Monday, July 23, 2007

Retributive Justice, Self-Defense, and Just War

While at Tertio Millennio, George Weigel gave an extra lecture on the just war tradition.

In that lecture, he mentioned the 6 criteria for ius ad bellum, which is Latin for Justice of War. These 6 categories are necessary to be fulfilled prior to engagement in order to justify the engagement in war. Without one category fulfilled, then it cannot be considered just.

The 6 criteria are:

1) Just Cause
2) Competent Authority
3) Right Intention
4) Reasonable Chance of Success
5) Proportionality of Ends
6) Last Resort

Criteria 1 - 3 are what are considered "Deontological", that is, one is duty bound for the sake of moral truth to fulfill them. 4 - 6 are considered "prudential" in that they are prudential judgements, that is, it is up to the competent authority or authorities to make a judgement based on the information they have whether or not these conditions can be met. There is no universal means to make the judgements for that, it is not a methematical formula that is universal, but is something that needs to be exercised once the deontological criteria are considered fulfilled.

Now, it is criteria 1 that is of particular interest for me. There are 3 possible categories that this criteria can be considered fulfilled:

a) Punishment for evil
b) Defense against aggression
c) Recapture of something wrongly taken

However, it is generally assumed by most people that the only justifiable category is (b).

I don't agree with that statement and see (c) as a justifiable category as well, depending on the seriousness of the theft of property. If Country A steals a toaster oven from Country B, I would hardly say that is justification for going to war!

However, I do have a problem with (a). I do not see punishment for evil as a justifiable category, no matter how evil the action is. This is where people will immediately ask the question of "how is it possible to justify attacking a defenseless people against a tyrant?". I do see helping defenseless people defend themselves as justifiable, but not within the category of (a).

To talk about this, I would like to make a distinction. Many people say that when someone does an evil act, they forfeit their dignity. This is true, but not in a complete sense.

It is here that a distinction in dignities needs to be made. The most basic type of dignity is the dignity based at the core of a person's being, the dignity of being the Imago Dei. This is what is called "Ontological Dignity" (a term that Fr. Williams, LC, termed. Ontology is the study of being). There are other types of dignity, though, such as moral and societal dignity. Anything that is under ontological dignity is considered to have the ability to be forfeited. This is because moral and social dignity are given to you and can be taken away. They are earned from your equals in your society.

Ontological dignity, however, is something that you receive personally from God. It is therefore something that is not in the realm of man to take away. Thus, punishment for evil, according to JP II's anthropological outlook, can never amount to taking an individual's life away, no matter how evil his actions, because of the ontological dignity that is within him and is a gift from God. He has, however, forfeited other dignities which is why a tyrant, for example, would go to jail because he no longer has the societal dignity to be a member of society.

What this is leading to is that (a) is not a justifiable category. However, the explanation for (b) can be expanded. At this moment in time it is seen in the terms of self-defense in a self-contained sort of way, that a nation can only defend itself and cannot interfere in affairs that do not concern it.

I believe, however, that (b), since it speaks only in terms of defense, can be expanded to the idea of defense on behalf of others who are not able to defend themselves. For example, the situation in Darfur could be seen as a just cause as the people need to defend themselves but are unable to and so need an outside force to defend them on their behalf. I see no contradiction in (b) fulfilling this need for action. It used to be seen that, in the case of Darfur, it would be justifiable because of the actions certain people are taking and that they need to be punished for their actions. Now it can be seen instead in the light of defense and bringing an end to an unjust situation with the only possible means (if all non-military means have been attempted of course).

That is my brief reflection on the idea. I'm also now half asleep so if something doesn't make sense it's because I was falling asleep typing this.



Geoff said...

"Anything that is under ontological dignity is considered to [not] have the ability to be forfeited."

should read as the [brackets] indicate.

Did Weigel speak about criteria for jus in bello?

Harrison said...

It actually is supposed to read as originally written.

And yes, George did talk about ius in bello, but I didn't cover it hear in this poist as it is outside the realm of what I was discussing.