Saturday, December 04, 2004

Realism and Consequentialism and Just War (Theory)

Thinking over again my earlier post on how to categorize the just war tradition and its rivals. Traditionally it is divided into realism, just war theory, and pacifism.

I made things more complicated by adding a fourth category, the Positive Law Domestic Analogy, on which either war itself disappears into police action on analogy to a domestic society, or else becomes the exclusive prerogative of a political authority - e.g., the Security Council - that operates as a supreme authority in the question of the use of force analogous to political authority in a settled domestic society.

I also made things more complicated by subdividing realism into an "amoral realism" and a "moral realism"; and also by subdividing the just war category into traditional Christian theology of the just war and Walzer's resistance-grounded, modern secular account. And finally by breaking nonviolence into nonviolence and pacifism.

I am now thinking that although it breaks with how just war theory has traditionally conceived its categories, it would be better to rethink and rename the category of realism. I am beginning to think (I may change my mind about this again, although I have been thinking about this point for several years) that it would be better to regard the realist category as instead consequentialist. Or more exactly, and more complicatedly:

Amoral realism - its all just desire and your power to make it so, without reference at all to morality.

Partial (or paraochial) consequentialism, as a version of realism: Morality is relevant to war, but what matters are the consequences. However, the consequences that matter are those for your side, for your political community alone. This is a moral consideration in the sense that you owe special obligations to your community, rather than to the world at large, and so the consequences that matter are those that affect your community.

Impartial (or universal) consequentialism, as a version of realism: This is just pure consequentialism applied to ethics in war, but taking into account all the consequences for all sides and everyone, impartially and universally. It departs from just war theory in not taking account of rights at all, either rights of political communities, as Walzer means it, or even rights of individuals, either in the question of the resort to force or the question of means and methods of fighting.

A question, of course, is whether partial consequentialism is genuinely a consequentialist theory, or whether it is something else, given that it depends for its partiality on a notion of what you owe to you and yours and not to others.

I will revise this (and maybe throw it out) down the road. But I have never been very satisfied with the account of realism - it always seems to involve too many mixed up strands of moral and nonmoral thinking to be coherent. When Sherman says, "war is hell," it means many, many different things, and realism alone does not capture it. Walzer is right in his discussion of realism to point out that a large amount of bad faith enters the talk of generals on these matters, but if we try to take it seriously, the different moral considerations captured by a single concept, realism, appear to be quite different in origin and implication.

1 comment:

bila said...

I enjoyed your post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for posting. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog...
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