Ethics, Nationalism, and Just War

Ethics, Nationalism, and Just War: Medieval and Contemporary Perspectives

Henrik Syse
Gregory M. Reichberg
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ethics, Nationalism, and Just War
    Book Description:

    The book covers a wide range of topics and raises issues rarely touched on in the ethics-of-war literature, such as environmental concerns and the responsibility of bystanders.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2096-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-x)

    The face of armed conflict changes every week and every day, but the underlying moral questions remain, remarkably, much the same. Taking this continuity as our point of departure, we focus in the present volume on some basic issues in ethics and philosophy that are related to the use of armed force as these were developed by thinkers in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. We do not remain in centuries-old history, however. Moving ahead from the historical and philosophical background, we also introduce several pressing issues of our own day.

    Assessing war in moral terms means asking whether war...

  5. PART ONE. The Medieval Roots of Just War

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      WHILE THE ESSAYS in this book span a number of theoretical perspectives, many of them are inspired by the just war tradition. The essential idea behind just war thinking can be summed up in two points:

      (1) While many wars can and should be stopped, preferably before their inception, war is and remains an inescapable fact in the world. The option of using armed force can never be disregarded once and for all.

      (2) While war cannot be totally abolished, it is possible to restrain it. Given the enormous destruction that wars cause, we are morally obliged to find ways...

    • 1 Thinking Morally about War in the Middle Ages and Today
      (pp. 3-10)

      Do medieval views of war have any relevance today? There are clearly enormous differences between life in the Middle Ages and life today, differences in social relationships, forms of political order, assumptions about the natural and supernatural world, available technology, and so on, which shaped warfare as they did every other aspect of everyday life. Since historical distance tends to present a somewhat abstracted and idealized picture of medieval warfare, the differences may loom as even more distinctive, with an image of knights in armor colliding on the field of battle contrasted to various models of contemporary warfare: ethnically or...

    • 2 Taming Warriors in Classical and Early Medieval Political Theory
      (pp. 11-35)

      Medieval political theory is often accused of being arcane and incapable of speaking to contemporary political problems. This appearance seems especially true when it comes to contemporary thinking on war: what do the likes of Tertullian, Origen, Ambrose, and others have to say about nuclear weapons, apocalyptic terrorists, dictators, and tribal genocide in postcolonial Africa? In fact, medieval political theory has a lot to say about these issues, and its voice is actually being heard in public discourse. For example, one can see the pacifistic tradition of Tertullian and Origen in the stance against war articulated by the American Catholic...

    • 3 Augustine and Just War: Between Virtue and Duties
      (pp. 36-50)

      Augustine is often referred to as the founder of just war doctrine. While that is not quite accurate, since Cicero and several of the earlier Church Fathers had already formulated the basic elements of the just war idea,¹ it is certainly true that Augustine would become the most influential of the early Christian teachers writing on the morality of war. He formulated his ideas at a crucial time in Church history, just when the Western Roman Empire was crumbling and Christianity had to accommodate to life in the world—a world that was showing few signs of an imminent end,...

    • 4 Just War, Schism, and Peace in St. Augustine
      (pp. 51-71)

      In the scholarly literature on Augustine’s writings, few topics have instigated more discussion or debate than his belief about the use of coercion against schismatics and heretics. Many scholars see his choice to use coercion against the Donatists as a deviation from his usual way of thinking. For instance, as Ernest Fortin wrote about the matter: “The peculiar intractability of Donatists, their continued agitating, and the methods of terrorism to which they frequently resorted, had made of them a persistent threat not only to the religious unity but to the social stability of the North African provinces. Reluctantly and only...

    • 5 Is There a “Presumption against War” in Aquinas’s Ethics?
      (pp. 72-98)

      Over the past few years a debate has arisen among proponents of just war thinking about the correct starting point for moral reflection on war. The debate concerns how moral reasoning should proceed when the just war criteria of legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention are made to inform decision making about resort to military force (ius ad bellum).

      Some authors have maintained that moral reasoning about war should begin with a reflection on the obligation “Do no harm.” From this obligation there derives, they argue, a strong presumption against the use of force, a presumption that can be...

    • 6 Poets and Politics: Just War in Geoffrey Chaucer and Christine de Pizan
      (pp. 99-116)

      During the Middle Ages, traditions of blood feud, desires for conquest and power, and even the chivalric code of honor intensified the frequency and legitimacy of war. Yet war as an inescapable fact of life does not diminish the desire for peace; in fact it may intensify our human sense of its value. Because conflict was so terribly damaging to land and lives in medieval Europe, ensuring peace often meant controlling war, or at least some of the negative and destructive by-products of the seemingly interminable hostilities. Consequently, the desire for peace in the Middle Ages was intimately related to...

    • 7 Reflections on Medieval Just War Theories: A Commentary on Part One
      (pp. 117-146)

      A useful place to begin a discussion on the complexities of medieval just war theories is by briefly discussing two other basic ethical positions regarding the morality of armed conflict. It may be the case that medieval just war theories—both ius ad bellum and ius in bello, as well as other variants¹ — were created as possible alternatives in part to mediate between the extremes of these two basic positions, namely, political realism and pacifism. My brief opening survey is simply meant to serve as an introduction into a discussion about just war theory in the Middle Ages, using insights...

  6. PART TWO. Contemporary Problems of War, Nationalism, and Ethics

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 147-150)

      THE TERRORIST ATTACKS of september 11, 2001, have given rise to much speculation about their implications for the ethics of war. Surely, the political map as well as the rhetoric about armed force seem to have undergone a radical transformation since the day when the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon was attacked. The long-term implications of 9/11 are, however, much harder to measure. In this respect, we would do well to remember the words of former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai who, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, answered, “It is too soon to say.”


    • 8 Maintaining the Protection of Noncombatants
      (pp. 151-189)

      All warfare imposes a burden of harm on noncombatants. This burden may be relatively light, as when the citizens of a nation engaged in a faraway war fought by mercenaries are taxed to support that war. The weight is heavier when the soldiers are drawn from the same population that is at war, whether by volunteering or by a draft. And of course it is heaviest of all on people caught up in the swirl of war, whose lives and livelihoods are disrupted, whose property may be damaged, destroyed, or taken away, and who may have no say in their...

    • 9 Protecting the Natural Environment in Wartime: Ethical Considerations from the Just War Tradition
      (pp. 190-217)

      What protection does the natural environment merit in wartime? It was in the aftermath of the Vietnam War of 1961–75 that this question came into focus. Wars have always brought destruction in their wake; and the twentieth century was by no means the first to show concern for the effects of armed conflict on our natural surroundings. However, the Vietnam War does “stand out in modern history as one in which intentional anti-environmental actions were a major component of the strategy and tactics of one of the adversaries, one in which such actions were systematically carried out for many...

    • 10 U.N.-Authorized Interventions: A slippery Slope of Forcible Interference?
      (pp. 218-245)

      The philosophical tradition of just war has concentrated on two questions. First, what, if any, are the legitimate reasons for engaging in war (ius ad bellum)? Second, what is it justifiable to do, against whom, when fighting a war (ius in bello)? The topic of this chapter, which is the changed scope of the principle of nonintervention, is rooted in the tradition of ius ad bellum. Whereas nonintervention was, for much of the twentieth century and going further back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, honored as the most appropriate principle for the regulation of interstate relations, a number...

    • 11 Ethical Uncertainties of Nationalism
      (pp. 246-266)

      The nature of nationalist movements and how to address them became key issues of world politics with the end of the cold war in the three-year period 1989 to 1991, and have remained so through the 1990s and into the new century. They are important issues both for social science theory and for practical politics. Among the variety of themes encompassed by the term nationalism, one that continues to require discussion is the ethical dimension. The language of nationalism is a language of rights and duties, which is an ethical discourse, yet it is often used to justify and encourage...

    • 12 The Sort of Nationalism and Patriotism That Europe Needs
      (pp. 267-289)

      What should be the common basis of a European identity? Should all citizens of the European Union share, and be made to share, certain values, memories, or beliefs—and if so, which and why?

      Politicians and scholars have addressed these questions of European identity for more than thirty years, since the European Community 1973 Declaration on European Identity. Recent political events have increased public attention to the topic, most notably two apparently unrelated and different forms of integration failure. Multicultural integration has left much to be desired, most visibly in cases of Muslim immigrants and their children. And the recent...

    • 13 Defining and Delivering Justice: The Work of the Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals
      (pp. 290-322)

      Paradoxically, the twentieth century witnessed both the bloodiest and most horrific carnage in the history of humankind and the first global attempts to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. From these unjust wars came a dawning sense that a just peace was necessary to prevent their recurrence and right the scales of injustice. But whereas in the past the victors would apportion blame to other states to redress wrongs and balance the scales of power, now their leaders came to realize that neither governments as abstract entities nor the “people” in whose name they committed such atrocities should be...

    • 14 The Legitimacy of Anticipatory Defense and Forcible Regime Change
      (pp. 323-351)

      In the months preceding the recent war against Iraq, the U.S. administration made clear that it sought not only to disarm Saddam Hussein and coerce him to comply with international law but also to force a change of regime.¹ Alongside the legitimacy of preemptive/preventive strikes and the justification of militarily enforcing nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the problem of forcible regime change was thus brought to the fore of international attention.

      Forcible regime change is neither a new phenomenon in international relations nor is it of rare occurrence. Since World War II the United States has forcibly changed...

    • 15 Genocide: A Case for the Responsibility of the Bystander
      (pp. 352-371)

      After affirming that genocide is a crime under international law whether committed in time of peace or war, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births...

    • 16 The Ethical Core of the Nation-State: A Postscript to Part Two
      (pp. 372-384)

      The title of the present volume, Ethics, Nationalism, and Just War, announces a daunting project. The countless constellations of war, nation, justice, and peace, past and present, and the wide variety of conceivable ethical approaches to them, resist discrete summary. And yet it should at once be underscored that both the “ethics” in question and the “war” (and peace) to which they aspire to take recourse are of a special brand and breed, belonging to a very specific historical moment. Transformations of the notions both of ethics and of war and peace have accelerated in the course of the twentieth...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 385-388)
  8. Index
    (pp. 389-405)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 406-407)