Review: Politics, Justice, and War, Part III

The last two days, I have been review Joseph Capizzi’s new book Politics, Justice and War: Christian Governance and the Ethics of Warfare. You can find the first two parts here and here. Today, I will conclude the review.

We have dealt with Capizzi’s defense of the proposition that war must be seen as a continuance of politics, not something that happens when politics failed. He finishes that section with a commentary on Augustine that will point us towards the next key thesis. Capizzi writes:

Love must always be present: the just war ethic is not an ethical approach specifying when we need not be loving in the pursuit of some great good. All goods are subordinated to the universal requirements of charity. Given all we have seen so far, then, it follows that Augustine rejects state survival as a possible justification for war. Augustine’s rejection runs so contrary to our impulses and understanding of the just war ethic that we must spend a moment on it.

Capizzi engages Jonathan Gorry, who argued that Augustine would permit a war fought in self-defense, but Capizzi sticks to his guns, quoting Augustine to the effect that the City of God “never once fought against her ungodly persecutors for her temporal wellbeing.” The peace of Christ’s Kingdom is secured by Christ.

This question of whether self-defense is a justifiable cause for war leads us to Capizzi’s second central aim in this work, to demonstrate the continued importance of the traditional criterion of “right intention.”

Capizzi sets forth the importance of right intention as an essential criterion in determining whether a war is just thusly:

Though speaking of war as embracing love might invite eye-rolling, thus conceived, peace as the goal of war makes a publicly accountable claim: no wars can claim peace as a goal unless they are able to describe the nature of the peace sought in terms of the society defended and the crime defended against. So understood, right intention is not an airy claim, but a claim of such power as to structure and give meaning to the entire just war ethic…..By maintaining the relationship of politics to war, right intention provides coherence to the ethic. Right intention places the end of peace in front of all other considerations, including right authority, just cause, and reasonable hope of success. Right intention is a forward-looking criterion, without which the ethic becomes trapped by a conception of just cause concerned only to vindicate some precipitating injury.

The note that intention establishes a “public claim” is vital. Human intentions can be murky things, but war is a public thing. The claim to possess right intention must be evidenced, not betrayed, by the way one conducts one’s war effort. Here is the first value of Capizzi’s insistence on right intention as a criterion: It unites the ad bellum and in bello claims of just war theory.  

Capizzi notes that focusing solely on just cause has hardly proven to be a sufficient barrier to the prosecution of unjust wars. Cause can become an elastic concept. The arguments in favor of the second Iraq War turned out to be spurious, and as became sadly evident, the establishment of peace was not the primary intention of the war-makers. The fact that Saddam Hussein was a hideous tyrant was not enough to justify war but it was presented as the just cause of that war, a war that was pre-emptive, stretching just war theory where it had never been before.

As well, the linkage of ad bellum and in bello criteria that right intention achieves is a part of the “civilizing” of war about which Capizzi wrote earlier. In the course of the Second World War, the classic distinction between combatants and non-combatants was obliterated as both sides bombed civilian targets with the objective of sapping the enemy’s will to fight. It did not work. It is also horribly unfair to make people pay the price of the decisions of dictators. Non-combatants have always been exposed to the horrors of war: In the early eighteenth century, civilian farmhouses and lands were burned to punish the enemy and to prevent their troops from getting forage. But, in the twentieth century, the crime became routine. The in bello requirement of discrimination between combatant and non-combatant can only be revivified if policymakers follow Capizzi’s lead and searchingly examine whether their methods of war-making are conducive to peace.

There is much more in this book on this, and other, topics. Capizzi treats the criterion of legitimate authority. He brilliantly examines the possibilities and the pitfalls of new thinking about the justice of war, such as the right to protect, or R2P, and other post-war considerations, and how the requirement of right intention, and the connection of war to politics, can help minimize the pitfalls and accentuate the possibilities. His treatment of the relationship of retribution to vengeance is worth the price of the book. I could go on for days about this fascinating book, but previous authors whose work I have surveyed, while thankful for the careful reading and the attention, have also voiced the concern that a truly exhaustive review might make people think they do not need to buy and read the book! To be clear: There is more here than I have examined. If you care about issues of war and peace, and I can’t imagine a Christian who is not, you should buy and read this book.

I have two problems with the book. First, I am not sure if its target audience is the scholarly community or a more general readership. The writing and the thinking is a bit too dense for an average reader. If someone has studied just war theory before, she could jump into the text, but it is no primer. My second complaint is the reverse of the first: If this book is aimed at a scholarly audience, I would note the absence of non-Anglo-American sources. Ever since Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales in 1941, the two great English-speaking countries have had a very unique role in war-making, in the politics of war-making, and in the intellectual commentary on both. Surely, these issues might look differently in Italian or French or German eyes. But, the notes contain no references to non-English writers. Capizzi is not alone in this. Too many American theologians fail to include the literature of other countries in their research and the rest of us count on them to do so. The next generation of theologians should, indeed must, be conversant with the work of their colleagues in other lands and too often their works start and end with English-only writers. For us bums in the blogosphere, this is understandable if regrettable. In the scholarly community, especially in the Catholic scholarly community, it is a fault.

But, such faults are small in comparison to what Capizzi has accomplished. This book not only offers an intellectually rigorous defense of classic just war ethics, it demonstrates, I think conclusively, why the alternatives to just war theory are worse. Capizzi is generous with his intellectual opponents, tireless in his probing of Augustine’s rich trove of thought and insight, attentive to current political and military realities. Compared to the vulgarity of so many recent debates about the use of military force, this book is a welcome addition to our collective theological reasoning on this most evil of human problems.   

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