Just War Theory: Triumphant … and Doing More Harm than Good
Alasdair MacIntyre began his important book, After Virtue, with what he called “a disquieting suggestion” (198, 1). I too would like to make such a suggestion. Mine will not be so sweeping as MacIntyre’s: it concerns not the very idea of virtue (which was MacIntyre’s target), but rather the more focused but almost as venerable collection of ideas we often call the just war theory. Michael Walzer has claimed that in the battle of ideas about military violence, at the dawn of the 21st century the just war theory has triumphed (2005, 3). Working with and teaching this so-called theory (which I much prefer to call a framework, so as to avoid conferring on it a theoretical coherence I think it simply fails to deliver) for more than 20 years has revealed to me many difficulties and ambiguities in its use. Indeed, the cumulative number and character of these difficulties and ambiguities finally have become for me “disquieting.” In this chapter, I will (1) briefly review just war framework, (2) make some observations about the bits I am finding most troubling, (3) present a rough and informal argument about how it is used and what we should conclude as a result, and lastly (4) discuss how we ought to proceed in light of all this.