Having taken a brief excursus to discuss retributive and distributive forms of justice that are operative when fighting just wars justly, I want to return to an overview of the jus ad bellum and, specifically, the jab’s final requirement guiding evaluation of when it is right to fight: namely, right intent.
In case a remedial refresher is helpful, recall that the jab’s primary aim is to assist a nation’s legitimate sovereign—the authority over which there is no one greater charged with the care of the political community—in determining when nothing else but proportionate military force has any realistic chance of rescuing the sufficiently threatened innocent, requiting gross injustices, or punishing grave evil with the aim of ending conflict and restoring or imposing order and justice and, thereby, peace. You might also remember that these requirements, being deontological in nature, are essential if war is to be just. Moreover, their presence does not merely provide permission for war, but signal obligation.
The proper intention of entering a just war can be cast in positive and negative ways. Negatively, the proper orientation of the just warrior must be to avoid evils. As Augustine puts it: “The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and the like.” As we’ll see, the jus in bello framework—guiding how to rightly fight the fight that’s right to fight—helps prevent these evils by mandating necessity, proportionate force, and due care in targeting.
On the positive side, as we have already seen, war is waged with the intention of overturning the conditions that led to the just cause for fighting. That is, one fights in order to secure the protection of the innocent, to take back those things wrongly taken—thereby requiting injustice—and to sufficiently punish evil. But there is something more.
From Augustine to Luther to Calvin and onward, the purpose of war is always primarily to restore a disordered peace. This peace is desired first for the innocent victims under unjust assault. But in the second place, this desire for peace extends to the enemy—toward the restoration of the enemy into the fellowship of reconciliation. Naturally, you cannot reconcile with someone who has not seen the error of his ways, repented, and given you solid reasons to trust that he will not seek to harm you again. There is therefore more to say about this than can be said here. For now, let’s summarize the point this way: right intention casts warmaking as peacemaking. Just war is the initiation of the process of forgiveness.
In his letter to Boniface, the Roman military tribune in north Africa, Augustine insisted: “Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity…in order that peace may be obtained.” With the admonition there is a caution. It pays to remember, as Jean Bethke Elshtain reminded us, that Augustine is talking about the peace of the Pax Romana—a compelled or ordered peace. However unjust in the full light of eschatological shalom—that heavenly state of wholeness, harmony, and completeness—this imperfect peace was nevertheless very real and very significant. More than any competitor then in the market, the Roman Pax was capable of keeping neighbor from eating neighbor, and of preserving the interconnected web of culture, civilization, art, and tradition that, by Augustine’s day, was much in jeopardy. The imperfect good of ordered peace is much to be preferred to unadulterated anarchy.
But better still is what Augustine calls tranquilitas ordinis—“the tranquility [or peace] of order.” Such peace is not externally compelled but rather internally prompted by love of God and neighbor. This peace, Augustine writes in The City of God, is born of a commitment that “one will be at peace, as far as lies in him, with all men.” The basis of this commitment is “the observance of two rules: first, do no harm to anyone, and, secondly, to help everyone whenever possible.” This will not result, to invoke Elshtain again, in “the perfect peace promised to believers in the Kingdom of God, the one in which the lion lies down with the lamb.” Against this vain hope, Elshtain wryly observed: “On this earth, if the lion lies down with the lamb, the lamb must be replaced frequently.”
Nevertheless, Elshtain saw this pursuit of a tranquilitas ordinis as central to what good politics is all about. Peace is to be the product of order and justice, without which no other political goods can long perdure. What political goods did she have in mind? As she suggests in Augustine and the Limits of Politics, simply modest, quotidian ones:
Mothers and fathers raising their children; men and women going to work; citizens of a great city making their way on streets and subways; ordinary people flying to California to visit their grandchildren or to transact business with colleagues—all of these actions are simple but profound goods made possible by civic peace. They include the faithful attending their churches, synagogues, and mosques without fear, and citizens—men and women, young and old, black, brown, and white—lining up to vote on Election Day.
Here we come to a humility of purpose: there is only so much we can do. But “in this world of discontinuities and profound yearnings, of sometimes terrible necessities,” Elshtain mused, “a human being can yet strive to maintain or to create an order that approximates justice, to prevent the worst from happening, and to resist the seductive lure of grandiosity.”
An implication should be called out here. This “striving” after peace cannot be a half-measure. The final point of focus for a properly oriented intent embraces a truism: if it is right to fight a war, it is right to fight that war to win it. This is not for the sake of chest-thumping, patriotic bravado. Rather, first, remember as said above that the just cause requirement necessitates the offending wrong that started the war in the first place be corrected. To not try to do so, barring profoundly prudential excuses, is to hold the violated goods in contempt. Victory is, in most cases, the means to vindicate the innocent, to take back what’s been wrongly taken, or to appropriately punish evil. Moreover, it is most often only after an enemy has been sufficiently licked that they are in any mood to stand down and possibly be friends again. If nothing else has, the First World War taught us this.
Decisive victory, like much else in the wild contingencies of war, is sometimes a bridge too far. It must, therefore, remain a strong presumption based on prudent reasoning rather than a categorical imperative. But for both strategic as well as moral reasons, we should lean toward clean margins and err in the direction of thoroughness, just as we would in cancer surgery. It is because we desire the good of concord that we fight for a decisive end to conflict, one that secures and allows the enforcement of a durable peace.
Not incidental to the “right intent” requirement is a forward-looking expectation to what happens after the fighting stops. A durable peace does not simply emerge whole cloth simply because the smoke clears. Contemporary just war scholars often speak about jus post bellum—justice after war. I’ve made clear by now that victors—and victims—have responsibility for helping build—when possible—just conditions, including relations, following conflict. I also agree it’s necessary to articulate a criterion—such as order, justice, and conciliation—for what that might look like. I’m unsure whether the just war framework needs to be formally to include a third category as, properly understood and fleshed out, the just post bellum ambitions are all resident in the right intention requirement. But the articulations of a just post bellum ethic must, in any case, be made something more than merely tacit.
In summary, taken together, right authority, just cause, and right intent are the primary criteria regarding when it is justified to use force. Deontological in nature, they impose the burden of duty on those bearing ultimate responsibility for the good of the political community and for good relations among political communities. Otherwise put, the jus ad bellum requirements, if satisfied, do not point to when it is merely permissible to consider force but rather when it is obligatory. As we will see, secondary, prudential considerations regarding probability of success, last resort, and the like will serve as cautionary filters.
To flesh a little of this out now, it may be that simply because something is right to do, it might not be wise to actually do it. In such cases, when proper prudence dictates that we stand down despite the just cause arrayed before us, the decision not to fight should register as a tragedy. It can only mean that, for now, some innocents will not be protected, some injustice will remain unrequited, some great evil will go unpunished. And peace will thereby remain elusive.