misleading, like saying the building code "has to do with defining when a building is safe," or that the speed limit "has to do with the possible good uses of speed." Just war theory is not a guide for praising rulers who start wars any more than it is a grab-bag of all-purpose condemnations of the use of force. It is a set of standards: it consists of criteria. According to one on-line definition, a criterion is "a standard of judgment or criticism; a rule or principle for evaluating or testing something." It comes from a Greek root meaning to separate, or decide. Moral criteria, by definition, do not exist for the purpose of showing merely what is good and acceptable. By their existence, such criteria unavoidably show also what is evil or unacceptable.

In conclusion, it is not only possible to make a "just war" case for war after starting at the "presumption against war," it is a perfectly good place to start, because war is simply not an everyday activity, nor is it desirable except in carefully delimited circumstances. This is both explicitly and implicitly acknowledged by Augustine, Aquinas, and others in the classic tradition, and is clear enough in the very framework, the six classic criteria, that Weigel and Johnson use. Unless it is abused in some way, the neutral, descriptive phrase "the presumption against war" falls well within classic just war theory. Creeping pacifism should be fought on other grounds.

Prudence, the Morality of Human Action, and Aquinas

Downgrading the Prudential Criteria

Johnson expresses some reservations about the three "prudential" criteria (although he follows up immediately with the statement that the prudential criteria "are clearly important concerns"):

I have also criticized the priority given in some recent just war thinking to three moral criteria not found in classic statements of the just war idea. My concern with these is not simply that they are new, but that they are at best supportive concerns having to do with the wise practice of government, not primary concerns having to do with establishing and protecting the goods of politics themselves. To treat them as if they are of the same character as the requirements found in classic just war thought, or even as more important, warps just war reasoning. The traditional just war criteria — sovereign authority, just cause, and right intention, including the end of peace — are deontological in character; they impose duties on the person or people having ultimate moral responsibility for the good of the political community and for good relations among political communities. The newly added criteria . . . are consequentialist in nature, requiring an estimate of outcomes and a weighing of the wisdom of resorting to force in a given case (War to Oust, 36).

Johnson restates this caution against treating the prudential criteria as equal to the others in a number of places. Weigel goes further in his downgrading: after denouncing what he perceives as too much emphasis on the prudential criteria, he drops them almost completely from the discussion in his April 2005 article, despite its sweeping title, "Iraq: Then & Now."

While Johnson's division between deontological and prudential criteria is an acceptable one, it appears that Johnson and Weigel make far too much of it. Note, first, what appears to be an ambiguity in Johnson's formulation. When he writes that "The traditional just war criteria . . . are deontological in character; they impose duties" on political leaders, it is not clear from reading Johnson that sometimes the duty imposed is that of not going to war. A binding obligation generally binds both ways: the wedding vow commits a husband both positively, to love his wife, and negatively, not to have affairs with other women. The criterion "just cause," for example, binds a nation to seek justice for its citizens and, to some extent, those of other nations (sometimes, but not often, through war). Considered by itself, this criterion cannot possibly bind a nation to go to war, otherwise the remaining criteria would be superfluous. But this criterion, by itself, clearly binds a nation not to go to war without a just cause. It is not clear that Johnson has demonstrated that there is a duty to go to war even when all six criteria have been met — might there not be a case in which some of the prudential criteria, while judged to be met, were not overwhelmingly met? If the proportionality of ends criterion, for example, had led only to a weak judgment that the damage from a war was likely to be less than the evil to be halted, or if the chance of achieving success were judged likely but not extremely likely, has Johnson clearly shown the duty of country A to wage war on the behalf of the people of country B?

Secondly, just as the prudential criteria require "an estimate of outcomes" and a "weighing of wisdom," so the deontological criteria require "estimates" and "weighings" of justice, intentions, and legality. No one, statesmen included, (they are, after all, politicians) perceives the force of the law, justice, and the rightness of his own and his nation's intentions with the simplicity of someone perceiving the color of a leaf or measuring the length of a two-by-four. There are difficulties in perception here as much as in the prudential criteria, and motives intrude just as much. Aquinas himself makes this clear (see below).

Later in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein, Johnson criticizes a Jimmy Carter editorial for (among other things) getting the criteria out of order, and for putting a prudential criterion, last resort, first. In his critique of Carter's editorial, Johnson says these criteria "have to do with the wisdom of doing what has already been determined to be justified. That is, they are about whether it is worth the risk to do what we know is right. This is a question that should be asked, but it is not the first or most important question to ask" (War to Oust, 59).

The first problem with Johnson's analysis here is that in effect he completely divorces the deontological from the prudential criteria, assigning all the moral weight to the first set, and going further to say the prudential criteria provide a mere risk calculation. Johnson's recommended sequence of considering the criteria appears to be one of the most logical ones, but even if we follow it we have not established the right and wrong of the matter until we are done with all the criteria. For example, the present or future rulers of China might, perhaps, be shown to be as despotic and as guilty of crimes against their "own people" as Saddam ever was, and a calculation made of whether the United States should "oust" them. The questions of sovereign authority, just cause, and right intention, including the U.S. purpose of "restoring peace," might be settled. Perhaps a future U.S. administration could show that it could neutralize China's nuclear arsenal, probably with preemptive nuclear strikes (to reach hardened underground missile silos). Would that establish the rightness of a war with the Chinese leadership? Wouldn't some other questions need to be examined before the plan was pronounced "right?" For example: the questions of how many millions of Chinese civilians (as well as soldiers) might die in the conflict, how those millions of deaths compared to the damage done by the leadership, what practical hope of a better government after such a nuclear strike and subsequent war existed, and whether any other means of producing positive change were possible? Johnson's assigning of the entire moral weight to the first group of criteria and none to the second seems impossible to defend. The evaluation of the second prudential group of criteria in every case forms an integral part of the total justice or lack thereof of a decision to go to war.

Prudential Criteria Form a Useful Shortcut to Evaluation

But that suggests another consideration: the fact that the prudential criteria must be met in order for a war to be just provides a useful short cut. If it is quite clear that one or more of the prudential criteria is in a given situation impossible to meet, why waste time considering the justice of a proposed war in the abstract, except as an intellectual exercise? The example of China above illustrates very well the value of this short cut: no sensible writer would bother to discuss the justice of such a war, because it is clear the costs would be so horrific, and the outcome so uncertain, that the overall justice of the idea is not even worth considering. On a smaller scale, the same is true of North Korea: even without nuclear weapons, the devastation the North, with its well-buried artillery, could wreak on the South is so huge that only a clearly imminent and devastating planned attack by the North could make a first strike (even a non-nuclear one) on the North just, despite the truly odious character of the North's regime. There appear to be no serious calls by anyone for waging preemptive or preventive war on North Korea, presumably because of this rather simple calculation.

For Aquinas, Justice without Prudence Is Inconceivable

In this connection, note also the classical listing of the "cardinal virtues," which include both justice and prudence. Plato lists them, (in The Republic), and the Biblical book of Wisdom (which remains part of Catholic bibles) does also: "virtues . . . temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude" (Wisdom 8:7, New Jerusalem Bible). Justice is not first in that list. When Aquinas lists the moral virtues, he rearranges them, putting not justice but prudence in the first place (Summa, I-II. 61, 2. It is true that Aquinas sees justice as "foremost among all the moral virtues," Summa, I-II. 58, 12, and the importance of justice among the virtues for Aquinas can hardly be overstated, but this does not indicate that it can stand alone.) In an earlier article, Aquinas indicates why he does so:

Gregory says . . . "the other virtues, unless we do prudently what we desire to do, cannot be real virtues." . . . Moral virtue cannot be without prudence, because it is a habit of choosing, i.e. making us choose well. Now in order that a choice be good, two things are required. First, that the intention be directed to a due end. . . . Secondly, that a man take rightly those things which have reference to the end: and this he cannot do unless his reason counsel, judge, and command aright, which is the function of prudence and the virtues annexed to it.) (Summa, I-II. 58, 4.)

It seems rather clear from these statements that Aquinas would regard justice without prudence not as something incomplete, but as something impossible. For Aquinas, without prudence it is impossible to "choose well," even in the seeking of justice. This reinforces the earlier point that justice must be weighed and argued rather than directly perceived, and that rulers and moralists are just as liable to error in this endeavor as in the "estimation of outcomes" involved in applying the prudential criteria. Aquinas' and Gregory's point in this paragraph could be rephrased in terms of war: the justice a nation seeks to achieve in war can be neither chosen nor achieved without prudence.

But there is more to be said about Aquinas' views on justice and prudence. Aquinas' brief article on war is an integral part of his vast Summa, and the context in which he placed this one small piece of his work offers rich insights. The article on war comes in the third main division of the Summa. In the second part of that work, Aquinas has a great deal to say about right and wrong and human actions. Question 18, "the good and evil of human acts, in general," is key here. In the early parts of that "question," Aquinas asserts, contrary to what might be expected, that the goodness of a moral action is not a mere question of abstract definition, but is related to the object of the action: "the primary goodness of a moral action is derived from its suitable object . . . an action is said to be good from the fact that it can produce a good effect. Consequently the very proportion of an action to its effect is the measure of its goodness." (Summa, I-II, 18, 2). Aquinas then goes further, and ascribes a key role to the circumstances around an act: "On the contrary, the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Ethic. ii, 3) that a virtuous man acts as he should, and when he should, and so on in respect of the other circumstances. . . . Therefore human actions are good or evil according to circumstances." (Summa, I-II, 18, 3). This leads to a summation in the fourth article of this "Question:"

Accordingly a fourfold goodness may be considered in a human action. First, that which, as an action, it derives from its genus; because as much as it has of action and being so much has it of goodness, as stated above (Article 1). Secondly, it has goodness according to its species; which is derived from its suitable object. Thirdly, it has goodness from its circumstances, in respect, as it were, of its accidents. Fourthly, it has goodness from its end, to which it is compared as to the cause of its goodness (Summa, I-II, 18, 4).

How does a good or just war fit in here? The first kind of goodness is the elementary goodness of being a complete action — the goodness of existence, not really what our era would call a part of moral goodness. The second derives from the object, and here we deal with "just cause." The third kind of goodness derives from circumstances, and here "prudence" is vital, along with the prudential criteria. Perhaps sovereign authority, or questions of legality, come under this heading as well. The fourth kind of goodness is from its end, or object, and this is most closely associated with right intention, or the aim of peace.

Later in this second main division of the Summa, Aquinas deals with prudence as one of the intellectual virtues. He asserts that prudence, the virtue of knowing how to achieve good aims,

is most necessary for human life. For a good life consists in good deeds. Now in order to do good deeds, it matters not only what a man does, but also how he does it; to wit that he do it from right choice, and not merely from an impulse or passion. And since choice is about things in reference to the end, rectitude of choice requires two things; namely, the due end, and something suitably ordained to that end [i.e. the means] (Summa, I-II, 57, 5).

Looking at these remarks, which all precede the article on war, it is clear that for Aquinas no action can be good unless it meets prudential criteria as well as deontological ones, to use Johnson's terms. For Aquinas, the right choice necessary to do any good deed, including choosing and embarking on a just war, requires suitable means, chosen through reason so that they actually lead to the aimed-for result in a given situation.

As discussed in Chapter 7, the concept of "right intention" for Aquinas is firmly tied to the idea of an "end," and this again links the prudential criteria to the others. Aquinas does not use the term "right intention" in a feel-good, fuzzy way, such that anyone who claimed it got credit. While Aquinas' article on war deals entirely with the core question of right and wrong, without mentioning any prudential considerations, it is nonetheless situated in the middle of the Summa. Given that context, it is inconceivable that Aquinas would have believed that a decision to go to war could be morally right without satisfying prudential requirements.

A Thomist Case for Each Prudential Criterion

Going further, a strong case can be made for each of the prudential criteria from specific statements by Aquinas in other contexts. First, proportionality, perhaps the clearest. Consider Aquinas' view of a similar subject to war, the overthrow of a tyrant, expressed in his article "Sedition" (Summa, II-II.42, 2). He wrote: "There is no sedition in disturbing a [tyrannical] government . . . unless indeed the tyrant's rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant's government." The point is reinforced in the article on killing in self-defense: "And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end" (Summa, II-II.64, 7).

Next, last resort. In Aquinas' discussion of killing in self-defense, he offers a limited defense of such killing, on the basis that the intention is self-preservation, and with the strict qualification that the violence is necessary for self-defense:

Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one's life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since one's intention is to save one's own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in "being," as far as possible. And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end. Wherefore if a man, in self-defense, uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repel force with moderation his defense will be lawful (Summa, II-II.64, 7).

Here we see a condemnation of "more than necessary" violence on the individual level. The "end" or aim is self-defense: staying alive. In that context, an act that leads to the death of the assailant is only justifiable as "necessary violence." It makes good sense to extrapolate from this discussion, on the individual level, to the level of the state. If the just aim of a state can be achieved without violence, that is, without war, it is not lawful to use war, which involves violence, to achieve it. "Last resort" as a criterion for a just war is strongly implied here.

Finally, reasonable chance of success. As noted above, the only justification for an act of self-defense which involves taking the life of a human being is that the intention of the one acting is "to save one's own life." Therefore, an act ostensibly in self-defense, but which in reality cannot possibly save one's own life, would be ruled out. In the realm of violence in self-defense on an individual level, it would seem that a reasonable possibility of achieving the aim (saving one's life) is necessary to justify a resort to violence. Extrapolating to the corporate level, how could a war not in immediate self-defense be justified if it had no chance of righting the wrong that was the cause of the war?

Moving away from Aquinas himself, the downgrading of prudential considerations to a risk calculation afterthought that Johnson has suggested here is in stark contrast to an important stream of Catholic philosophy, including that which is most appreciative of Aquinas' thought. As Josef Pieper writes:

Prudence is the cause of the other virtues' being virtues at all. . . . Virtue is a "perfected ability" of man as a spiritual person; and justice, fortitude, and temperance, as "abilities" of the whole man, achieve their "perfection" only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions. . . . Prudence is the "measure" of justice . . . The free activity of man is good by its correspondence with the pattern of prudence. What is prudent and what is good are substantially one and the same; they differ only in their place in the logical succession of realization. For whatever is good must first have been prudent. (Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Richard and Clara Winston, Trs., Lawrence E. Lynch, Tr., Daniel F. Coogan, Tr. (Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1966). Quoted in MAGNIFICAT, August 2007, 40.)

"The Community of Nations"

Johnson argues that Aquinas, in constructing his overall theory, "builds down from his overall conception of the sovereign's responsibility for the good of the political community," and says Aquinas sees "punishment of evil" as a specific justification "within this larger conception of the public good." However, this is a sweeping reading of Aquinas' words, especially if Johnson means by "the political community" the community of nations, as his context appears to indicate ("Just War, As It Was and Is," 17). Weigel writes again and again of the defense of "order" among nations as a reason for war in classic just war theory (Against the Grain, 221 and elsewhere). Both writers appear to glide imperceptibly, as if by sleight of hand, from classic statements about a government's duty to defend order within its borders and its citizens against attack to new and unlimited statements about a generalized duty to defend order everywhere.

These broad statements do not appear to be supported by a careful reading of the classical writers. In Aquinas' core statement under the "sovereign authority" section, he says that just as it is lawful for those in authority

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 (Rom. 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."

The question here is the good of the citizens who are the direct responsibility of the authority, not of those outside his rule.

Next, here is Aquinas' entire paragraph on just cause:

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says . . . "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly."

Here too, the focus is on specific wrongs, not "evil" in general, and in the quotation from Augustine, the specific wrongs appear to have been committed against the nation avenging them. The very word "avenges" (except in the case of God, as in "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,") strongly implies action taken by the victim of the original wrong, or at least someone closely related.

Finally, in this same short section, Aquinas' first sentence under "right intention" lists "the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil." In none of the three sections is there any specific reference to the community of nations (a concept Aquinas could have easily conveyed, living as he did in an avowedly Christian Europe ruled by a variety of sovereign princes who fought each other rather often). Where there is any focus on specified threats or evil actions, they are, either explicitly or implicitly, against those specific persons for whom those in authority are responsible. In other words, it appears to be generally assumed by Aquinas that an authority that declares war on another nation will do so in response to specific threats or evil done to its own citizens. While the "right intention" paragraph also speaks of "securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good," it seems most natural to read these "right intentions" in light of the previously mentioned limited causes, rather than as conveying a broad responsibility to a "sovereign" to "defend the common good" outside his borders. Any attempt to find a defense of an expansive "international order" in these words of Aquinas requires rather loose reading of his words.

It would strengthen Johnson's and Weigel's position if they were to quote an explicit reference in either Aquinas or Augustine that advised or countenanced the punishment or removal of Government A by Government B for either the wrongs Government A had committed against its own citizens or against Nation C. A right, in extraordinary circumstances, to interfere in another country in such a case, may be derived from the positions of Augustine and Aquinas, (see here for example), but it is not clearly stated there, and that is not the focus of their teaching. Perhaps other writers in the classic just war tradition have clearly stated that the defense of "order" among nations is a legitimate cause for war. As writers who are extremely skeptical of the competence of the United Nations to settle disputes, or even to act with authority, Weigel and Johnson are left to build on the right of individual nations to create or "restore" "world order," a difficult concept in itself.

The Sovereign's "Obligation"

Is There an Obligation beyond a Government's Borders?

Weigel and Johnson claim that the place to "begin thinking about" just war is the obligation of the sovereign authority to defend "the peace of order." As Weigel writes, "Why can a sovereign override what Dr. Williams calls Aquinas' u2018prima facie case against war'? Because, I suggest, the ruler is under a prior moral obligation, a responsibility to defend the peace of right order. That prior obligation is the beginning of all morally serious thinking about the use of armed force for morally serious ends." Johnson at one point claims that just war theory is an "obligation-based moral logic" (War to Oust, 49). Yet there is barely a hint of any obligation at all in Aquinas' article "On War." Throughout the article, Aquinas frames his argument in terms of justice and lawfulness, never "obligation." That is true even when he compares the defense of the "common weal against internal disturbances" with the defense of the realm "against external enemies." (Perhaps Aquinas saw rulers as eager enough to start wars without an "obligation" to start them.) The classic on-line Catholic Encyclopedia begin its article on War with "the right of war," not "the duty of war." The classic just war theorist Suarez writes: "Jus belli est odiosum, et poena ejus gravissima; ergo restringenda est quod fieri potest." "The right of war is hateful, and its punishment is most grave; therefore it is to be restricted as far as can be." Even the name of the branch of just war theory with which this whole book is concerned, jus ad bellum, indicates that it concerns the right in connection with going to war, not the responsibility to do so.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia on War, there is indeed an obligation in connection with war:

The right of war is the right of a sovereign state to wage a contention at arms against another, and is in its analysis an instance of the general moral power of coercion, i.e. to make use of physical force to conserve its rights inviolable. Every perfect right, i.e. every right involving in others an obligation in justice a deference thereto, to be efficacious, and consequently a real and not an illusory power, carries with it at the last appeal the subsidiary right of coercion. A perfect right, then, implies the right of physical force to defend itself against infringement, to recover the subject-matter of right unjustly withheld or to exact its equivalent, and to inflict damage in the exercise of this coercion wherever, as is almost universally the case, coercion cannot be exercised effectively without such damage.

However, it is clear here that the "obligation" does not mean an obligation of the sovereign to defend the peace of order, rather it is the obligation of the unjust party to the conflict to render justice in some way, a very different idea. The aggrieved party has the right to go to war in order to enforce the other party to live up to its obligations, not an obligation to go to war to do so. Classic just war theory does not appear to impose any general obligation on a ruler to "defend the peace of order" outside his country.

The obligation of a government to defend peace within its borders is widely acknowledged (except by hard-core libertarians or anarchists), so that is hardly a live issue for most. When the subject is starting a war that is not clearly defensive, however, the question usually concerns the use of force beyond the nation's borders. As noted above, there is almost always another government across the border, with its own rights and responsibilities. Does a government ever have an obligation to leave its own borders to establish order?

If There Is an Obligation, What Are Its Limits?

In a number of places, Weigel writes as if there are no limits on the region in which "the peace of right order" is to be defended, implying that in the classic tradition every ruler, everywhere, should end evil in every part of the world, even if most cannot (although the U.S. government, he implies, can and should). In "Moral Clarity in a Time of War" (Against the Grain, 209), he wrote first "that rightly constituted public authority is under a strict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility." This is certainly the clearly discernible view of Augustine and Aquinas (although "assumed responsibility" is debatable). But shortly thereafter in the same essay he refers to "the moral obligation of government to pursue national security and world order, both of which were directly threatened by the terrorist networks" (Against the Grain, 210). "World order" has crept in here as an equivalent responsibility to the protection of a government's citizens. This view is missing from Aquinas' writing, as noted above. But even if one can "tease out" (Against the Grain, 231) such an obligation, through extrapolation and analogy, surely an obligation to defend "world order" could hardly be unlimited. Would New Zealand have an unlimited responsibility, for example, to contribute troops in the defense of world order? What about U.S. responsibility toward the Chechens, or the Tibetans, or the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe? As the leading military power in the world, would the United States have an unlimited obligation to end injustice everywhere?

This creation, intentional or not, of an unlimited responsibility to create justice everywhere, appears completely unworkable. Weigel thinks highly of Augustine. Yet the Augustinian conception of a flawed world implies, at the very least, that not every wrong can be righted by a human ruler, who will always be flawed himself. Even a just ruler cannot put absolute justice into effect in the realm of his own responsibility, much less everywhere. A broader "Augustinian" awareness would suggest that those attempting to right wrongs have to be aware that they too are susceptible to the temptation to commit injustice, sure to act imperfectly, and likely to fall seriously in some way — and wars often lead to vast unintended consequences.

Surely it makes much more sense to speak of a limited right to defend world order, rather than an unlimited obligation to do so. The limits on that right, of course, are those in just war theory.

Who Should Apply Just War Theory?

Weigel and others have several times called to task theologians who take it upon themselves to apply the criteria and decide whether they have been met in a particular case. Weigel wrote in January 2003:

If the just war tradition is indeed a tradition of statecraft, then the proper role of religious leaders and public intellectuals is to do everything possible to clarify the moral issues at stake in a time of war, while recognizing that what we might call the virtue or moral habit [originally "charism"] of responsibility lies elsewhere — with duly constituted public authorities, who are more fully informed about the relevant facts and who must bear the weight of responsible decision-making and governance (Against the Grain, 222).

In May 2003, in "The Sounds of Religion in a Time of War," Neuhaus, after writing that "[t]he cause must be just, and in this case the just cause is the disarmament of Iraq," continued:

How best to vindicate the just cause, I insisted, is a matter of practical wisdom, of what is called prudential judgment. In just war doctrine, the Church's competence and responsibility is to set forth the pertinent moral principles. As No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, the application of those principles to specific cases is the responsibility of political leaders. It is true that religious leaders can claim that the principles are being ignored or misapplied, but in the latter case they do so at the considerable risk of exceeding their competence and undermining their credibility (p. 76).

While Neuhaus is surely right that churches are generally wise not to issue pronouncements on whether the just war criteria have been met in particular cases, both Neuhaus and Weigel went further than that, sharply criticizing "religious leaders and public intellectuals," a category that surely includes trained theologians who speak in public and write books, people like Neuhaus and Weigel, simply for publicly analyzing whether just war criteria had been met. Neuhaus stated his principle broadly: "the application of those principles to specific cases is the responsibility of political leaders." It is ambiguous language: the narrow interpretation of this statement would be that the political leaders are the ones who must make the decisions applying the principles. But Neuhaus clearly was criticizing his fellow intellectuals and religious leaders, not for trying to usurp the decision-making power of political leaders, but for simply "applying . . . principles" analytically. Johnson wrote in his book on the war, "One may reasonably wonder what special wisdom the president of the U.S. Catholic Conference brings to making a prudential judgment on the effects of a military action against the Saddam Hussein regime. This kind of judgment belongs properly to those entrusted with the office of government, and moral analysis oversteps its role when it tries to usurp that judgment for itself" (War to Oust, 49).

As noted, Weigel writes, "the proper role of religious leaders and public intellectuals is to do everything possible to clarify the moral issues at stake in a time of war," implying that they should then be silent on whether a given war is actually just or unjust. He then turned around and advanced his own guess at the reason for Pope John Paul II's lack of use of the word "unjust" to describe the war in Iraq (Against the Grain, 230). But if Weigel is right that churches should be silent on precisely this question, then there is simply no legitimate inference to be made from that silence. (Weigel's guess about the Pope's opinion was that "perhaps in part" he refused to call the war unjust because "Catholic Church leaders in Iraq had thanked U.S. diplomatic representatives for liberating their country." In the context of the Pope's strenuous arguments against the war, as well as the well-known courtly manners practiced in Arab culture, that is a remarkable leap.)

In weighing these arguments, it is useful to begin with the sentence in the Catechism to which Neuhaus was referring: "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good." First, although the Catechism uses different language for just war theory, it is quite clear from the entire section (No. 2309) that "these conditions" that need to be evaluated are not only the prudential ones, but the question of just cause itself. One of the conditions stated is "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations [here is the "just cause" concept] must be lasting, grave, and certain." Therefore, if Neuhaus believed that theologians, either as "religious leaders" or as part of the "Church," should limit themselves to "set[ting] forth the pertinent moral principles," he has already broken his own rule in the preceding paragraph by writing that "the just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq." He cannot have it both ways: if theologians should not "evaluate the conditions" by pronouncing that some criteria of the theory (including "just cause") are not met, neither should theologians state that they are met. To paraphrase Neuhaus' own words, "It is true that religious leaders can claim that the principles are being correctly applied, but they do so at the considerable risk of exceeding their competence and undermining their credibility."

Weigel's articles before the Iraq war and for some time after it began followed the Weigel/Neuhaus rule: theologians should clarify the issues, but not pronounce whether criteria were met. Later, however, he simply broke it. In his April 2006 article "Iraq: Then & Now" (Against the Grain, 224-49), as well as his April 2007 article in First Things, "Just War and Iraq Wars," (Against the Grain, 250-69), Weigel engages in multiple evaluations of whether just war criteria were met by the Bush administration. The same is true of much of "Internationalisms, etc.," an extended rumination by Neuhaus in First Things in December 2004 (pp. 64-68).

The argument against theologians making pronouncements on whether criteria are met is largely based on their perceived lack of expertise in dealing with strategic and geopolitical issues. It is interesting in that context to note that Neuhaus, a priest and theologian, believed himself qualified to critique, and dismiss as "crackpot realism," an article on war and strategy by Andrew Bacevich, a West Point-trained colonel with a PhD in international affairs (Neuhaus, "Interests, Ideals, and World War IV," First Things no. 152 (April 2005): 59). Neuhaus' belief in the limits of theologians' expertise had its decided limits in this case. While in the application of just war principles he demanded that others exercise deference to government officials, Neuhaus was willing to go far beyond the boundaries of his own training.

Neuhaus appears to follow Johnson in assuming that the deontological criteria are simply clear and obvious (especially to moral theologians, perhaps?), while the prudential criteria require the calculations of experts. "The cause must be just, and in this case the just cause is the disarmament of Iraq. . . . How best to vindicate the just cause, I insisted, is a matter of practical wisdom, of what is called prudential judgment." Yet, as an example of how easy it is for a moral theologian to be mistaken on the facts bearing on "just cause," consider one statement in Neuhaus' article "The Sounds of Religion in a Time of War." Near the end of his five-sentence evaluation of the just cause, Neuhaus writes, "none of these facts were in dispute." Two of the "facts" he cited were "[Saddam] possessed and was bent upon further developing more horrible weapons," and "his refusal to disarm." These were not facts, but conjectures, and they were most certainly in dispute, no matter how many U.S. officials had asserted them over the years. In article after article, evidence had been marshaled against these supposed "facts." The most powerful consideration, of course, was that UN inspectors, guided by U.S., British, and Israeli intelligence, had scoured the country for years without finding a single piece of evidence that these "facts" were true. The UN, it should be noted, did not assert them. When Neuhaus writes that the "just cause," the "disarmament of Iraq," was "affirmed by multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council," he leaves the impression that these multiple resolutions stated that Iraq was not disarmed. Yet Resolution 1441 of November 2002 stated no such thing: concerning WMD it "deplored" the lack of full disclosure of records of the programs, and the lack of unrestricted access for the UNSCOM and UNMOVIC (and IAEA) inspectors. The resolution did not even imply UN knowledge, or even a UN opinion, that Saddam possessed such weapons: UN weapons inspectors had had years in which to find them, but had never managed to do so. Neuhaus' apparent intellectual isolation on this subject is a striking demonstration of how wrong is the assumption that the deontological criteria are easy for theologians to judge, while the prudential criteria can only be dealt with by government officials.

Weigel states that public authorities "are more fully informed about the relevant facts," presumably a reference to intelligence not available to laymen. First, there is an oversimplification of the intelligence process in that remark. Intelligence is rarely the gathering of undisputed "facts." Rather, intelligence is about gathering statements and documents that might be false or counterfeit rather than true, as well as photographs and other kinds of evidence that also require verification or interpretation. There is a flood of such "evidence," and because much of it has no validity, it absolutely must be sifted, verified, and interpreted. This can only be done by fallible human beings, and as noted in Chapter 4, Objection 4, there is strong evidence that the process can be subject to intense political pressure. Second, to give only the most spectacular example, U.S. public authorities flatly stated that Saddam's Iraq had WMD, only to backtrack completely a year a year and a half after the invasion. Weigel was writing before the Duelfer report was published, but he could have found plenty of earlier examples of public authorities being wildly wrong on the facts, despite firm statements about intelligence findings.

Neuhaus writes: "As No. 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, the application of those principles to specific cases is the responsibility of political leaders." It is important to note that the Catechism does not say "political leaders" in this context, but "those who have responsibility for the public good." While clearly government decisions must be made by elected officials, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws, it is also the case that all thoughtful adults have some "responsibility for the public good," a responsibility acknowledged by the theory of democracy as well as the entire theory of the "image of God." (And, as this is a Catholic argument by Neuhaus, a Catholic response is appropriate: isn't God's implicit answer to Cain's sarcastic question of whether he was his brother's keeper "yes, to some extent"?) This is not an exotic idea in Catholic theology: in the well-known Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (paragraph 74), it is written concerning "men, families and the various groups which make up the civil community" that "each one makes his specific contribution every day toward an ever broader realization of the common good." In the context of the Catechism's teaching about the value of political freedom, surely the statement "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good" means simply that leaders of each society are meant to use just war theory criteria to make decisions about war and peace in accordance with the legal structure of each society. In no way does it even imply that citizens have nothing to say about the matter, or should be silent and not critique their political leaders.

In addition, surely it is only the public critiques that politicians receive that make them even attempt, in many cases, to defend their policies in moral terms. It is in part the lack of such a public critique that makes despotism, whether Saddamist, communist, or other, so bad. Note that First Things itself includes, issue after issue, critiques of decisions by government officials. Clearly the authors of such articles are not suggesting that the editors of First Things, rather than judges, should decide the issues before the Supreme Court, for example, yet they critique those decisions nonetheless, suggesting a belief that it is not in fact impossible for well-informed persons to equal or even surpass political leaders in expertise on the application of moral principles.

Who will analyze prospective wars for us in a just war framework? First, the "experts" in government are not going to put the issues into a just war framework unless and until just war theory becomes a common and accepted way of examining whether, why, and how to go to war. The American people are not there yet, despite Weigel's "confidence that the debate will continue to be morally informed here in America." (Williams and Weigel, "War & Statecraft," 21. The fact that the U.S. government has, without generating significant protest, named a tank after General Sherman, who deliberately used artillery on civilians in Georgia, and the main State Department building after Harry Truman, who ordered two bombs dropped on over a hundred thousand civilians, suggests that U.S. emotional attachment to just war theory may be rather weak.)

Even if just war theory became the prevalent framework of analysis, would it be wise to hope that U.S. military experts would apply just war theory in some useful way? Weigel is right that the U.S. military grapples with jus in bello questions, but it is clear that military officers of all ranks, even the highest, consciously avoid the jus ad bellum issues, except, at times, to support the rightness of a given war. That is largely because according to U.S. theory (as well as practice) politicians make these decisions, not soldiers. Of course, Caspar Weinberger, as a civilian Secretary of Defense, and later, Colin Powell, made attempts to bring just war thinking into U.S. government strategic decision-making. (Andrew Bacevich wrote in The New American Militarism (pp. 47-49), that young U.S. military officers who saw in Vietnam a failure by politicians to examine the political dimensions of their military moves were determined to raise their voices if future wars followed the same patterns. Powell was part of this determination.) However, in the end Powell, even as Secretary of State, had almost nothing negative to say in public about the launching of war against Iraq, despite the fact that his rules for thinking about conflict were clearly not being followed. Generals not yet retired made only veiled comments, and one active duty general, Eric Shinseki, was publicly humiliated and forced into early retirement for his deviation, under questioning before the Congress, from the administration's policy. In general, active-duty U.S. military officers rarely offer any input whatsoever to the public discussion of whether or not to go to war (although they are brought out as expert witnesses if and only if they agree with the administration in power). U.S. military officers cannot be depended on to provide the needed, impartial analysis.

Will civilian experts in government employ do better? We must remember first that such experts work for and are evaluated by bureaucrats who report to other bureaucrats, who report to political figures appointed by an administration. Even if such civilian experts use just war theory, it is their presumed job to do so while defending the current administration's policy. (Overall policy is always set by an administration, never by officials within the bureaucracy.) As a result, we can always expect government officials, even if they use a just war framework, to present the best possible just war case for any war desired by the current administration. That is acceptable in itself, but only if we understand it. Because of this built-in bias, we must not expect an objective evaluation from such officials. And the politicians who direct the experts will pitch their discourse to the existing public debate, which is only somewhat influenced in the United States by just war theory.

Finally, the freedom of priests, writers, and others to speak openly about the actions and policies of their government is one that Weigel himself justly celebrates when discussing (in his Letters to a Young Catholic) the revolution in Eastern Europe. Once again, you cannot legitimately "eat your cake and have it too." What is permitted and often praiseworthy under communism (critiques by citizens, including members of religious bodies) is surely, in principle at least, permitted and praiseworthy in a democracy.

While we all hope war decisions are made by elected leaders in accordance with our existing laws and with sound principles such as those enunciated by just war theory, as citizens of democratic states we all have a significant role to play in applying just war theory to proposed and actual wars. As voters we have opinions about all the important acts of our leaders, otherwise our votes for or against them when they run for reelection would be meaningless. Our areas of experience and expertise are limited: all the more reason for a public conversation before a war that includes contributions from all sides.

Omission: Systematic Application of the Six Criteria

It is striking that writers who called public attention to the six classic criteria of just war theory as the war began have not systematically applied them to the decision to go to war in Iraq. They did not apply the criteria, one by one, in detail, to the facts at hand, considering other renderings and interpretations of those facts, and arguments made by those who disagree with them.


Johnson's 2005 book The War to Oust Saddam Hussein comes closest to providing the necessary full application of the six criteria. It is described inside the dust jacket as "the first and only book to provide a moral analysis of the war in Iraq." The jacket also calls Johnson "our foremost historian of the just war tradition" (quoting Jean Bethke Elshtain) and "our wisest guide through the thickets of the just war tradition" (quoting Weigel). Rather than devoting a chapter to each criterion, Johnson covers all six jus ad bellum criteria in his short (twenty-three pages) third chapter, with the subtitle "Was the Use of Force Justified?" Johnson uses a great deal of that limited space critiquing the critiques of others. The chapter title itself is "The Debate over Using Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime." It appears that even here Johnson did not intend to offer what the dust jacket promises, "a moral analysis of the war in Iraq," but perhaps instead a moral analysis of the debate over going to war in Iraq. While the chapter contains analyses of all six criteria, they are scattered, with no organized progression from one to the next. It is difficult to find clear and unequivocal judgments as to whether the criteria were met, and even if Johnson hints strongly that some of them were and some were not, he does not state the implications of these implied findings. Although he judges the critics, he provides no clear judgments of the government's action in going to war.

Johnson explains his diffidence about actually providing a moral analysis of government action in several statements concerning the role of the moralist. One statement confines itself to prudential judgment: "prudential judgment . . . belongs properly to those entrusted with the office of government, and moral analysis oversteps its role when it tries to usurp that judgment for itself" (War to Oust, 49). But a bit later Johnson makes the point more broadly, and in connection with preemption, a key part of the "just cause" argument of the administration (and therefore situated in one of the deontological rather than prudential criteria, in Johnson's own terms):

a moralist working within the just war tradition may make clear that there must be justification, but it is going beyond this role to pass judgment on the facts of the case so that preemption is presented as morally impossible. The role of making such a judgment does not belong to the moralist but is among the obligations of those holding the office of government . . . people not in that position of authority may give their opinions, and they may participate in holding their political leaders to account for their decisions and actions, but they do not have the right to decide whether preemption is justified on their own (War to Oust, 52).

Near the end of the chapter, he returns to this thought:

We moralists do not bear political responsibility, and in our reflection and in our advice, whether solicited or unsolicited, we need to take care that we do not act as if we do. The Land letter got this right, leaving the decision to use force with the political authority. But all citizens of a democratic society, including moralists, may rightly hold to account those who do bear the office of political responsibility to act according to that responsibility (War to Oust, 67).

To sum up, Johnson insists that moralists may not rightly "pass judgment on the facts of the case," neither concerning (by implication) the deontological nor especially (and explicitly) the prudential criteria.

In the last quotation above, however, he praises the "Land letter," a public letter from a group of prominent Protestant theologians that carefully went through a set of criteria and pronounced each one met. (The letter reported the judgment of some evangelical Christian leaders that "your stated policies concerning Saddam Hussein and his headlong pursuit and development of biochemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction are prudent and fall well within the time-honored criteria of just war theory.") Although this letter violated Johnson's rule that only those holding political office may "pass judgment on the facts of the case," Johnson does not call any attention to this fact, and praises the letter because it left "the decision to use force with the political authority." However, it did not even do that: it stated explicitly that "any further delay in forcing the regime's compliance would be reckless irresponsibility in the face of grave and growing danger." Anti-war critics said it would be wrong to invade Iraq; the Land letter said it would be wrong not to invade. The Land letter did the very thing Johnson condemned: it told the authorities what the right decision was. That is just what Johnson is so reluctant to do openly and clearly himself.

Occasionally, Johnson also breaks his rule directly. In the same chapter of The War to Oust Saddam Hussein he writes, partway into a paragraph on his regret over the lack of attention to the requirement for an "aim of peace" before the war:

My position has been that the use of force to remove the Saddam Hussein regime was justified. I came to this position by a route that included the same two lines of reasoning that President Bush laid out in his second and third justifying arguments; indeed, I have thought the use of force to unseat Saddam Hussein and his regime justified since the aggression against Kuwait in 1990. The crimes of subsequent years only strengthened the case responsibility (War to Oust, 66).

Despite their casual air of a statement of personal belief, these sentences are certainly an example of "pass[ing] judgment on the facts of the case." But instead of making such a judgment the conclusion of an argument, Johnson drops this thought parenthetically into a paragraph on another subject. It appears that Johnson, by not making systematic pronouncements on the facts of the case, is trying to be consistent with his theory of what moralists should do. He seems, though, to fail to see that stating a judgment that government met the criteria is also "pass[ing] judgment on the facts of the case."

Not only does Johnson fail to achieve consistency, but the point of his overall stance is not clear. Granted that in a government, office-holders rather than moralists or other citizens make the decisions. But very few deny that almost painfully obvious fact. Would Johnson rebuke those who write about Supreme Court decisions because, in our system, justices decide these cases? Especially in light of Johnson's sentence admitting the right of all citizens to "hold to account" our political leaders, why should not Johnson, or indeed the conference of Catholic bishops, render judgments, the one as a well-informed citizen and the other as an institution with its own sense of responsibility? While Johnson is right that "we moralists do not bear political responsibility," the moral responsibility of those who are silent or who speak out for or against a proposed war exists, whether or not they make the actual decisions — and the more they know or should know, and the more they are listened to, the heavier that moral responsibility.

A further problem with Johnson's approach is that it effectively makes all criticism of (sovereign) rulers who go to war illegitimate. Consider: for the core criteria, any amount of evil appears to amount to just cause (Johnson never attempts to define, in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein, a minimal threshold of evil that justifies war, yet every regime or ruler does some evil); and Johnson does not state in the same book that the failure in Iraq to meet the core, "deontological" criterion of "right intention," a failure he hints at strongly, made the war unjust. For the prudential criteria, no one in Johnson's view may legitimately advise rulers on whether they meet them. Whether Johnson intends to come to this conclusion or not, the effective result of his various restrictions on criticism is to put all five criteria besides "sovereign authority" outside the permitted realm of judgment by anyone but the ruler involved, and perhaps God. On the other hand, Johnson has praised writings by non-rulers in which rulers are urged to go to war. He does not explain this paradox.

A closely related paradox is contained in Johnson's pronouncement on sovereignty: "According to the older, moral understanding of sovereignty, though, [Saddam] forfeited the right to sovereign immunity and, indeed, the right to govern Iraq with his tyrannical exercise of government" (War to Oust, 63). Yet Johnson does not seem to define the level of tyranny which removes sovereign immunity, making it hard to see how this guidance can be applied. Have all non-democratic rulers forfeited their right to govern? Why is Johnson an authority on this subject, when others are rebuked for "passing judgment on the facts"? He does not say.

It is a shame Johnson makes pronouncements of his conclusions only in a casual and parenthetical way, first because it deprives us of a systematic analysis from Johnson. Second, Johnson's authority behind his pronouncements about the statements of others is not clear — if in Johnson's view moralists have no right to pronounce on the actions of governments, what gives Johnson the right to pronounce on the statements of moralists? And finally, Johnson's argument about the right to pronounce becomes, in effect, a red herring: a reason for discussing at great length whether this or that figure has the right to pronounce this or that conclusion, rather than discussing how the criteria apply to the facts.


Consider Weigel's first extensive article applying just war theory to the decision to go to war in Iraq, "Iraq: Then & Now," first published in First Things in April 2006, and reprinted in 2008 as Chapter 10 of his book Against the Grain. In Weigel's original essay, he wrote "let me offer a just war defense of the moral probity of the decision to remove Saddam by armed force, with specific focus on the classic ius ad bellum criteria that are the intellectual and moral core of the just war tradition" ("Iraq: Then & Now," First Things no. 162 (April 2006): 36). That article contains some serious discussion of "just cause," "sovereign authority," and "last resort." "Right intention" is mentioned, but without any analysis. "Proportionality of ends" and "reasonable chance of success" appear to be entirely missing. In the revised version in the book, Weigel changed his description of his purpose in the essay to, "Three just war criteria were prominent in the pre-invasion debate . . . Each of these criteria belonged to the ius ad bellum, or war-decision law: competent authority, just cause, and last resort. An examination of each is essential in making a comprehensive just war case for the war against Saddam Hussein" (Against the Grain, 232). Essential, yet not sufficient — and this limited aim (which drops right intention) comes under the header with the bold claim "The Just War Case for the War." Right intention is mentioned half-way through a paragraph, under the subhead "Extending the Just War Tradition" (odd, since right intention is part of the core of the tradition going back to St. Augustine) (Against the Grain, 235), but without any apparent assertion that the intention displayed by the administration was in fact right, nor any argument backing such a claim. The closest to anything resembling a judgment on whether the Bush administration demonstrated a right intention is this: "Given the new realities of the post-9/11 world disorder, I believe there was no responsible alternative to setting sail on those uncharted waters." (Against the Grain, 246). Clearly that is not phrased as a conclusion on the right intention criterion, but it is the closest thing in the essay to such a conclusion.

It appears surprising that Weigel, after years of writing that there are six classic just war criteria, should "offer a just war defense" that contains no application of three of the six, including one of the "core" criteria identified by Aquinas. Weigel republished the essay without addressing in any substantive way the missing criteria.

A year later, in April 2007, Weigel published his next extensive look at the subject, "Just War and Iraq Wars" (pp. 14-20), also in First Things. (Again, a lightly revised version is available in Against the Grain, as Chapter 11.) Weigel begins with an extensive discussion of whether a new branch of just war theory, "ius post bellum," "right after war," is needed. Weigel notes that he "is inclined to Johnson's position" that the ius post bellum idea is already contained in "right intention" (Against the Grain, 253). Weigel next introduces the idea that there have actually been four wars in Iraq, the first of which consisted purely of the military overthrow of Saddam's regime (Against the Grain, 254). (see Chapter 10 of this book, Objection 1).

Weigel then very briefly discusses "just cause," ending with this sweeping assertion:

Regime change in Iraq was a necessity: It was necessary for the people of Iraq; it was necessary for peace in the Middle East; it was necessary to vindicate the fragile steps toward world order that had been taken since [the end of World War II]; and it was necessary in order to challenge Arab self-delusion [original version: "an Arab political culture warped by irresponsibility, authoritarian brutality, rage, and self-delusion"], out of which had emerged, among other things, contemporary jihadism (Against the Grain, 254).

Ironically, on the page before Weigel had stated that various "academic guilds . . . seem, in the main, to have concluded that the invasion of March 2003 did not satisfy the ad bellum criteria of a just war. Yet that conclusion is more often asserted than argued." Not only does Weigel apparently not see that his one-sentence justification of the war is simply assertion without argument, he also misses the point that the burden of proof, at least before a war, is always on those claiming that a war is just. (This quick dismissal of those who believe the war unjust seems to assume the opposite, that those against war must prove their case.) The article goes on to analyze Bush administration "mistakes" for a number of pages, and then turns to the present and the future. To sum up, Weigel presents an analysis of "right intention" that leaves out the culpability of those who fail to demonstrate it, and goes on to a quick, bare assertion of just cause. That is it, in this article, for the six "jus ad bellum" criteria.


As noted, Neuhaus break his rule that "the application of those principles to specific cases is the responsibility of political leaders" (his paraphrase of the Catechism) by "applying the principles" to Iraq himself. He also gave a very skimpy evaluation (in five sentences) of the just cause as he saw it. It is true that Neuhaus stated at the beginning of the quoted essay that he was a giving "a précis of the arguments I've been making." Nonetheless, the very section of the Catechism that he quoted, No. 2309, also states that "rigorous consideration" of "the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force" is necessary. Neuhaus, as Editor-in-Chief of First Things, a magazine that published numerous articles about just war theory, including applications of the theory to the Iraq war, could easily have requested an article, or even a series of articles, that systematically applied the six criteria to the war, but never did.

Inadequate Conclusions Concerning Unmet Criteria

The pro-war just war analyses of the Iraq war that have been published, including those of Johnson and Weigel discussed above, often leave conclusions unstated, or suggest that we need to learn a lesson for the future from this or that "mistake." But the question demands to be asked: did the war, considered at the time of decision, meet this criterion, and that one, and the next? As Johnson rightly notes in another context, "The debate was about the prospect, and that is where moral decision making has to take place" (War to Oust, 51). For each criterion, if the proposed war failed to meet it, based on careful consideration of knowledge available at the time, what conclusion follows? Aquinas was blunt: "In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary." Weigel and Johnson, scholars who claim to follow in the footsteps of Aquinas, are here avoiding his key statement on what makes a war just. A statement that a criterion was not met is, for Aquinas, not merely a subject for thoughtful ruminations on the need to get things better next time — it is equivalent to a statement that the war in question was unjust. One quotation from Johnson on the deficiencies of the pre-war debate on the "aim of peace" may stand in the place of far too many similar ones: "we should have known better . . . we need to learn from that and try to do better in the future" (War to Oust, 67). Aquinas wrote, after all, that failure to meet one of the criteria could render a war "unlawful," not "imperfect and full of mistakes."

To conclude: the in-depth case that the decision to go to war in Iraq was just in terms of just war theory has simply not been made by these writers, nor did they demonstrate in consistent terms why moralists should not attempt to do so.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are entirely my own, and in no way represent or are meant to represent those of the United States Department of State.

Craig White [send him mail] has been a foreign service officer with the US State Department since 1991, and currently works in Mauritius.

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