Jettisoning Legitimate Authority?: A Thomistic Response to Revisionist Just War Thinking
Moats, Nathaniel A. (Nathaniel Andrew) (author)
Kelsay, John, 1953- (professor directing dissertation)
Ruse, Michael (university representative)
Twiss, Sumner B. (committee member)
Kalbian, Aline H., 1954- (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Arts and Sciences (degree granting college)
Department of Religion (degree granting department)
Historically-oriented and revisionist scholars advance two main approaches to contemporary just war thinking. Historically-oriented scholars argue for the continued use of historic just war thinking as it has provided sufficient, substantial, and extensive consensus regarding just war criteria. Revisionists, however, argue that this approach has enabled unjust wars through statist and collectivist emphases, which has resulted in producing unique moral norms for war. Therefore, revisionists argue that just war criteria should be defined by universal moral norms of justified violence and revolve around individuals rather than political entities. In particular, two of the most prominent revisionists, Jeff McMahan and Cécile Fabre emphasize the primacy of individuals and their rights by arguing for war as morally symmetrical to cases of self-defense. Revisionists claim to focus on the moral principles of just war criteria rather than the historical formation of the just war tradition. The revisionists’ moral principles approach has led to several controversial conclusions that reorder, revise, or reject historical just war criteria. In response to these “revisions”, scholars’ primary attention has revolved around revisionists’ controversial ethical conclusions. Revisionists’ methodological and political claims, however, have received far less attention. Therefore, my dissertation discusses and critiques revisionists’ method and the political theory which significantly influences and motivates their approach. I argue that revisionists’ method is inadequate for its ahistorical approach and mischaracterization of the historic just war tradition. In contrast, I argue for James Turner Johnson’s historical-oriented approach, which emphasizes utilizing past just war thinkers’ moral, political, and pragmatic wisdom to guide political leaders in the restraint and application of armed force. Additionally, I display the way in which classical and modern just war thinking is derived from one’s political theory. More specifically, I argue that the revisionist approach to the use of armed force is based on an individualistic political vision resulting in an atomistic and reductive instrumentalization of political life. Revisionist political theory emphasizes the primacy of individuals and their rights without properly acknowledging the importance of humans’ communal context and the non-material goods of political community. Revisionists’ individualistic priority is seen most clearly in their rejection of the criterion of legitimate authority. They claim that this criterion is particularly problematic in the context of armed rebellion against political tyranny. Therefore, revisionist just war thinking attempts to jettison the primary criterion on which classical just war thinking was based. By way of contrast, I present Thomas Aquinas as a historical just war thinker who defends the centrality of the criterion of legitimate authority in just war thinking even in the context of a justified armed rebellion. Further, I argue that Aquinas’ account of legitimate authority is to be preferred for the way in which it is tied to his larger political framework, which promotes an interdependent conception of human flourishing in the context of political community. Aquinas’ communitarian political perspective is based on political leaders who maintain an other-regarding orientation by serving their citizens in protecting and cultivating the common good for the flourishing of all. This political approach highlights the reality of human interdependence and the intrinsic value of political life. Further, given the political nature of war and the depiction of political authorities as representatives of their communities, I argue that the criterion of legitimate authority is not an antiquated relic of the past, but the central criterion on which just war thinking should be based. The criterion of legitimate authority for just war thinking should not be “jettisoned” but emphasized as vital for theory and practice. Therefore, the political theory which grounds and motivates just war thinking is of utmost importance in determining which method and theory will best lead to the articulation, defense, and application of just war criteria in the contemporary era. In contrast to revisionist method and theory, I argue that a Thomistic approach that draws on the historical just war tradition and a communitarian political foundation provides a richer and more adequate account on which to base future just war thinking.
Cécile Fabre, Jeff McMahan, Just War Theory, Legitimate Authority, Revisionists, Thomas Aquinas
June 22, 2020.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
John Kelsay, Professor Directing Dissertation; Michael Ruse, University Representative; Sumner Twiss, Committee Member; Aline Kalbian, Committee Member.
Florida State University