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State of Fear
State of Fear
Michael Crichton
Harper Collins, 2004
624 pp., 27.95

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The Just War Revisited (Current Issues in Theology, Series Number 2)
The Just War Revisited (Current Issues in Theology, Series Number 2)
Oliver O'Donovan
Cambridge University Press, 2003
152 pp., 31.99

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J. Daryl Charles

Between Pacifism and Jihad

The just-war tradition reconsidered

How would you begin a book called Just War Against Terror, written in the aftermath of 9/11? Jean Bethke Elshtain begins by recalling a novel written in the aftermath of World War II: Albert Camus' The Plague, published in French in 1948 and in English translation a year later. As Elshtain reminds us, Camus' allegory, set in the Algerian city of Oran, examines the psychology of "'humanists' … who see themselves as living in a reasonable world where everything is up for negotiation." They see what they want to see. "There are no rats in Oran," they reassure themselves, even as disease-bearing vermin are overrunning the city. "Why?" Elshtain asks. "Because there cannot be. That sort of thing does not happen anymore." Seduced by a complacent modernity, "unwilling or unable to peer into the heart of darkness," these infinitely reasonable people "have banished the word evil from their vocabularies."

Alas, as Elshtain suggests, the lesson of Camus' allegory is abiding. Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan: is there really any doubt about what will happen when radical evil goes unchecked amid hemming and hawing and principled equivocation? And yet answers to the questions raised by such crises—questions for lay persons, educators, politicians, and policymakers alike—are not transparent. Should we intervene? Why or why not? And by what criteria and in what measure? Do various types of intervention—for example, against genocide or egregious human rights violations by a non-democratic regime—call for different kinds of moral criteria?

What is the proper relationship between the church and the world? Between Christ and Caesar? Why should we not intervene preemptively to prevent potential mass murder when it looms?1 Do nations presently lack the will to oppose genocide? Is pacifism as it is preached today—in the academy and from the pulpit—the authentic expression of Christian charity in the face of political-moral evil? The ancient question "How can the use of force serve just purposes?" loses none of its bite today. But to consider its relevance will mean the messy business of applied justice in a sin-sick world, where oppression and the denial of basic human rights flourish and where moral judgments will need to be made. Such, it goes without saying, supremely tests the Christian community's ability to do moral theology within the bounds of the great tradition.

Happily, three recent books, each inspired by the exigencies of contemporary geopolitical developments, locate themselves within the parameters of historic Christian reflection. Together, their unified witness is that force indeed can serve just purposes when it is constrained by the moral strictures of just-war thinking.

In Just War Against Terror, Jean Bethke Elshtain wrestles with the complexities of war and the just use of force in the face of the terrorist threat. Self-consciously anchored in an "Augustinian realism," Elshtain ponders the obligations of justice in a violent world. For her, the wisdom of the past sheds critical light on the urgencies of the present. Entering military conflict may be a legitimate expression of Christian charity as a response to attacks on innocent life, since protecting the innocent is an expression of neighbor-love.

Elshtain painstakingly confronts the question "What does justice require?" Hers is a response that seeks to navigate between "corrupt inaction" and "action motivated by revenge." For Elshtain, as for generations of Christian moral thinkers, justice in the face of evil implies responsibility. Precisely what responsibility does civil society have to prevent the slaughter of innocents, whether at home or abroad, when it has the power to do so?

In response to terrorism, Elshtain is unequivocal about the obligations of justice, regardless of one's political preferences. We must take terrorists at their word and interdict them with proportionate measures. And we must understand the conflict as fundametally ideological—one that will allow no appeasement—since it is the most basic of freedoms and human rights that terrorists hold in contempt. At this point, civil society may not opt out; with great freedom and influence comes even greater responsibility, whether or not we wish to acknowledge this reality on the world stage.

Just-war thinking is typically approached as a theoretical doctrine consisting of seven "laws": (1) that war be only a last resort; (2) that war clearly be defense against unjust attack or the redress of heinous human rights violations; (3) that war have as its ultimate intention the establishment of a greater peace; (4) that there be reasonable chance for victory; (5) that war be declared and carried out by properly constituted governments; (6) that warfare be conducted in such a way as to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants; and (7) that warfare be conducted in a manner that is proportionate to the offense or injustice needing redress. There is a dual tendency among our contemporaries either to view these "laws" as unrealistic and, in practice, unattainable, or to fail to wrestle with the "human factor" in their application by means of political prudence. But more important to Elshtain than the developmental history of the just-war tradition or its "legal" boundaries are the implications for civic life of the just-war idea. Elshtain is convinced that there is wisdom lodged in this tradition—moral and political wisdom that is critically important not just for the sake of foreign policy but for the very ordering of domestic society.

While Elshtain rejects the civic non-engagement of pacifism,2 she also rejects the moral obtuseness of Realpolitik, with its unwillingness to be guided by any moral considerations in the pursuit of "justice." That there are universal moral predispositions available to all for the ordering of an (albeit imperfectly) ordered society means that we do not need to succumb to relativism. We resist the hyper-tolerant cultural Zeitgeist, and we do so armed with intergenerational wisdom. Whether in domestic or foreign policy, we must distinguish between aggressors and victims, between justice and injustice, between acceptable and unacceptable human behavior. We must make such distinctions if as a culture we are to develop and realize any vision of civic virtue and peace.

Oliver O'Donovan's The Just War Revisited is the product of four lectures delivered at the University of Aberdeen in December of 2001. These lectures aim to present a longstanding tradition of thinking about war that has deep roots in historic Christian theology. O'Donovan helpfully reminds us that "just-war theory" is neither a "theory" per se nor about "just wars." Rather, it is "a proposal for doing justice in the theatre of war," entailing the exercise of practical reason tempered by moral-political considerations that are motivated by justice, charity and qualified peace. The thrust of O'Donovan's argument is not to rehearse the development of just-war thinking; rather, it is to reconsider the implications of authority, discrimination, and proportionality in the light of contemporary geopolitics. He brings just-war criteria to bear on particular practical questions that vex the Western world: for example, counter-insurgency warfare, weapons of mass destruction, the implementation of war-crimes trials, and intermediate measures that fall short of actual war.

As in O'Donovan's previous writings, theology retains her role as "queen of the sciences" while building bridges between political theory and ethics. O'Donovan's aim is to recover at the cusp of the Third Millennium a means of reflecting on war and peace that, in his view, has fallen into "disuse": "With the shift of geopolitical attention that accompanied the end of the cold war, the just war contention, together with the deterrence controversy, fell victim to a certain lapse of memory, and that is what provokes an attempt to 'revisit' it." The need for such recovery, O'Donovan believes, is confirmed both at the academic and the congregational levels, where responsible moral discourse is at best "disappointing."

Can one who enters warfare offer worship to the sacrificed Lamb? Our repulsion at this seeming incongruity is understandable, and there are good reasons for our reaction. A broadly "evangelical" counter-praxis in the world, as O'Donovan construes it, is a praxis of peace that is not divorced from the temporal demands of justice. Moreover, it works for justice within historical contingency, not merely relegating it to the eschaton. Within the present order, God has made provisional means for implementing a distinctly provisional judgment. Thereby orthodox Christian faith re-conceives war and armed conflict according to rigorous moral conditions coupled with political prudence. In doing so, it avoids two prominent tendencies: on the one hand, regarding the very notion of "just war" as a relic of Christendom; on the other, turning to "just-war" theory solely to validate or invalidate particular wars.

Whereas O'Donovan examines how legal theory and secular definitions of justice owing to modernity have influenced the way we think about war and peace, Darrell Cole in When God Says War Is Right stresses our debt to Christian moral reflection from Ambrose onward. In this refreshingly accessible volume, the reader is encouraged to understand that Christians since the beginning have struggled with the ethics of war and peace, and that a general consensus—linking Ambrose and Augustine with Aquinas, Calvin, and beyond—emerges within the Christian tradition. And like Elshtain and O'Donovan, Cole believes that the political-moral wisdom resident in the just-war tradition is requisite as we confront the challenges of international terrorism.

While pacifist theologians and historians tend to ascribe to Ambrose and Augustine a supremely naïve view of the powers that purportedly mirrors the 4th-century church's "compromise" with "Constantinianism,"3 Cole will have none of it. The picture, he believes, is much more complex, so that Augustine and his spiritual mentor Ambrose struggle to balance the responsibilities attending our earthly and heavenly citizenships. Indeed, a careful reading of Ambrose's On the Duties to the Clergy and Augustine's City of God confirms this struggle. Both fathers insist that the Christian community must not flee the culture and wait passively for the eschaton to arrive. Responsible citizenship in the present world requires that we faithfully serve within the context of culture, even when that culture is crumbling.

In addition to responsible citizenship, a second common element unites the just-war thinking of Ambrose and Augustine. Both renounced the right to self-defense, with one exception: the soldier who is defending himself.4 In their view, the believer should not resist "one who is evil" (cf. Matt. 5:39). However, both believe that it is the obligation of Christian love to defend and protect the innocent third party. Not to apply what Augustine calls "benevolent harshness"5 to the evildoer is as much an evil as to cause it.6 The paradigm of third-party neighbor-love—what might be called an "ethics of protection"—is essential for our understanding of just war in Christian moral teaching, for the obligation of love toward our neighbor furnishes a theological justification for the use of force. In its essence, the just-war tradition from Ambrose and Augustine onward emanates from two fundamental concerns in Christian thought: when the resort to force is justified (jus ad bellum) and what kinds of force are appropriate in conflict (jus in bello), or, in the words of ethicist Paul Ramsey, permission and limitation.7

To argue for the legitimacy of the just-war position, as Elshtain, O'Donovan, and Cole do, is not to succumb to an unreflective militarism. All three writers would agree that Ambrose and Augustine furnish for us a model of citizenship that is a distinctly subdued form of civic engagement, one that balances the temporal with the eternal. Elshtain refers to this model as "chastened patriotism."

"Chastened patriots," she observes, are people who have learned from the past as they take seriously their dual citizenship. Dual citizenship entails earthly as well as heavenly stewardship; it consists of both civic duties and pursuit of another city. Rejecting "counsels of cynicism," chastened men and women modulate the rhetoric of "high patriotic purpose." They do so by their sensitivity to the ways in which patriotism can shade into the excesses of nationalism. The "chastened patriot," then, is both devoted and detached. In the end, a civic life animated by a "chastened" approach to cultural engagement will bear implications for how we think about war and peace, and more fundamentally, whether and how we intend to work toward—or preserve—a justly ordered society.

As we navigate the 21st century we desperately need the "chastened" approach to civic responsibility that we encounter in Ambrose and Augustine. We need their acute awareness of the fragility of life, their recognition of human depravity, their intuition of natural moral law, and their acknowledgment that judgment on evil has temporal as well as eternal implications.

But we need as well their seriousness about civic duty and their readiness to preserve what really matters. Justice and charity, in the end, are not at odds. Justice concerns itself with a right ordering of society for the sake of social peace, what Augustine called the tranquillitas ordinis. Peace as a good, even in its relative state this side of the eschaton, must be guarded, since it furnishes for people the environment in which to contemplate life's mysteries.8 And while ultimate peace that is consummated in the kingdom of God requires no restraints, penultimate peace most assuredly does.9

J. Daryl Charles is associate professor of religion and ethics at Union University and was a 2003/4 Visiting Fellow at the Baylor University Institute for Faith & Learning. Charles is author of The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism (InterVarsity Press), Virtue Amidst Vice (Sheffield Academic Press), and most recently, Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and the Christian Tradition, published this year by InterVarsity Press.

1. Where was the West on the eve of the slaughter of over three-quarters of a million people in Rwanda? Is genocide permitted in Africa but not in Europe or North America?

2. In Oliver O'Donovan's diagnosis, the modern form of Christian pacifism tends to be preoccupied with the distinction between our earthly and heavenly citizenship, "unwilling to think in terms other than those of opposition." And yet when the eschatological conflict "is simply imported into ethics and presented as though it were an alternative praxis," the effect is that it "shortchanges the ethical task of describing a witness that takes form within the conditions of the world." The Just War Revisited, p. 11.

3. So, e.g., C. John Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War (Seabury, 1982); and Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (Abingdon, 1960). By contrast, James Turner Johnson, The Quest for Peace: Three Moral Traditions in Western Cultural History (Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), offers a more nuanced portrait of the first three centuries, noting that by the second century there existed both Christian participation in war and qualified Christian acceptance of military service. This portrait agrees with that of John Helgeland, Robert J. Daly, and J. Patout Burns, Christians and the Military: The Early Experience (Fortress, 1985), esp. chapter 4.

4. See, e.g., Augustine's rationale developed in Epistle 47 ("To Publicola"). Augustine's thinking on the matter appears to have evolved, since earlier, in De libero arbitrio (On Freedom of the Will), he had expressed strong reservations.

5. Epistle 138 ("To Marcellinus").

6. Ambrose's argument is found in On the Duties of the Clergy 3.4.27, wherein he poses questions such as: "In the case of a shipwreck, should a wise person take away a plank of wood [on which to float] from an ignorant sailor [who cannot swim]?" Augustine uses the examples of highway robbery, assassination, and soldiering to develop his argument in De libero arbitrio 1.5, and Contra Faustum 22.70. Luther, it should be pointed out, agreed with Aquinas in this regard, taking both Ambrose and Augustine to task on the public-private dichotomy and arguing that self-defense is indeed permissible within the context of Christian belief (see Luther's Works [Muhlenberg ed.] 3.249-50, and Summa Theologiae II-II, qq. 64 and 108).

7. From the introduction to War and the Christian Conscience (Duke Univ. Press, 1961).

8. One is reminded of Luther's quip that if the lion and the lamb are to lie together on this side of the kingdom consummated, the lamb will need frequent replacement.

9. City of God 15.4; 19.112, 27; 22.24; Epistle 189.6. Augustine acknowledges the existence of both a just peace—iusta pax—and an unjust peace—iniqua pax; the distinction is critical. Even robbers, he observes, have order and maintain a certain "peace" within their own orbit in order to plunder the innocent. For this reason, peace requires the ordering of justice.

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