Sunday, February 25, 2007

Categorizing theories of ethics of war

The usual way of setting out theories of ethics of war is realism, just war theories, and pacifism, corresponding to unlimited, limited, and prohibited with respect to undertaking war. I've gradually come to think that, while attractive in many ways, it is not really an exact correspondence. There are versions of realism that lead to the possibility of unlimited war, but you can also set out a form of moral realism that provides limits on war as well. Justice or rights based theories of war can lead to limits on war - but, as I suggested in the "superjustice" version of Sherman's "war is hell," a justice based or rights based approach can also lead to the possibility of unlimited war.

In addition, the classical division of realism, pacifism, and just war theories leaves out the quite important possibility represented by something we might call "positive law eschatology" - viewing positive international law as having replaced moral theories of war with positive law accounts, such as the UN charter or, more broadly, liberal internationalism, in which war disappears in favor of the "domestic analogy" and "police work" in place of war. I call it eschatalogical because it is a kind of end-time ideology, but whether that is a useful label or not, it is not adequately accounted for in the traditional version of things.

Perhaps it would be more useful to start the other way around, and classify theories of ethics of war as unlimited, limited, and prohibited. Then one could divide up realism, just war theories, rights based theories, and so on into smaller subdivisions, which seems better to fit the theories anyway.

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