Book Suggestions?

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I'm teaching an applied ethics course this summer, and I'm thinking of covering war and terrorism again, which I haven't done a full-blown unit on in a few years, at least not with any focus on Iraq. I've got a great book that has excellent philosophical treatments of pacifism, just war theory, torture, individual rights and national security, the war vs. law enforcement models of fighting terrorism, and other general discussions of current issues on the subject. I've also got a book that I'm thinking of using that makes a case for fitting the justification for the 2003 Iraq invasion into just war thought, and even though it's not a heavily philosophical treatment it should be easy for me to provide that side of things.

What I don't have is a high-quality critique of the Iraq invasion in terms of just war theory. Does anyone know of such a thing? I would ideally prefer a low-priced book (especially something less than $20), but if I have to settle for an article or two then that would be better than nothing. There's probably much more critiquing the invasion than supporting it, simply because academics tend to fall that way in their political alignment, but I don't know much about published works, since most of my reading on the subject has been online. Any suggestions?


The only one I've heard of is Michael Walzer, who is an amazingly persuasive writer for a Marxist. In the one review I read in First Things or Books & Culture (I forget where), Walzer misses something important, but otherwise he does a pretty full job of treating the Iraq war vis a vis Just War theory. Since we can expect most writers to miss the mark, a pretty good treatment by a guy with explicit biases is promising.

I get a lot more out of his political theory than I do from the evangelical marxist/liberal writers (apologists for Obama, say), who seem more ready to slide by logic and foundational issues while talking as if they affirm everything on the Christian menu.

He's got a book called Just and Unjust War, originally written in the Vietnam era but revised in 2000 and then again in 2006. Is that the one? It's light on Iraq, according to reviews on Amazon, but I wonder if some of them are commenting on the 2000 edition. He's got another called Arguing About War, published in 2006, which is mostly essays originally published elsewhere, some of which have to do with Iraq from both before and after the initial invasion. I'm not sure which you meant or which might be better. This would certainly be the kind of thing I have in mind if there's nothing from a philosopher that's equally fair-minded and honest (and there may well not be).

I am thinking about Just and Unjust War, revised edition. Maybe the review I read put them both together.

Yes, he's fair minded and honest, and he's even willing to blow the whistle on hypocritical socialists. That is so good to see sometimes. I suspect that Robert George and the late Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote something suitable.

The death of Dulles and Richard John Neuhaus was a real loss for us all. Almost part of the judgment of God on our present moment, except that death must come to us all.

You might be interested in the statement released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2002. It's pretty close to what my position was around that time. It's not quite the book-length philosophical treatment you're looking for, but it could be useful to have.

Your observation about the way most academics lean is interesting because, to my knowledge, most people working in international relations or political science don't subscribe to JWT -- that's true of people on both sides of the invasion question. So it may not be easy to find what you're really looking for.

What do you mean by JWT? Do you mean some particular version of it with its particular criterion for when war is just? As far as I'm aware, it usually just means those who think there are certain conditions for when a war can be justly initiated and carried out, and if those conditions are violated then it becomes unjust. The only people who don't subscribe to JWT, then, are pacifists who never approve of war and those who don't think moral criteria apply in war. I would expect the latter group to be especially thin in academia, but I don't know all that many people who would be pacifists to the point of considering it to have been immoral to resist Hitler by means of war.

But I would like something from the general perspective of the most traditional planks in a just war theory, and that's probably what you meant by saying most people in those fields don't subscribe to JWT. It just sounds funny to me to put it that way.

I'm actually thinking now that I might scale back this portion of the course and do a more general applied ethics class with lots of topics, which would make the Catholic bishops' statement much more useful than a book would be, but it does pose some problems for a reading on the other side. Now I'll have to find something that does exactly what I'm pretty sure I've never seen anyone do, which is to defend the invasion exactly in terms of the just war criteria usually used against it. I know I produced such a document back in 2004, and I thought I had posted it to my blog, but the original document was lost in a hard drive failure, and I tried to find it in a blog post without avail. It may have been one of the very few posts that got lost in blog move that did have one or two post casualties, or I might not have posted it to the blog to begin with.

My understanding is that "just war theory" usually refers to a single tradition (albeit an expansive one) -- the tradition with the classical slate of criteria for jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Anyway, that's what I was referring to.

My bet is that very few academics outside of philosophy departments give much attention to those criteria per se. Instead, those who believe that war can be appropriate tend to look to international and domestic law for guidance. Beneath these statutes, in their view, the underlying standard of right is not natural law in any traditional sense, but rather some form of communicative rationality or even just plain social contract. (Ultimately, this means that the underlying standard is the imperative of self-preservation, collective or otherwise.) War is regrettable, so we develop mutual rules to help us avoid it in the long run. Thus, the debate over the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath turned into a debate over UN Security Council resolutions, congressional Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, the constitutional authority of the unitary executive, and so on. In this context, asking a policy-maker whether the Iraq invasion (or, for that matter, European opposition to it) were "just" would have been like asking a typical district attorney whether a prosecution were just.

Beyond that, realism is very powerful in the academy. I think that in IR and political science, realism has far more adherents than pacifism. It takes various forms, but it generally seems to be based on the imperative of collective self-defense and the assumption that the international situation is Hobbesian. (In other words, realism shares the assumptions of the legalism described above, but finds law often ineffective.) It takes many forms, but it's hard to imagine most realists losing any sleep over whether a war is being waged with "right intention" or as a "last resort"; the key question is whether the war will work to protect US strategic interests in a dangerous world. Despite some overlaps with traditional criteria of JWT, that's a much different way of looking at warfare.

At least, that's how it looks from where I'm sitting.

It doesn't seem to me that very many objections to the 2003 invasion itself had much to do with Hobbesian reasons, though. I did hear "last resort" language coming up a lot around the time, and I also heard a lot of objections to preemptive self-defense on the ground that no just war theory ever included such a thing (a false claim, I must add, since I've been told of several discussions that do allow for something like this). Some of the criticisms did seem to me to be right intention objections, e.g. the claim that Bush was only out to get revenge on Saddam Hussein for the assassination attempt on his father. One of the most common complaints was that the U.S., U.K., and allies didn't have the authority to enforce the U.N. resolution, which is a legitimate authority complaint. Most of the actual arguments people gave against the invasion were just war complaints. I suppose you could present some of these reasons in a Hobbesian way, but the arguments I'm most familiar with aren't framed that way.

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