Broadly speaking, there are four main types of theory about war: just war, holy war, pacifism and realism. Of these, a just war tradition has been the mainstream of Christian moral theology since Augustine. The early Church was in some sense pacifist. It is, however, unclear to what extent this derived from a principled objection to war as such. The early Church was a persecuted minority largely preoccupied with its own concerns, from which the wars of its hostile host the Roman Empire may well have seemed a dangerous distraction. Furthermore, the Empire's requirement that its soldiers worship the Emperor must have seemed blasphemous, so that attempts in the twentieth century to represent modern pacifism as simply a return to the purity of the early Church are widely considered to be anachronistic.
The Empire's conversion to Christianity confronted Christian intellectuals with cruel dilemmas concerning the use of force, which Augustine summarized in the question 'May the Christian without sin wage war?' Three features of this question invite comment.
1 'May one wage war?' poses the issue as one of what is permitted, not what is required, and it is an important feature of the just war tradition that it continues to speak in terms of permission to wage war, not in terms of a duty to do so.
2 May the Christian wage war? For Augustine and his medieval successors, the non-Christian was so radically immured in sin (short of conversion) that it can hardly have seemed worth asking whether the pagan or Jew or (later) the Muslim might wage war 'without sin'. In the modern world, some theologians are less sure that things are so clear cut, so we have to ask whether Augustine's question is best understood as applying not only to Christians but to adherents of all the world's religio-ethical traditions. As we will see in a moment, the way in which the Christian just war tradition has developed lends itself to a universalist interpretation. 3 May one wage war without sin? It is striking that the question is framed in theological terms. It is not 'May one wage war without injustice?' Many theologians will be confident that the distinction is in one sense without practical significance: if God is perfectly good and all-powerful, it may well be that he never lays upon us demands of a sort which would require us to be unjust; so in practice it amounts to the same thing whether we ask if one may wage war without sin or without injustice. But there are two important complications. First, some theologians consider human reason to be radically corrupt and this may result in a stark contrast between what revelation is thought to show to be sinful and what radically flawed human reason considers to be (humanly) unjust. Further, one might hold as revelation the belief that government is appointed by God for the punishment of sin and as such is to be obeyed without question, regardless of what human reason might judge to be unjust. A second complication is that some ethical traditions, such as Buddhism, do not have the concept of sin, while others, such as secular humanism, know nothing of any cosmic grounding for ethics. If the just war tradition is concerned with sin, then its hold within these traditions is problematic. For example, the modern secular humanist may wonder whether the tradition is binding upon her or him. Thus, the formulation of Augustine's question in terms of sin makes explicit the issue of whether the just war tradition is susceptible of universalist interpretation.
In Augustine and his successors, an answer developed to the question 'May the Christian without sin wage war?' which it is convenient to call 'the classic just war doctrine'. According to this doctrine, war can be just only if a number of conditions are met. Failure to meet any one of the conditions is enough to show that the war is unjust and participation in it sinful. To be just, a war must be for a just cause. War must be the last resort and there must be legitimate authority for it. There must be no direct attacks on noncombatants. There must be a reasonable prospect of success and the war's ultimate aim must be peace. The good which it is reasonable to expect from the war must outweigh the evil which will certainly be involved. If all these conditions are met, the war may be permissible though, as we have already noticed, the tradition does not purport to say when war is a duty.
According to the classic doctrine, these principles are part of natural law. They are discoverable by any rational human being, regardless of creed, and are therefore binding on Christian and non-Christian alike. In this way the classic doctrine certainly claims to be universalist, but under what conditions is the claim plausible given its authors' understandable non-engagement with the issues which are internal to non-Christian perceptions of war? This question has been discussed much less fully than it deserves and this chapter permits only a brief treatment. Generally speaking, we should perhaps distinguish between two possible types of attitude to the relation between reason and the moral problem of war. One type of attitude is grounded in the assumption that each human life is sacred; the other type of attitude lacks this assumption. Thus, the sanctity of human life which is assumed not only in Christianity but also in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., is not assumed in Social Darwinism. For anyone who assumes the sanctity of human life, war is problematic in a special way since it seems certain to involve deliberate destruction of the sacred. Buddhist and Muslim will therefore confront essentially the same problem as the Christian in thinking about war. The Social Darwinist, for whom individual human life is in principle expendable, will on the other hand not have the same problem about war, since, in Social Darwinism, reason is an instrument of the survival of the social units into which the human species is supposedly divided.
In any tradition which holds each individual human life to be sacred, the problem of war can be transformed or overcome by the radical denial of reason's competence, which is familiar from Christian history as the assertion that reason is so radically corrupt that immediate revelation is the only valid source of guidance. By the same token, any tradition such as Islam or Buddhism is likely to contain varieties according to which revelation completes and does not supersede reason, and in every such tradition it is reasonable to believe that there will be scope for very much the same line of thought which has produced the classic just war doctrine in Christian history.
This argument does not imply that Islam, Buddhism, etc., will necessarily have already developed a body of thought as articulate as the classic just war doctrine or that there will necessarily be agreement on all points. The suggestion is that the classic doctrine is a product of at least four necessary conditions, and the absence of any of these would be ample explanation if a substantive just war doctrine were lacking in a given tradition. The assumption that each human life is sacred and the belief that revelation completes and does not supersede reason are two factors. A third is that penetrating attention of the sort which theists call theological is brought to bear on the issue of war, and a fourth is that this is done by persons whose concerns are closely aligned with concerns of state. These third and fourth conditions were possibly not met in Christian history before the time of Augustine. In each tradition it will be historical contingencies rather than theological essentials that determine whether something akin to the predicament of Augustine and his successors has yet been confronted.
The just war tradition's status in a world of many faiths and of none is a question of intense practical importance, as a single example may serve to illustrate. When the Cold War ended, there was considerable casting-around in 'the West' for a 'new' enemy to take the place of the defeated Soviet Union and a prime candidate was 'fundamentalist Islam'. This shadowy entity was held to be devoted to the violent overthrow of the West and its presentation tended to dehumanize and demonize important developments throughout the Muslim world. There was thus much work to be done not least in dialogue between Christian, Muslim and Jewish theologians to articulate the varieties of attitude towards war in each of the three faiths. If, as suggested above, the classic just war doctrine has essentially the same status in each of the three faiths, then it provides an appropriate focus for such mutual exploration despite the fact that it developed in Christian history.
In many times and places, people of many traditions have believed particular wars to be directly ordained by God or the gods. In many but not all cases, the enemy are thought to be divinely marked out for destruction. To kill them is to do the Lord's will so there can be no question of mercy. The just war tradition's concerns for limitation and restraint are bound to be rejected as impious and the result is almost certain to be savage from the viewpoint of anyone who does not share the holy warrior's beliefs. Such ferocity is frequent in Christian history and has often found sanction in the biblical account of Israel's conquest of the promised land. Indeed, it is convenient to call this type 'biblical holy war', though it is not confined to the religions of the Bible nor should the label be taken to imply that a correct biblical understanding requires one to be a holy warrior! Some historians of the classic just war tradition (notably J.T.Johnson) have argued persuasively that there is a recurrent tendency for just war ideas to be sucked into the rhetoric of the holy warrior's certainty that destruction of the enemy is pleasing to the Lord. According to this view, the greater elaborateness of the just war idea in later writers, such as Vitoria and Suarez in the sixteenth century, is in part a response to this tendency, an attempt to re-assert the tradition's essential concern for limitation and restraint when this has been eroded by the drift towards holy war.
The type of holy war which finds ready biblical support needs to be distinguished from another which appears to be more characteristic of a society or caste of warriors. This second type may or may not regard particular wars as commanded by God or the gods. It is marked by the belief in a god-given code of military practice and the code is often of such a kind as to make the violation of certain prohibitions and restraints inherently 'sinful' by direct divine command. Let us call this 'militaristic holy war', since what lies behind it is the sanctification of certain particular military practices and the forbidding of others.
How are the two varieties of holy war related to the just war tradition?
The belief that particular wars are ordained by God and are against enemies divinely marked out for destruction rules out the emphasis upon the primacy of reason which typifies the classic just war doctrine. The just warrior is made aware of limitations upon what he may do by reason and it is natural for him to regard war as a regrettable necessity. For the biblical holy warrior, on the other hand, there is precious little scope for the exercise of reason. The humanizing effects of the realizations both that particular wars are accounted just and unjust by the operations of fallible reason and that even a just war is at best a sad necessity are excluded on principle for the biblical holy warrior. If the just warrior loses sight of them, this will be through a deficient understanding of his moral position. The just war idea tends inherently towards moderation; the biblical holy war towards destruction without limit.
In practice, holy war of the biblical type tends to allow the end to justify any means because the aim is supposed to be directly god-given and the divinely sanctioned destruction of the enemy removes all basis for restriction of the means of war. Holy war of the militaristic type readily tends in two contrary directions: towards the irrational prohibition of certain means (as perhaps when the crossbow was regarded as an illicit weapon of war to which chivalry objected for its plebeian character); and towards the irrational determination of ends, as when considerations of honour or face are allowed to become absolutes. In contrast to both of these, the classic just war doctrine purports to embody the rational understanding that war is a regrettable means to certain ends, where both ends and means are subject to inherently rational limits.
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