Acton Institute Powerblog

How Just Must a Just War Be?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about just war, I’m passing along this TCS Daily piece by Prof. Bainbridge, “Just War for the Sake of Argument” (it’s also discussed at The Remedy and Bainbridge’s own blog).

Bainbridge’s piece measures the current Lebanon/Israel conflict by the standards of just war, and finds it wanting. He makes the following important point: “Although Catholic scholars and theologians have thus made valuable contributions to the just war tradition down through the centuries, the principles of that doctrine apply to everyone, not just Catholics. Just war is a part of both the natural law and the positive international law.”

I have wondered about these issues the past week in various forms. Here are some attempts to formulate the question: Must all acts committed in a war meet the just war standard in order for the war to be just? That is, must a just war be perfectly just? If not, must the aggregate of the acts simply weigh in favor of a preponderance of justice? Or must the officially commanded actions and campaigns meet the standard, while the actions of individual soldiers are exempt?

One of the points here is that just war is not simply about justification for war, but also about the way in which that war must be conducted. Just how many unjust acts can a just war encompass before it ceases to be a just war? Does the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden, for example, mean that World War II is not a just war?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • In a several recent posts– both on his blog and on TCS– Steve Bainbridge has been exploring just war doctrine as it relates to Israel’s use of force against targets in Lebanon. Responding to Bainbridge’s discussion, Jordan Ballor asks…

  • David Michael Phelps

    Interesting. It seems to me that part of the equation is detirmining the extant to which aggregate actions can be considered just. For example, it a society with 10% of its people acting unjustly at a given moment an unjust society? Or is a family where 3 of the 5 children act unjustly an unjust family? I think you touch on this point: how many decisions in a given war must be considered unjust before the war is unjust? And many decisions in a war are not made from the highest levels. So if a particlar commander makes an unjust decision, does that make the war unjust? Tough quetsions.

  • Prompted by some of my recent writing on just war theory, Jordan Ballor asks…