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Regrounding the just war's 'presumption against violence' in light of George Weigel

The so-called war on terror has recently revived interest in the just-war tradition (JWT). George Weigel has played an important role in this renaissance, and his recent article on JWT ("Moral Clarity in a Time of War") has occasioned a new debate concerning its merits. At the heart of this debate is the nature of violence. Weigel holds that the JWT is not based on a presumption against violence, whereas his critics (esp. Rowan Williams) argue that it is.

After critically summarizing Weigel's position, I counter his divorcing of the JWT from the presumption against violence. By looking closely at the terms used in the debate concerning this presumption, I show that violence, in the scholastic tradition that nurtured the JWT, is understood as disordered force. As disordered, violence is contrary to reason, and thus also to justice (i.e. rational order). If just war aims at order, it itself may not be disordered.

Thus, I argue that the JWT is best described as a two-fold presumption against violence: a just war is waged to counter violence, and a just war may not itself use violence. Consequently, since the JWT, grasped as a presumption against violence, concludes the link between justice and ordered force as the link between end and means, it avoids abstract ethical intentionalism: the proper end of the just war, as opposed to a mere intention, dictates the means that it has at its disposal.

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Last update: February 5, 2008