Review: Politics, Justice, and War

Joseph Capizzi has come out with a new book entitled Politics, Justice, and War: Christian Governance and the Ethics of Warfare. It is an important and serious contribution to the vast literature on just war ethics, especially needed at this time in history when that just war theory has been the subject of deep questioning and when the experience of war itself seems to be changing in ways that warrant a re-examination of the validity of traditional theological treatment of war. Full Disclosure: Capizzi is a professor at Catholic University and a fellow at the school’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies where I am also a visiting fellow.

Capizzi’s book is determined to re-assert the essential core of just war theory, and specifically, to demonstrate the need to see war as linked to politics, not something that happens when politics ends, and to argue that the traditional requirement of “right intention” cannot be collapsed into the requirement of “just cause.” Capizzi writes in the introduction:

That politics be ordered to peace is not controversial or particularly interesting. That war, however, be understood as itself ordered towards peace often interests to the point of confusing critics of the just war ethic….Normatively, as that to which war should always tend, and descriptively, as that which those at war regard themselves to be pursuing, peace is always the goal of war. Augustine uses the words “intention” and “fines” in this passage, both of which are critical to the point he is making and the argument of this book…The language of intention suggests both the end-oriented nature of the act and its relationship with the manner of achieving the end. One pursues the end of peace not just by setting peace as an end, but by acting in a peaceful manner as well. One cannot, then, pursue peace by means opposed to peace.

Unpacking these sentences is what the book aims to do and, I would argue, largely succeeds. “The just warrior is not one who denies the evil of war, but who understands the presence of evil in the world and carries out her duty attempting to retain her humanity in its midst,” Capizzi writes, a sentence that strikes exactly the right balance between the evil of war and the necessity of war in certain, tightly defined, circumstances, the balance that first gave rise to the development of just war theory in the first place.

The first section of the book establishes the essential link between politics and war. Capizzi writes:

Showing the just war ethic is a political ethic achieves three things: first, was is reconceived as a political act and connected and subordinated to the legitimate ends pursued by politics (in particular, justice, order, and peace; and second, because of its reconnection with politics, war is “civilized,” that is, subjected to and not freed from the constraints of political ethics. The consequence of the first two achieves a third: the articulation of the functioning of the just war ethic as a coherent ethical approach that can provide (and has provided) normative guidance concerning the use of force.

I will grant, and the reader will surely notice, that there is something seemingly Orwellian about this language, that the objective or end of war must be peace. It would have been good for Capizzi to address this linguistic conundrum head-on and at the beginning. He waits until page 60 to address it. The editor should have moved that section right up front, not least because, as Capizzi demonstrates, the alternatives to this idea that peace must be the objective of war lead to even more horrific results. The language may sound Orwellian, but the ethical reflections are not.

Capizzi contrasts his updated yet classic understanding of the ethics of warfare with some who have recently challenged the classic just war theory. He cites the work of James Childress, who tried to create a “formal” just war ethic, freed from substantive political claims, not least because Childress’ ideas influenced the Catholic bishops in their statements on war issues. Capizzi acknowledges that Childress’s goals are laudable and his treatment of the subject is sophisticated, and that, in principle, with such a formal framework “even pacifists would welcome the just war ethic so understood.” Capizzi notes that some prominent thinkers questioned whether pacifists could welcome the formal ethic Childress crafts, citing the work of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. Both of these men adopt an eschatological perspective on the issue that leaves little room for just war theory. “Hauerwas says explicitly,” Capizzi writes, “the Christian pacifist is not pacifist to bring about justice or a war-free world, but is a pacifist because ‘as [Jesus] is, so are we in the world.’”

Capizzi’s objections to Childress are different from those articulated by the pacifists. He writes:

By separating the use of force from politics, however, the approach takes at least three risks. First, by making recourse to force an exception to rule-regulated, day-to-day experiences of politics, the approach detaches the use of force from the morality governing political activity….When the just war ethic becomes detached from politics, pacifism won’t be the only approach vying to fill the space. We should remind ourselves that among those who welcome the detachment of the use of force from the morality of day-to-day politics are realists.

This quoted passage highlights one of this book’s best features, its groundedness in experience. Like Augustine, whom Capizzi looks to again and again, the facticity of life asserts itself in the face of pie-in-the-sky theorizing. He goes on to note the additional risk that Childress’ formal ethic entails because “without some attachment to substantive theories of justice the account he advances facilitates endless conversation making reference to the vocabulary of the ethic without providing any sense of how to begin sorting through the claims…[as seized upon by Yoder] the ethic encourages the idea that it serves only to provide propaganda for the waging of wars shown to be unjust by the criteria themselves: all ethics can be co-opted, of course, and this is true of any variant of the just war ethic. But the formal approach enables such co-option by loosening itself from any basis of critique.” These may seem like fine points, but they are critical in drawing the kinds of moral distinctions policymakers must consider when making decisions. In the absence of a supple, applicable, and serious ethic, the realists will rule the day. Capizzi is too much of a Christian thinker not to see the attractions of pacifism, but too much of a grounded Augustinian to let those attractions cloud his judgment

I will pick up this review tomorrow.    






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