Attitudes to armed rebellion in Christianity and other religions have varied in ways that are closely connected with the distinctions that we have drawn between pacifism, holy war, realism and just war. The pacifist will no more take arms against the State than on behalf of one State against another. A person or group filled with the type of enthusiasm that motivates holy war of the biblical type will take arms against a godless State without compunction. A kind of mirror image of such zeal is that absolute submission to the State which mistrusts human reason and pictures the government of the day as being directly appointed by God for the punishment of sin: whatever evils it may bring upon its subjects, it cannot be the target of rebellion since the divine will is for it to be obeyed in reverence to God, who will punish his sinful ministers in his own good time. Unlike the pacifist, the just warrior does not shrink in principle from the use of armed forces. Unlike the absolutely submissive holy warrior, the just warrior has sufficient trust in reason to think it possible to recognize when rebellion is necessary. And unlike the holy warrior who fights against the State of which he or she is a subject as a target appointed by God for destruction, the just warrior is subject to the same rational reservations, the same prohibitions and restraints, in rebellion as in war. Let us discuss these before examining the relation between the classic just war doctrine and realism in their applications to rebellion.
To be just, a war must be authorized by legitimate authority. The authorities in question are the State and the UN if the war is between States, but what of rebellion? A special case might be a rebellion sanctioned by the UN, and one might suggest (though many would deny) that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) received sanction for its rebellion against Israel from the UN when its leader Yasser Arafat was permitted to address the General Assembly. Against this particular argument it could be replied that the General Assembly has no authority to authorize rebellions whereas the Security Council might have. But the general thought remains that one special kind of authorization of rebellion might be that international organization which has authority over states.
This can, however, only be a special case because rebellions are not initiated by the UN, it is scarcely imaginable that they should come to be so, and many prima facie legitimate rebellions are most unlikely to be endorsed by the UN, dominated as its workings are by the diplomacy of governments. The usual case of armed rebellion is that in which groups of people resort to force without the legitimizing authority of an established government.
What insights has the tradition to offer such people? First, a formative influence in the tradition has been its opposition to private war, e.g. one of baron against another. Private parties should take their quarrels to a higher court rather than use force. From this we should presumably infer that rebellion can be just only if there is no court available which can deliver a credible adjudication of the rebels' quarrel with their government.
Second, the tradition recognizes an inherent and inalienable right of individual self-defence without identifying this with war. If an individual or a family are attacked they are permitted to defend themselves as best they can against the oncoming aggressor. This individual self-defence differs from war in several fundamentals: self-defence in an emergency does not as such involve training or organization to fight, nor the creation of fighting forces, nor the construction of a military command structure, nor the subordination of the military to political control. An armed rebellion, on the other hand, is bound to involve all of these collectivizing complications, so the demand that war be authorized goes much wider than individual self-defence. It includes the demand that a certain kind of collective entity be authorized, a political entity with military means at its disposal. In short, a rebel is not a purely private person but a participant in a collective entity whose existence needs to be justified.
Where, then, might such justification be sought? It may be that no comprehensive generalizations are either possible or necessary, for rebellions are not like states. The continued existence of states is a normal and proper part of fallen human life, and the proper task of each state is to cope with innumerably various challenges and opportunities. Rebellions, on the other hand, arise in response to specific grievances and ought to cease (occasionally perhaps by the transformation of the rebel movement into a state) with the resolution of the quarrel. Because rebellions are ad hoc, we should not expect to be able to generalize about them as readily as about states. Our best procedure may therefore be to consider a selection of particular cases.
1 The PLO, like the ANC in South Africa, has the striking feature that it was a legitimate peaceful organization which developed a military wing only under extreme provocation (i.e. as the just war tradition's 'last resort'). Furthermore, it had popular support before turning to arms and continued to do so, though the role of conscription in its military activity raises issues which we will examine later. This is an example of one kind of assurance that the individual can find that 'joining the rebellion' will not be a merely private war, for participation in this case may be participation in the last resort activity of a legitimate organization with a just cause.
2 When Petain's government surrendered to Nazi Germany, De Gaulle summoned Frenchmen to resist in the name of a government-in-exile. This 'government' was created ex nihilo and could not draw legitimacy from an earlier non-military existence. Nor could it derive legitimacy from the majority of French citizens, who gave tacit consent to Petain's regime. It could, on the other hand, point out that it had recognition (however unenthusiastic) from the countries which were at war with Germany, whose occupation of part of France could hardly be said to be legitimized by the consent of the French people and whose detested domination was the principal reason for such widespread consent to Petain's regime. It was also able to demonstrate a capacity for State-like behaviour which was unnerving in its competence. De Gaulle's ability to speak as a statesman and to organize like a ruler make it impossible to think of his as a merely private war. Here perhaps is a second type of organization which can count as a legitimate rebel movement so long as it can meet the usual just war criteria of just cause, last resort, etc.
3 The Provisional IRA is a rebel movement which is in conflict with both Ireland and the UK. As the 'military wing' of the political party Sinn Fein it runs a well-trained, well-equipped and tightly organized fighting force. Its cause, to create a unified, socialist Ireland, commands meagre support at democratic elections in both Ireland and the UK. One of its objectives is to create 'no-go' areas from which the UK army is excluded and in which it can begin to exercise the functions of government, e.g. by punishing drug traffickers with knee-capping. Can it be regarded as a legitimate rebel movement? One reason to doubt that it can is the lack of popular consent that it is able to command in Ireland. There appear to be many who give willing shelter to IRA fighters, but this is from a romantic kindness to young men in trouble with unpopular forces rather than from consent to the political aims of Sinn Fein. The contrast with De Gaulle's Free French is stark and crucial. De Gaulle in exile was able to speak as a credible political authority. The sympathy shown to IRA fighters is to a large extent at quite a different level. Many cultures show a deep fascination with the romantic young rebel. It is one thing to harbour him as an individual, quite another to consent to the political aims of the organization that lies behind him. In a democracy, an organization such as Sinn Fein has little hope of establishing that the resort to arms is a last resort because it can (as it does) operate as a political party.
4 In 1965, Che Guevara left his influential post in the Cuban revolutionary government to attempt to bring about revolution in Bolivia. The failure of his attempt can give us deeper insight into what can count as a legitimate rebel movement. Che did not seek, as Mao had done in China, to gain the understanding and consent of the oppressed peasantry. Instead, he sought to gain ascendancy by guerrilla warfare, hoping that his military organization would then become the organizing focus of revolution. Lacking popular support, his guerrillas were a relatively easy target for government forces and he was wounded, captured and killed in 1967. Strategists emphasize the de facto weaknesses imposed on his guerrillas by a strategy that failed to draw strength from the overwhelming mass of the people. But what did Che's isolation mean for the legitimacy of his movement? A generalization suggests itself which, if correct, has far-reaching implications. It is this. The meaning of any social idea becomes determinate through the thoughts, feelings and actions of the individuals in whose life it finds expression. For example, the meaning of 'democracy' cannot be spelled out entirely in a dictionary, for any abstract meaning which one can write down is incomplete without the minute practicalities and emotional colour that the word receives in the life of a democracy. When Mao strove to gain the understanding and consent of the Chinese peasantry he inevitably suffered his revolutionary terminology to be influenced by the people. However harsh and unequal his domineering attitude, the peasants played their part in defining what the revolutionary words meant as the struggle unfolded. To the extent that they were not deceived, manipulated and bamboozled, the peasants were making their revolution. Che, on the other hand, in trying to short-circuit the painful process of mobilizing the masses, was inevitably entrusting the practical definition of his revolutionary ideas to a narrow, military elite. It was their revolution, not the people's, and therein lay not only its power-political weakness but also its lack of legitimacy.
We can fruitfully compare this with our earlier examples. The PLO and ANC
developed their ideas in close contact with the people for whom they claim to speak, and De Gaulle was at pains to find a style which any Frenchman could recognize as quintessentially French. In each of these cases, and perhaps to a greater extent than in Mao's, the rebel movement was actively shaped by those for whom it claimed to speak. In the IRA's case, the movement's politics is so separate from the romantic kindness attracted by its young fighters than Sinn Fein cannot credibly claim to speak for any but a small minority in the two democracies of Ireland and the UK. Thus in all of these cases, the shaping hand of those for whom the rebels claim to speak, or its absence, can be regarded as an important factor in deciding whether the movement is legitimate, and thus whether the rebellion can meet the just war requirement of legitimate authority.
This reading of the connection between consent and legitimate authority needs to be distinguished from two other things. First, it is distinct from a widespread conservative interpretation of the classic just war doctrine. Second, it does not commit one to the dangerously anarchic idea of the self-determination of peoples.
Many conservatives seek to contrast traditional rebellions and modern revolutions. They say that traditional rebellions had limited political aims and were sometimes justified, whereas modern revolutions give violent expression to the Utopian idea of radically transforming the totality of human life—an aim so unrealistic that it can never be legitimate and in practice always degenerates into cynically power-political usurpation. This contrast relies on emphasizing the perfectibilist elements in such modern traditions as Marxism (while also downplaying the radicalism of some earlier rebels). It sets dogmatic limits to what might turn out in practice to be a legitimate political aspiration because it fails to consider what, say, Marxist ideas may come to mean in practice. It directs attention only to the abstract, dictionary definition and ignores the transformation that words can undergo in the creation of a revolutionary movement. By drawing the line in terms of political consent, we can avoid this dogmatism.
The self-determination of peoples idea is, at its most extreme, that any group which considers itself to be a people is so and as such entitled to be a nation-state if such is what the group's members desire. Our emphasis on consent differs from this dangerous recipe for the infinite multiplication of states in two vital ways. First, it is concerned only with rebel movements, not with states. Second, a legitimate rebellion must meet numerous conditions including a just cause and the just conduct of hostilities.
We have examined four types of theory about war and have concentrated on connections between just war, pacifism and realism. The differences between the just warrior and the pacifist have proved to be less stark than many would expect, and it has emerged that much remains to be done in the cause of peace and justice about which adherents of these two theories can agree and cooperate both with one another and with the more pragmatic, less doctrinaire types of realist. Our guiding thread has been the thought that revelation completes and does not supersede reason, so that reason in the service of God's will or the Buddhists' universal compassion can allow us to identify principles of justice within which to confine such apparently irrational outpourings of violence as war and armed rebellion. If the argument is sound then these same principles will illuminate all other topics in the field of military affairs. Let us conclude by noticing three topics which are thus illuminated.
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