Marc LiVecche and Daniel Strand continue their series on the just war tradition by focusing on legitimate authority. They address questions about what a sovereign authority is, whether citizens should obey a sovereign even if it’s an evil regime like Nazi Germany, what legitimate authority and the just war tradition would say about the “bread vs. bombs” debate, if the United States should spend so much on the military, and other issues.

Viewers can watch the first episode in this just war tradition series, “Overview of the Just War Tradition,” here.

Rough Transcript

Strand: Hello and welcome back to True North. My name is Daniel Strand. As always, I am here with Marc LiVecche. What is your title now at Providence?

LiVecche: I am the sovereign authority. No, no, no, no, I’m sorry, that’s today’s session topic. I’m the executive editor under Mark Melton’s stewardship and Mark Tooley’s helmsmanship.

Strand: Indeed. And where are you at these days, Marc?

LiVecche: I am ensconced to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where I am a Stockdale research fellow in the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership.

Strand: And I, Daniel Strand, I’m ensconced as a professor of ethics at the Air War College, and I’m a contributing editor of Providence. And I’m grateful to be so. Today Marc and I are going to continue our journey which we had begun last time, and we are going to get down to brass tacks right away. And we are going to get into this thing called the Just War tradition.

LiVecche: Or Just War tradition. Absent the definite article.

Strand: The Just War tradition. Or the tradition that has been dominant, let’s say, what scholars will call the classic tradition. And what we’re going to do, just to set the roadmap, is we’re going to highlight the important, what we call criteria, they’re the rules basically. These rules are developed over a long period of time, they’re debated, they’re refined, but we’re going to give you a general overview so that you, our dear listener, will be able to at least feel like you kind of know what’s going on here. Just War is designed for people to use. In the end, it’s not just for Marc and I and our colleagues to debate endlessly about whether Hiroshima is right or not. It is for politicians. It is for people to hold their politicians accountable. That’s what Marc and I firmly believe. We want to take it out of the realm of academia. We want to bring it into the people, because we’re populous. We like the people. We want the people, and we want our politicians, to be able to live according to this tradition. So, Marc, why don’t you give us a nice rundown of what this thing looks like in its structure?

LiVecche: You will see it most classically broken into two major bifurcations. The first is the jus ad bellum, which translates into?

Strand: Justice towards war. Bellum being the Latin term for war. And jus, j-u-s, ius for the Latins, means justice.

LiVecche: I just learned something new. I never knew why there was the different spellings. I thought it was a British-American thing. I really wasn’t sure. So, there’s the jus ad bellum, and then there’s a jus in bello. It translates?

Strand: Justice in war.

LiVecche: Justice in war. I’m not qualified, I never studied Latin. My children study Latin, and Dan has studied Latin so he does all the translations for this episode. So, this is bellum. It’s not duellum, which Jim Johnson in an excellent essay, I mean all over the place, but in an excellent essay called “Just War, As it Was and Is” in First Things magazine points out that bellum is different than duellum. Bellum is public force for public good. Duellum is public force for private good. Can never be justified. Bellum can be justified or not justified. The Just War tradition helps us to figure out when it is justified. I’ve said, two broad categories. Jus ad bellum; jus in bello. The jus ad bellum criteria are legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention. Just cause has three subcategories. A war can be just, there could be a just cause for resort to violence or force, when you are trying to protect the innocent, when you are taking back what has been wrongly taken, or you’re requiting an injustice, or you’re punishing evil. All right, jus in bello, two criteria predominantly. Discrimination and proportionality. Now, there are additional categories that are often added to both of these major categories. In the jus ad bellum, very often you’ll see last resort. You’ll see a proportionality of means. You’ll see, what else will you see? You’ll see all sorts of prudential categories. And Dan and I follow a tradition that suggests there are three deontological categories. Legitimate authority. Just cause. Right intent. And then there’s prudential considerations, ways that you have to decide whether or not in a given circumstance even though you have right authority, a just cause, and the right intent, it still makes sense to go to war. So, another category for instance is probability of success. Many will argue that in most situations, even if you have the just cause but there’s really no chance of winning, it is imprudent to go to war. That’s not always the case. I would argue with the ad bellum criteria, or the, I’m sorry, the in bello. We are in war, how do we prosecute that war? There’s the added category sometimes of military necessity. For instance, Eric Patterson has done a lot of good work on this, and we’re going to probably drag him in to talk about it. We’ll touch on that as well. But today we’re talking about legitimate authority. What is legitimate authority, Daniel?

Strand: What is it? Well, for when you’re thinking about whether to prosecute a war, or to take up arms, or force, or to use military power to do something, the first question is, who gets to decide? That’s just the basic deal. And that was the case in the ancient world. In ancient Athens. In ancient Rome. The Romans vested that power in the senate, and the senate decided whether or not the Romans were going to go to war. And they had to debate it and vote on it. And they had all these other processes that they would go through. In Athens, it tended to be more of a majoritarian thing. The Athenians so invested in the people, and that’s no different today. It’s no different from the times in history when the Just War tradition was being debated and formalized into these rules, what we call deontological categories. Just a fancy way for saying rules, principles if you want to say that. And so, they had to decide who was the one who’s going to decide. Who is the one who was in authority? And for most of history, that was kings. So, to our ears, I know this is like a grating sound to most modern Americans who love democracy more than anything, those in authority were the ones who people believe were appointed. They believe that. Whether it’s right or not, you can debate. They believe that kings were appointed by God, and princes and dukes and whoever it was that was in control, that they alone were the ones who had the legitimate authority. What do you want to add to that, Marc?

LiVecche: No, I think that’s it. It’s that entity over whom there is no one greater charged with the care of the political community, be it an individual, a body, or what have you. I’m going against my bloodline here, but it seems to me that a part of the reason you would have authority vested in a single entity, be it an individual or a group, is because that helps prevent the human propensity of launching into endless wars of all against all. Again, it’s public force for public good. Very often folks with my heritage, kind of Italian community organizers, we harnessed private force for private good. That didn’t work so well. So, I think the legitimate authority criterion helps to prevent just endless tribalism. I think that it’s the good of government itself, right.

Strand: Right. Yes. What is government appointed for? You can see in your point about the mafioso and so forth, I think even that alludes to the need, you could say, in many respects they fulfill a need which is I mean, yes, they enrich themselves and so forth, but oftentimes they’ve served a vital component in the community for keeping order. And it could end up, in the final conclusion it often created more disorder and violence, but it also to certain extent fulfilled the need. And you could say that need at least demonstrates or shows what government, at its best, what it’s appointed for, is about.

LiVecche: Yeah, that’s right. And there’ll be some controversies as to whether or not the United States should have a sovereign over whom there is no one greater charged of the care of the political community who can determine when the United States goes to war or whether or not it should be a community of nations, like a League of Nations or a United Nations. You’ll get that this probably isn’t the place, but we believe that nations ought to exist. This isn’t the place to maybe defend that point of view, but the Just War tradition is able to accommodate that point of view. And say the American sovereign in this instance is that person in America over whom no one else is charged with that level of responsibility for the administration of power. That person therefore has all sorts of sovereign responsibilities. And to not exercise that kind of power when conditions worn would be an abdication of that power. So, that’s the legitimate authority. We’ve discussed in the past whether or not just because we have a sovereign over whom there is no one greater charge with this care, does that mean that nobody else has any responsibility whatsoever? We just wait to do what we’re told when we launch into battle?

Strand: Yeah, that’s probably what a lot of people who don’t like the idea of the language of sovereign and authority, which sounds to freedom-loving people or people who are worried about concentration of power and just the idea of authority, sounds so anachronistic to our contemporary ears.

LiVecche: What do you do when your sovereign authority is a Hitler or is an apartheid government?

Strand: Right, yes, I mean so the big concern is if you bring up Hitler, Romans 13 was often cited by German Christians for this, for the notion that there’s a sort of absolute obedience. Now that’s a perversion of it, right. And so, the tradition has always had this built-in feature that soldiers themselves are required to obey their consciences. Even the modern military today, you’re not required to obey an unlawful order. Actually, you are required to not obey an unlawful order, right. So, it’s built into the system, this idea of reflection, what I would call reflective obedience. You see this in military academies and war colleges across the country.

LiVecche: That’s right. We have a friend raised in South Africa, and he is no pacifist. He is an advocate of the Just War tradition, but he said that growing up under apartheid South Africa, he had no choice as a Christian but to be a conscientious objector. One could not serve that regime in that way. And then maybe even within that, circumstances in which he would say no I will support this regime over this external threat, but by and large he said in this regime there is no legitimate authority. I cannot serve in its military status.

Strand: But I think the other position though is even the claim that there is authority is pretty radical in many people’s eyes. And so, I think it’s not that soldiers are there to sort of critique everything, right. I think there’s a certain, the default is obedience. The default is loyalty to a political authority. If we’re just talking about American democracy, every country is going to have its own system. I think it’s important to point out that you don’t have to have democracy. You can have other forms of government which are legitimate. The de facto position of the Just War teaching is that they are legitimate until they’re not legitimate. But if they reach that bar of legitimacy, let’s say however, we can debate what that is, your de facto sort of baseline position is you obey them. They have charge. They have responsibility. But your conscience and your own sense of right and wrong do need to come into play. At some point you just say okay, here’s a line that I will not cross. I will not do x. I will not do y. I will not cross that boundary, which basically, hopefully, would be covered by unlawful orders. That this is improper, and I’m not going to obey that.

LiVecche: Right. You may be interested to do a session in the future on conscientious objection and then on the more controversial notion of selective conscientious objection. Which we could get into it at some point. If a sovereign has a responsibility, Dan, too when there is a just cause and the right intention and nothing else will resolve the problem to launch a justified war. If that’s their responsibility, what does that suggest about other sovereign responsibilities such as the ability to actually fight a justified war? Nowadays we hear a lot of consternation about, “Oh we shouldn’t choose bombs over bread,” right. “We shouldn’t spend so much money on the military.” You raise the point that one of the attacks is always, “If you look at these charts, the United States they spend more on their defense than like the next ten nations combined. Isn’t that inherently unjust?”.

Strand: Right. So, this is the criticism. This is a criticism you’ll find. You’ll actually find on both sides of the aisle, honestly. You find a certain, I think people on the right are a little less prone to do this. I think people on the left probably more make the bombs versus bread argument, that for every bomb we’re making we could be building a school or something like that. What do you make of it? I have some thoughts on it but I’d like to hear yours first. What do you think the decisive response is to that?

LiVecche: Yeah, sure. I mean, first as you you’ve suggested, there is some agreement right, “If I build a bomb, I can’t build something else.” And that’s true. That is absolutely true. Just if we use metal to make a key and I need a key because other people want to steal my stuff there’s a certain tragedy in that, because if people didn’t want to steal my stuff, I wouldn’t have to make a key and I could use that metal to do something wonderful, like maybe make a beautiful statue. So, we get that there’s always these trade-offs. We have to manage the fact that human beings are sinful and so we have to expend power, and money, and creativity, and all sorts of things, mechanisms, that allow us to account for the fact and manage the fact that human beings are sinful. And so, if it’s true that there are some people in the world who want to take everything other people have, then you might need something like a bomb and not simply a loaf of bread to stop them. And so, while it’s true, Eisenhower warned us of the military industrial complex as he was leaving office, and he did this for every bomb we build, it’s a schoolhouse, or every battleship. That’s nevertheless, it was either later in that same speech or in another outgoing speech where he said we need a strong military. You need to invest in a strong military. Yes, it’s a tragedy at one level. It’ll be more tragic if you don’t, right. And so, if there is a responsibility to protect the innocent, to take back what’s been wrongly taken, and to punish evil, then you need to develop the capacity to be able to do that. I’m a dad. You’re a dad. We have responsibilities to our family. We have those responsibilities and we have to cultivate the means to meet those responsibilities. To not do so is a dereliction of duty. And therefore, it is unloving and unchristian.

Strand: So, here would be the rejoinder from the critics. They would say…

LiVecche: Can you do it in a Southern accent and drop f bombs?

Strand: “Christians need to cultivate a peaceful dispute…” No. Yeah, I don’t know. Passivists just don’t have much to say on this kind of stuff. Not a whole lot that’s terribly interesting, I guess. But maybe the kind of more skeptical position is that fine, let the United Nations do this. Or why is the United States, why do we have to have bases all around the world? Aren’t we just acting like an empire? Or why do we have to spend ten times, why can’t we spend five times as much? I mean I guess the general thrust of it is why does America have to do it? Why does America have this burden? Why do we have to spend trillions and billions to do all this stuff? Why can’t somebody else do it?

LiVecche: What would our blessed supervisor of blessed memories say? Jean Bethke Elshtain would probably say something like, “Well, with great power comes great responsibility.” Right. She would invoke the spider-man ethic for which she’s been raked over the coals. But I still buy this. So, today we look around and we discover America has great power. We simply do. Now we have vastly more power than Belgium and Luxembourg and Liechtenstein even combined, right? So, if we have that kind of power, then maybe we have a responsibility to cultivate that power toward the common good. But that’s a little bit of a cheat because we didn’t just wake up one day and discover we had all this power. We accumulated it, right. In the accumulation of that power the question just gets bumped down the road a little bit. I would say America has in a variety of ways been uniquely blessed. We’re surrounded by oceans. We have benevolent neighbors to our north and south. We have the capacity to build incredible reserves of power that we can use responsibly toward the common good. And if you have a capacity, and this is probably true for Christians more or less across the spectrum, it’s Eric Liddle, “I was made for God, but he also made me fast. And when I run…”

Strands: Chariots of Fire.

LiVecche: Chariots of Fire. Yeah. People have been given capacities. Nations have been given capacities. And it seems to me by and large as long as things are, all these various things are in ordinance, balance, that we ought to cultivate those capacities to the nth degree that we’re capable of. And it seems to me, for better or for worse, America has reserves of power that nobody else has. No other nation. And we ought to build the capacity to harness that power, and then direct it toward the common good. In discriminate, proportionate ways, which we get wrong not infrequently, but there it is. Another question that I would have for the people who say, “Why should it be America?”. I’d say, “Okay fine. Who do you have in mind?”. I’m comfortable. For as uncomfortable as I am with hegemony, I’m much more comfortable for America to have it than anybody else, including a collection of nations. I haven’t seen the United Nations do a whole lot of undiluted good throughout the world. I would suggest that our record is better than the United Nations record. So, when it comes to the expenditure of power, I’ll prefer to keep it closer to home. That’s a bit realistic I suppose. But I’ve got a cup that says, “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God.” So, I don’t know.

Strand: Any closing thoughts here? Anything that we missed on right authority? So, right authority is going to be someone in charge of the community. Somebody who has the responsibility not only for their own people. I mean, it should be said, but also for people outside of the community. So, Just War is, I mean, some people talk about the police function of the state. That’s their sort of internal looking, Just War is outward facing, right. It takes to somewhat same analogy. So, some people are going to say, “Keep the troops home. Let’s mind their own business.” The Just War tradition says no, actually there is a requirement laid upon you as a nation capable of doing certain things. It doesn’t mean everything needs to be done by you, and other neighbor nations have requirements as well. So, those who want to say America shouldn’t do everything, I agree with you. All right. The Europeans shouldn’t do everything, I agree. NATO shouldn’t do everything, I agree. There’s a certain extent which the United States has I mean, I would argue, has done too much. It has not done a probably good enough job of sort of letting others carry their weight. And so, I think that that criticism has a lot of merit to it. But the point stands that there still are some claims that aren’t just only about our national interests, which I would argue is not an illegitimate thing. We should be interested. There should be some sort of reason why we’re going to act somewhere. But there is also this moral piece that we can never forget. It may not always look like, I think the important thing to realize is it always doesn’t have to look like bombs and guns. It doesn’t always have to look like boots on the ground. Governments have all sorts of levers, what people call “instruments of power,” at their disposal. Economics is very powerful. Diplomacy is powerful. There’s a whole tool kit that you can use.

LiVecche: Last resort.

Strand: Last resort. There you go, right. You don’t want to come in with a hammer right away. There’s lots of carrots that we can use. And so, I think that criticism as well is well taken, that America in recent decades probably has been too reliant upon the military at times to do things that it’s maybe not cut out to do. And maybe we need more carrots, and we need some more soft power than hammers. So, anything you want to add?

LiVecche: Nope. Great.

Strand: Well, thank you. Thank you everyone for joining us. I’m Daniel Strand, joined by Marc LiVecche as always. We are True North, and we look forward to seeing you again to talk more about the Just War tradition. Take care.