Monday, September 01, 2008

Welcome to By Common Consent folks

By common consent readers - welcome - I saw from the site meter that I was getting some hits in relation to a post on Moroni and Mormon and LDS views on just war ethics. As I take it BCC is an unofficial Mormon site, greetings and delighted to see you. I’m a law professor in my day job, and among my academic areas are ethics of war and just war theory, which involves moral philosophy, theology, and history, more or less.

I am a long, long lapsed Mormon; served a mission in Peru in the 1970s, but haven’t been active since the early 1980s and am married to a Catholic and, although with no desire to become a Catholic, make Mass my/our religious practice, such as it is. Most of my immediate family -brothers and sisters - remain active Mormons and, unlike many ex-Mormon intellectuals, I have zero ill will toward the religion or its practitioners; quite the contrary.

Here, for what it’s worth, are a couple of links to things I’ve written about Mormons and Mormonism:

Weekly Standard, “Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism,” Dec 24, 2007

Times Literary Supplement, “The Magi of the Great Salt Lake,” March 24, 1995

Los Angeles Times Book Review, “A Peculiar People,” November 1999

For my general take on just war theory, in a single article,
New York Times Magazine, “Who Owns the Rules of War?” April 13, 2003

The SSRN papers are all free downloads - just pick a location from which to download and get the pdf.

As far as Mormonism and just war theory goes - I’ve had a number of devout Mormon students in my just war seminar in recent years, both devout and very smart. They’ve spent a lot of time talking with me about it, and written fine papers on the subject. The thing I am most struck by is how much a theory of just war ethics - how worked out a theory of just war ethics a religion has - depends upon that religion’s role in society. If you are the Catholic or generally the Christian churches in Europe over a thousand years, well, you have a pretty extensive theory of just war ethics because you, or your religious confreres, are running the place - the rulers of states and societies. On the other hand, if you are the very early Church, your concerns about war are much more limited, to questions about individual participation - because you are not the state or running society.

Mormonism, so far as I can tell and drawing a lot on my students, has not really run state and society - leaving aside the Brigham Young theocracy in Utah - and instead long had a fractious relationship with the state and government, in which questions of fundamental loyalty for quite a long time were on the table. The ethical concerns of Mormon leaders have therefore tended to focus not on the grand questions of war and peace, and how one might, if at all, conduct war ethically, but instead about the obligation of individual loyalty to the state, the obligation to undertake civic duties including those of a soldier, and the question of moral responsibility, or not, in case of such individual participation. It is not an overall theory of ethics and war, in the large sense that traditional Catholic just war theory undertakes it - and is mostly a reflection, I believe, of the fact that Mormons have never really, so to speak, ‘run the joint’ the way that other Christians have done over centuries.

That seems to me a fair reflection of what Mormon leaders said about the ethics of war in the run-up to the Iraq war. As far as individual Mormons, and especially Mormon political leaders - Romney, Hatch - but also, in my personal experience as a laws of war lawyer with close ties to lawyers in the Department of Defense, much more Mormons serving as mid and high level officers with ethical and legal responsibilities for the ‘conduct of hostilities’ according to the ‘laws and customs of war’, as the lawyers like to say - things are a little different. I take that as a function of having civic obligations over and above religious one. But in my experience, these American Mormons tend to adopt the general tone of just war theory. Meaning, most Americans have absorbed a secularized version of just war theory, and so have most American Mormons serving in such capacities. It is the secular, human rights based theory of just war developed by Michael Walzer. I think that, more than any specifically Mormon version of war ethics, informs most American Mormons who have direct responsibilities for the conduct of war.

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