In 1977 Michael Walzer wrote a good book about Just and Unjust Wars. It crystallized in straightforward language our ideas – and not only ours but those of ancient Greeks or of the Koran – that killing and maiming people wantonly for money or power, the crime of aggression, is a great wrong. He added to this the insight that the killing of innocents is wrong (the firebombing of wooden Japanese cities in World War II, which killed some millions of civilians, is a great crime by the United States which was justly opposing Nazi and Japanese aggression, for example). In later writing on international justice – justice about war – the issue of genocide has rightly become prominent. Rawls’ Law of Peoples, for instance, emphasizes, somewhat equivocally, the equal basic human rights of individuals (this idea is also captured by Walzer’s notion of humanitarian intervention). These notions are related. When the killing of innocents swallows up an entire people, “in whole or in part” as the UN Convention against Genocide puts it, that is a just cause for a people to fight back or perhaps a state or a coalition of states (the UN) to intervene.
In (fairly) simple cases, these moral judgments are straightforward or uncontroversial. Despite fierce political controversies, often motivated by interests – Hitler said his aggression against Poland was motivated by Polish “crimes” against Poles of German origin, W. and Tony Blair spoke of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction poised to fly against England “in forty-five minutes,” ties to Al-Qaida, and so forth – each of us can judge the crime of aggression. As Hilary Putnam usefully says, when someone punches me in the nose, I do not need a committee of experts to judge the aggression. When basic shifts about such underlying or what I name core moral standards have occurred, they result from changed estimates – I use the idea of moral learning or moral progress – of whether the practice previously favored by powerful beneficiaries is an example of just war. Largely through struggle from below by the oppressed – democratic struggles – such judgments suddenly fail to meet the prototype of one people unprovokedly putting another people “to the sword” – or are recognized as precisely the opposite, an example of aggression.
Thus to Walzer’s emphasis on the constancy of the underlying judgments, my Democratic Individuality (ch. 1). adds the idea that concepts of just war shift historically as more people are recognized as fully human, and the bearers of/entitled to rights, nationally and internationally. For example, Aristotle says uncontroversially that self-defense against aggression is a form of just war, but then thinks slave-hunting is also. Modern liberalism emerges in Montesquieu’s and Hegel’s rejection of the latter view. Similarly during World War I, radicals like Lenin saw imperial powers contending to divide up the world. They argued that colonialism – holding millions of people in thrall - was not justified, but a form of aggression, a racist crime. Today, ironically, Lenin is shunned, but few people would affirm the racism of Woodrow Wilson (see here) or Lloyd George or Clemenceau about colonized peoples. Put differently, every decent person has Lenin’s view of the nature of World War, if they think about it. Despite today’s American revivification of empire and ostensibly temporary occupations, the era of colonialism is dead; recent attempts at it – the new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or Israel in the occupied territories – are horrors and, for the occupiers, draining and losing propositions.
Note that the complex or epochal differences between Aristotle and Hegel on slavery, or colonialists with Lenin (and us) are motivated by clashes in biological or social theory as well as relevant empirical claims. But evidence has been provided (former slaves, India and China, for example, are perfectly capable of governing themselves, have made themselves free) and what is true ethically speaking, about these matters is no longer controversial. Since the common meta-ethical relativist view is that underlying standards shift historically and that epochs or arguments are “incommensurable,” the case of just war is a profound counterexample.
To put it another way, core judgments about aggression are matters of what John Rawls has called “overlapping consensus” among different views and traditions. This core is motivated I argue by a kind of moral objectivity, something which, as Hobbes once said, is evident to each of us. It is based on no more complicated a reason than that it is better for humans (each of us) to live in a society in which individuals are not wantonly murdered than in one which randomly slaughters them. Yet the theory of just war emerging out of Catholicism and St. Augustine does seem a “grand theory,” one of not great intellectual fertility and perhaps the opposite, particularly in our circumstances. For it is often invoked on behalf of unjustifiable aggressions (i.e. invading Iraq). My friend Hilary Putnam responds in the lecture I reprint in the next post – “The Epistemology of Unjust War” - to a critique of just war theory by the philosopher Steven Wagner. Hilary has been organizing against and thinking about war for many years. His argument reflects the experience of ordinary conversations or what radicals sometimes speak of as practice (see my Marx’s Politics for example). He offers some startling new ways of remedying what is inadequate about just war theory and, incidentally, gives a new wrinkle to what is decent in democratic peace theory (for its deficiencies, see here). This essay will talk about what is valuable and novel in Putnam’s argument – what we all could learn from – and offer a number of considerations, some empirical, some moral, that strengthen his argument
For those who are not philosophers, Hilary is a leading philosopher of science, an inventor of of contemporary scientific realism (I am in his debt as Democratic Individuality reveals in chapter 2) and has more recently offered brilliant arguments for pragmatism. He is, by any standard, internationally speaking, a major philosopher (a collection on him as one of the “dominant” Anglo-American philosophers of our age Hilary Putnam, ed. Yemima Ben-Hanem, has recently come out at Cambridge). But Hilary’s interests are unusually broad. This essay by itself is by far the most interesting thing written on just war or more aptly, when to oppose a war. It is lucid both for the ordinary reader who is willing to apply herself, and philosophically in a way that most writing about these issues is not. More importantly, he speaks of the dangers of further wars from the neoconservatives (he could now, given the escalation in Afghanistan, the new American wars in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, and the again growing danger of bombing Iran, add Obama and the Democrats). He says rightly that this is the most important issue for philosophy (for philosopher/citizens: one of the obvious and important meanings of pragmatism). His essay has the moral and philosophical priorities right, explicitly.
In talking with others about war, Hilary has long adapted an unpublished argument of Roderick Firth, another Harvard philosopher who was a Quaker. Firth’s argument, however, attempts to honor decent wars. He suggests (Hilary fills in the meaning) that first each of us must know that the unchecked result of war will be a great evil or as Hilary puts it less controversially, “a Bad Thing.” Second, we must know – not just offer a guess (see here for a prototypical silly and uncountered New York Times op-ed* urging bombing Iran) - that our going to war prevents the evil and that it does not produce as great an evil in its stead. The latter point is, on the face of it, novel, and a very healthy addition. For just war theory, in the mouths of imperialists, sometimes, when mistakenly used, i.e coupled with widely broadcast lies, attempts to sanction aggression. Thus, in 1939, Hitler. There are in fact not just the straightforward or what I name core moral standards about just war, which are at a certain level abstraction universal (even Hitler falsely claimed that Poles “aggressed” against the Third Reich). There are fierce controversies in which the powerful often try – and succeed for some years at least with many in their own population as in Vietnam – to rename what the issue is about, to say that a people fighting for its life against the invasion of the highly mechanized and carelessly murderous power, is in fact, somehow the aggressor or the agent of aggression. For instance, the US was the only power in Vietnam to bomb peasants from on high, often using napalm. Yet the American government and media said ordinary Vietnamese would somehow blame the horrors of the bombing (for instance, the burning nine year old girl photographed running naked down a path about whose agony I and hundreds of others protested by sitting in against Dow Chemical recruiting - the manufacturer of napalm - at Harvard)** equally on both sides…
Hilary says that he came to oppose the Vietnam war not just from the U.S. use of napalm but from reading in David Halberstam that the US was trying to destroy rice production that could sustain its peasant opponents. But it took him, as all of us, some time to understand what the facts were.
The issue then becomes, in Hilary’s title, “The Epistemology of Unjust War.” How do we know that the judgments we hear from our leaders, blared over the commercial media, are true, if they are true? I will add to Hilary’s and Firth’s account the “Emperor’s New Clothes”: when great powers go to war, particularly the greatest power in the world, the “unipower” “unilaterally” as in Vietnam or Iraq (or with ad hoc international support as in the case of NATO in Afghanistan), their purposes are likely to be questionable, the results a horror, and, in terms of impact on their own people, deeply harmful. Particularly compared to the Congressional establishment and war “experts,” a child is likely to speak wisdom (why are they killing all those people?). For great powers, there is always in such cases, as C.S. Pierce might say, good reason to doubt the government’s pretensions.
What Firth suggests is that is not enough to have a good cause (overthrowing a bad Thing like a dictator) or something different, a just cause, but that ordinarily, the likely outcome must not reproduce or deepen the harm (for instance, in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen today, the danger of Al-Qaida to the United States is greater than it was at the time of the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan; in addition, the United States, partly as a result of these wars, has entered a depression). Hilary’s notion of a political and moral firebreak before the use of war, that there is a special danger in killing and maiming that cannot be overridden for profit and power or for ideological craziness somewhat unmoored from profit and power (neo-conservatism) is a creative way of thinking about war. The moral and political onus must be on the initiators. I would add that this notion spells out a) what is unjust about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (in addition to the aggression, that the consequence in both cases seems even worse than what preceded, for instance, in strengthening Al-Qaida and Iran), and b) in our context, more deeply, it aims to preserve the world. Global warming and American wars taken by themselves are steadily making the world uninhabitable for a large part of 6 billion humans and perhaps for all of us. As Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize winner in Physics Steven Chu put it in his Congressional testimony which was not covered in the commercial media: if we do not change quickly, agricultural production in California will cease, the area will become a desert, by the middle of this century.
Second, the Firth/Putnam argument refines Ronald Dworkin’s notion of rights as trumps. Killing and maiming, the destruction of houses with children asleep in them, is the nature of war. The choice of going to war is not like a decision about where to build a highway or a post office. It is the human rights issue. Basic equal rights are only meaningful if taken seriously in the context of war. Thus, one cannot be a warmonger (as most of the American foreign policy elite and pundits are, i.e. the war complex) or routinely acquiescent to wars (many Democrats) and be regarded as serious about human rights.
In this case, the criterion of knowledge about the consequences of war - on the face of it unlikely, since war is, par excellance, a matter of chance and risk, as Clausewitz says - is especially hard for the powerful to meet. For one might add to Hilary’s point that war always provides a context for the attempted discrediting or crushing of dissent in the United States, through the Patriot Act and other means. In my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, I name this interconnection the anti-democratic feedback of global politics. For instance, intervention abroad against the French Revolution and the fictitious XYZ affair led to President John Adams’s all-out attack on a Republican Party (the party of Jefferson and Madion) with the Alien and Sedition Acts. Faced with the Russian Revolution and sending American troops to help the White or counterrevolutionary armies, Woodrow Wilson launched the Palmer Raids, jailing and deporting thousands of radicals (Emma Goldman and Big Bill Haywood, inter alia). At the beginning of the Cold War, America intervened in many places - China, Indochina and Greece, for example - expelled 9 unions from the CIO, and blacklisted thousands of people (the Truman-McCarthy period). Thus, an unjust government manipulates and suppresses democratic voices of protest from below. As in Iraq, however, once the voices, present at the time, become widely heard, once the evidence comes in unmistakably to ordinary people, no one any longer believes the government's case.
One might also add that the American elite, even before torture which Obama has scaled back (see posts on Ray McGovern on CIA covert actions here and forthcoming), is not morally serious. It has spawned and protects war criminals (those who engaged in aggression and torture). International lawyers across the world, including Americans like Scott Horton and Michael Ratner, and many other citizens (for instance, Andrew Sullivan) rightly call for legal proceedings against the leading torturers. In contrast, anti-war movements are morally serious and, from a democratic standpoint, determined (the election of Obama as an anti-War – or more precisely, anti-Iraq War - candidate shows this).
As Hilary brilliantly puts this second criterion:
“The essential point is that when it comes to the decision to use killing and maiming as instruments of state policy, the persons who make that decision must, if they are morally alive at all, accept the onus of an especially high burden of proof. There needs to be a ‘fire break’ between ordinary policies of building roads, raising or lowering taxes (within normal limits, anyway), etc., and policies which involve killing and maiming—at least if all talk about the value of human life is not to be exposed as sheer hypocrisy."
"(Steven Wagner will remind me that it often is sheer hypocrisy, in the mouths of the rich and powerful. But it is one thing to acknowledge this painful fact, and another to accept it as the way the world must be, and I urge that we resist such acceptance, even when it is presented as 'worldly wisdom.' Indeed there is much more worldly wisdom in Firth’s Principles than in the Realpolitik of any of the world’s present leaders.)"
"At this point, some of you may be reminded of a famous notion of Ronald Dworkin’s, the notion of 'rights as trumps.' By this he meant that considerations of utility (in particular, considerations of wealth maximization) must not be allowed to 'trump.' i.e., override, the moral rights of individuals. For example, the benefits that a majority might gain from discriminatory behavior against a minority cannot justify the violation of the inherent moral right of the members of the minority to be treated as free and equal citizens. Moral rights may have to be overridden in real emergencies, Dworkin recognizes, but such overriding requires strong moral justification, not just cost-benefits analysis."
"There is good reason for you to be so reminded. For the right not to be maimed, killed, not to have one’s children and other relatives maimed or killed, not to have one’s house destroyed over one’s head and the like are prima facie moral rights in Dworkin’s sense—indeed, if they are not recognized as such, I repeat, talk of ‘human rights’ is meaningless hypocrisy. Thus Firth’s argument can be regarded as an epistemological refinement of the idea of ‘rights as trumps.’ No general skepticism about the possibility of political ‘knowledge’ should be allowed to efface or conceal the fact that what is being appealed to by both Dworkin and Firth are fundamental ideas of what our ideals of human equality and dignity require of us.”
Hilary eloquently spells out the moral implications of his view. But beginning from a disagreement with Wagner over “just war theory” as a rather weak “grand theory,” he deemphasizes the moral and especially the legal implications of aggression (his title: "The epistemology of unjust war," however, underlines that he makes the ordinary judgments). To spell this out: just wars, like the Soviet or British or American or Polish resistance to Nazism, or the post-1863 Civil War to abolish slavery, respond at least to aggression and perhaps something more (genocide in the case of the Nazis, slavery as in its nature a paradigm of aggression). Following Hilary’s thought about being punched in the nose, any of us can judge being attacked (the Poles and others in 1939, the slaves who made Haiti between 1791 and 1804). Aggression is the oldest, most common and clearest name for such abuses, the center of what makes war a “bad Thing.” Genocide is aggression by an elite against (a part of) its own people.
On Hilary's argument then, a people (each of us, taken together) is the strongest judge about whether aggression has been committed against us. As Locke says, in revolution (or self-defense against aggression), there must be a long and clear pattern of abuses. In Aristotle’s words, the many (rather than Wagner’s independent or professional body to assess, as experts, whether a war is unjust) sometimes get issues right in a way that a single person (a philosopher in Aristotle’s sense, an expert, a leader) do not. One might add George Kennan’s insight in American Diplomacy: short of being propagandized by the elite for war, the people ordinarily do not want it. Even against Nazism when many people were willing to fight and the cause was just, the draft still had to be coercive. To assess the Iraq war, Firth’s principles including that America was in fact the aggressor would have barred the invasion with anything like fair competition with the dominant propaganda (the anti-War movement I think was a majority; the Iraq war was never popular in America except among paid talking heads). But the decision was reached as an authoritarian matter by an isolated elite, supported by mostly acquiescent Democrats (though about 133 Democrats in the House voted against the authorization) and the commercial media. That media created an artificial impression that "experts" were “for war”(in one month, the "news" channels interviewed some 300 generals and American Enterprise Institution flacks versus 4 anti-war people); they attempted to win the battle for knowledge by suppressing anti-War arguments which were comparatively serious and evidence-based. Who was making sound arguments is, in retrospect, uncontroversial. The "experts" turned out to be a mob of fools.
In this regard, it was interesting to realize, going to Washington on January 15, 2003 to join the demonstration that spilled out of the mall (the famous 1963 march to which King spoke filled 2/3 of the mall) that we, the opponents of the war, were the majority, and the politicians and talking heads who monopolized the censored air waves were not (see here)
In addition, the central article of the UN Charter – Article 2, section 4 – bars the unprovoked attack of one state on the people of another. It is the charge on which the Allies tried and executed the Nazi and Tokyo war criminals. Robert L. Jackson, later a Supreme Court justice, was a prosecutor at Nuremberg and instrumental in negotiating the UN Charter. He said: “We must persuade the German people that their leaders are on trial not because they lost the war but because they started it.”
Richard Falk and Howard Friel have written The Record of the Paper. Its theme is that the New York Times has not allowed the use of the term aggression in regard to American policy for the past 50 years. The editors are happy enough to use the term for opponents of the United States (echoing Greenwald’s point about the Times’s “news” pages’ peculiar use of “harsh interrogation techniques” here, but torture for weaker, non-US ally regimes. See also here).
In this context, one might add John Rawls’ original position to Firth’s two principles. Rawls’ notion is also connected to a lot of thinking in democratic movements i.e. opposition to slavery during the American Revolution see here and here or Chomsky’s standard, insightful critique of US policy (aggression is bad if done by the enemies of the US, but not if done by the US and its allies,) or Greenwald’s of the New York Times’ “reporting. ” As I often used to joke, Bush said “we are good and they are evil.” If then we ask which is the only power in the world to have an international system of torture prisons and render kidnapped prisoners secretly to Kazakhstan to be melted, the answer must be: Osama Bin Laden.*** In general, one must envision one's own government as the moral equivalent of others, and ask if its aggression - its unprovoked putting people to the sword - can somehow, in distinction from what one rightly names crimes when committed by "the other," be defended as a good thing.
Hilary also rightly distinguishes preemptive war from defensive war and criticizes the former (p. 17). But I think one should say this even more plainly. America had a just cause for hunting down those who did 9/11. But preemptive war was itself unjust. Consider Cheney’s 1% doctrine: if there is one per cent chance you will murder me in 20 years, I will murder you today and think of my aggression as “self-defense.” But murder is just murder.
For a pointed discussion of the hubris of American national security policy and the war apparatus during the Cold War and culminating in Bush-Cheney, see Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: the End of American Exceptionalism. His thoughts mainly reinforce Putnam’s and Firth's. Opposing the initiation of the horrors of war "optionally" i.e. where they could have been avoided, Bacevich invokes Niebuhr: this is the worst thing. Any decent person should fight to prevent such a war with all her strength. Yes, there was the American blitzkrieg in Iraq. But then America aroused a rebellion which used improvised explosive devices and all America’s technology had not prepared it for this. Nor would the Bush government, funneling money to Blackwater and Halliburton, actually pay to protect ordinary soldiers. War, Bacevich emphasizes with Clasewitz, is a matter of chance. The “strong” do not always win; in fact, in invading small countries, they often fail. He recommends that America should, for its own well-being, get out of the invasion and occupation business. He suggests that Americans use the ordinary criterion of just war: not as a spurious pretext to launch aggressions, but only to defend against aggression.
“History has repeatedly demonstrated the irrationality of preventive war. If the world needed a further demonstration, President Bush provided it. Iraq shows us why the Bush doctrine was a bad idea in the first place and why its abrogation has become essential. For principled guidance in determining when the use of force is appropriate, the country should conform to the Just War tradition – not only because that tradition is consistent with our professed moral values, but also because its provisions provide an eminently useful guide for sound statecraft." (Bacevich, p. 165).
Here again, the criteria for unjust war are a decisive component of how we assess the facts when Hilary’s argument is right. But that argument also invites us to worry sharply that casual slaughters will – as they have in every recent American case – produce something far worse, and more threatening to ordinary Americans, than the situation which existed initially (Vietnam and Iraq are glaring examples).
Bacevich's insights on the riskiness of war might seem to place in question Hilary's and Firth's insistence on knowledge that the consequences will be good. If one is aggressed against, as we will see, Hilary is rightly more flexible about the need for self-defence (one should fight back against the odds and with no firm knowledge of likely success). His insistence on knowledge for American wars is to place a firebreak between war and ordinary policies, to set the requirement of knowledge to initiate other wars, i.e. an aggression of the kind great powers usually wage with some more or less plausible pretexts very very high. In this, his argument concurs with Bacevich and Niebuhr. "Optional" wars are out.
Now Firth’s criteria do not say, though Hilary sometimes points out: one of the “bad Things” that war brings about is that it makes the people of the aggressor less secure. For instance, the aggression in Vietnam got 50,000 Americans killed in a corrupt cause, provoked a huge antiwar movement to defend the interests of ordinary Americans and Vietnamese, and created the long term homelessness of veterans in American streets and much other psychological destruction. Arming Israel whose wars against civilians as in Gaza grow increasingly murderous sparks opposition of many kinds (and as outliers, both the Nigerian who tried to blow up the jet to Detroit and the Jordanian doctor who wiped out a CIA ring in Afghanistan were incensed by these slaughters). See Greenwald here. Firing missiles at Yemen and blowing up wedding parties spawns ever-new enemies for the U.S. These criminal acts live out and amplify Osama bin Laden’s predictions that the US would invade a Middle East oil producer (not just one murderous overreaction, but many...). Given the far-flung nature of US abuse, from the years of torturing innocents and jailing people indefinitely to launching ever new wars, equipping and supporting Israel in slaughtering helpless people in Gaza, which is fairly characterized as a "large open air concentration camp” and refusing even now to challenge Israel's self-destructiveness,**** the US has multifariously made of civilians or innocents or even pro-US forces (the Jordanian doctor who once gave the CIA information as an agent) enemies. These anti-basic rights policies, as Obama has rightly said, have undermined the physical security of ordinary Americans. All the sadder then that compromising with the war complex, Obama continues them.
But the military-industrial-think tank “expert”-political-media complex is happy enough. The existence and dimensions of this war complex – including that the Pentagon now spends more than 3 times as much as during the Cold War, some $800 billion dollars this year compared to $250 million at the end of the Cold War and under Clinton - underlines the source of this happiness. Obama knows better but has escalated in Afghanistan. The US recently murdered 8 school children; there were demonstrations in Afghanistan but the mainstream media do not pick up the story. Even our puppet Karzai is now denouncing these American murders. See here. Why does Obama choose such a policy? Because the Democrats as well as the Republicans are funded by the war complex and because of the reactionary two-step: the Republicans uphold endless aggression and torture, no matter how destructive to Americans, and think tank "experts" on CNN as well as Fox (the whole “mainstream” media) reiterate that ”this is the only way to go.” In last Sunday’s New York Time Week in Review, a horrendous front page article “The Label Factor: is Obama a Wimp or Warrior?” suggests, as Helene Cooper, the reporter repeats, that even five aggressions or escalations isn’t enough for this blind, power-mad establishment. "He just isn’t," they say, "warlike enough. Maybe Obama’s a wimp like Jimmy Carter." See here. Even dogs baying mindlessly at passing cars look smart compared to these “experts”: sometimes dogs get tired after all, but the Leslie Gelbs just bay on. One wonders why the army being stretched and exhausted and an economic collapse does not make some difference for these "experts." The nakedness beneath the reported clothes, however, is not the Emperor's – Obama knows better, though he goes along corruptly to stay in power – but the war complex's. See Corrupt here.
Hilary and his correspondent Steven Wagner both differ with the grand theory of just war. But Wagner seems to suggest that no war has ever been justified because of the authoritarian structure of decision making in what we name around here a democracy (Hilary and I are also deeply skeptical of what today passes for democracy, but think perhaps that there is more democratic influence, particularly ordinary citizens or, as I emphasize, democratic movements from below). In contrast, Wagner’s judgment about just war seems too restrictive. Consider John Brown’s raids on slavery as an “humanitarian intervention” or the Chinese resistance from below to Japanese aggression or the American resistance to the British empire or the Vietnamese struggle against French, Japanese and American aggression (Eisenhower imposed the Diem regime, resting on a Catholic minority, in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords). All of these movements emerged from below with popular leaders. These movements are not simply democratic but somewhat hierarchical (the democracy realized in these movements, however, is initially far greater than what we call democracy and involves the despised and dispossessed, those who are excluded by coercion and bitter words from the public sphere in oligarchies with parliamentary forms – a description I ordinarily use for “democracies around here”); yet, they plainly defended a common good from below and achieved an enormous historical impact. In note 2 to Hilary’s paper, Wagner rightly refers to such movements, saying that “Just War Theory” - which supposedly requires that a war must be declared by a rightful authority - must metaphysically exclude them. I guess George Washington was a terrorist not only for the George the Fifth (the inheritor of George the third), but for this version of “Just War Theory.” But this foolishness is a counterexample to the rigidity of such a version. Surely a more intelligent account of just war, i.e. Wagner’s, would include anti-colonial and anti-fascist movements from below.
Seeing the imperial and corrupt nature of most American wars, Wagner calls for an independent body of expert judges to evaluate the supposed ethical justification. Wagner is, for reasons that Hilary and I would probably agree with, deeply skeptical of democracy around here. After all, Obama, attractive to many of us and much of the rest of the world enough to win a Nobel Peace Prize for the hope of producing peace and sustainability, is staying in or launching 5 wars and counting. Wagner’s is a decently motivated proposal, but as Hilary rightly suggests, somewhat apolitical. Given the Iraq fiasco, Hilary offers an alternative criterion: what well-informed people in other democracies think about the war (pp. 21-22).
Given the huge anti-war movement before the war, it is doubtful that one could find people not on the take from the US (i.e. outside of Tony Blair and Aznar and local war establishments) who would have been for the invasion. To oppose the war, Robin Cook, the British foreign minister and aptly villain in John Pilger’s film “Paying the Price” about the US/UK engineered UN boycott of Iraq (one which resulted in the death of several hundred thousand children and nearly 2 million people), heroically resigned from the Blair administration. So did career foreign service officers like Ann Wright (see here) and John Brown in the United States. So the case against the Bush/Cheney lies about the war is a paradigm for what Hilary is arguing against Wagner. But in contrast, I emphasize the force of the anti-war movement itself. Democracy from below, not mainstream experts even those who resign, is probably the best (and perhaps also the pragmatist) criterion for assessing such wars. Such movements are comparatively unusual, much harassed, not publicized or helped by the commercial media. They are democratic upsurges of ordinary people, facing political risks – sometimes great risks (as the murders during Vietnam at Kent State and Jackson State attest). They thus meet Hilary’s knowledge criterion – their existence on the face of it shows that elite arguments for war are not only subject to doubt but as in the Iraq war, implausible, and are an especially good sign that wars are unjust. I would thus argue for Hilary’s criterion, but with an emphasis on democratic movements from below nationally and internationally, not just international, knowledgeable opinion. To put it differently, true judgments about a war give rise to and reinforce mass, international, anti-war sentiment and movements.
Now imperial wars (wars by great powers) are exceedingly difficult to stop. There was a vast movement against World War I (in the United States, this movement prevented Woodrow Wilson entering the war until 1917). But it could not stop the war. There was an international movement against fascism before World War II. But it could not stop the war. The international anti-Iraq war movement – the greatest movement against a War before the War started in history, as Noam Chomsky put it - probably, however, prevented even greater civilian casualties. The Pentagon plan called for “shock and awe,” that is in Wade’s and Ullman’s screed on the Pentagon website, making of Baghdad a “Nagasaki.” That such a movement cannot accomplish everything is also in this case tragic (its tragedy is rooted in Hilary’s notion of a “firebreak”); nonetheless it accomplished important goods at the time, and arguably led to the movement that elected Obama and is responsible for what is decent – barring torture in its first act, for example – in the Obama regime (making Obama be Obama, one might say). Thus, such a movement is justified by Firth’s/Hilary’s knowledge criterion. It not only renders the conventional argument for the war prima facie doubtful, but in the Iraq case, is quickly shown by life to have been right; the administration went far beyond the norm that “truth is the first casualty of war” in concocting lies and manipulating opinion. Given that the war is a dreadful loss, has fatigued the army, and led to economic collapse at home , it even produced distaste in the elite for some of the saber-rattling posturing (actually the cowardice of being afraid to negotiate) of neoconservatism.***** Only such a movement from below has the democratic possibility of forcing decent policies on the elite.
In this context, both Hilary’s criterion of well-informed judges in other democracies and mine of democratic internationalist movements from below illustrate a truth in the democratic peace hypothesis. Ordinary citizens, as Kant suggests, have no interest in war and citizens movements from below, when not prevented by force as in an authoritarian or monarchical regime, will arise, internationally, to prevent it.
In addition, Putnam raises two important weaknesses in Firth’s first principle. It is right for people to rebel against oppression, colonial occupation, genocide, even when the aggressor is very powerful. One cannot know in advance that some on balance good result will be forthcoming; yet the crime (the bad thing) is so horrendous that one must act. Sometimes rebellion against the odds – say John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry to attack slavery – succeeds surprisingly (Brown was more honored in his capture and martyrdom than in his militancy alone; blue-coats marched into battle singing “John Brown’s body lies amolderin’ in the grave, but his soul goes marching on”; when those troops became majority black - 184,000 - the Confederacy’s days were numbered).
Hilary also emphasizes England which finally intervened against Hitler against the odds (pp. 17-18).****** Hilary’s argument of course overlaps with Leo Strauss’s admiration for Churchill – any one might admire Churchill’s leadership of England in fighting the Nazis on a human rights as trumps basis as opposed to Strauss’s nihilist and militarist, destroy the modern age or the age of the last men basis (see “Leo Strauss: the courage to destroy” here). While Churchill is morally admirable, puffing up American leaders as Churchillian in aggressing against Iraq and quite possibly Iran is anything but.
I should alert the reader to an unusual and central point of agreement between Hilary and I. We are both moral realists (his pragmatism is a different argument for moral realism). He and I agree that facts and reasons are relevant to moral judgments, that moral judgments can be true (it is true, for example, that the Iraq War, involving large scale maiming and killing, is harmful to Iraqis and Americans) and that there is no radical separation of fact and value, no value neutrality, in studying war and other important matters. Now one cannot study any subject without struggling to overcome one’s biases – an apt sense of value-neutrality – but a reasonable factual/causal depiction of any war will inevitably involve or imply moral judgment.
In Democratic Individuality (Cambridge, 1990), I advance a specific version of moral objectivity compared to Hilary’s. But I also agree with Pierce’s point that relevant doubt is in context and not general or “paper doubt.” Pierce’s thought is vital to Hilary’s distinction between pragmatism and skepticism (the latter is self-refuting and leads in practice, for example, to being lukewarm even about fighting Hitler). I may be less of a pragmatist than Hilary is. But it is not clear to me at the moment that I have a difference in principle either in ethics or meta-ethics with Hilary. In reading these comments and Putnam’s original article, the reader should be conscious of this point, which is very different from social science platitudes about the putative fact-value or, in philosophy, Humean is/ought distinction. For arguments as to why such distinctions fail, see Democratic Individuality ch. 1, and Hilary’s discussion of Habermas’s version of this error about values in The Collapse of the Fact-Value Dichotomy ( Harvard, 2002). Thus, most of my comments, which are important social theoretically and politically, would, if true, strengthen Hilary’s basic argument.
Now the leaders of the Bush-Cheney administration had at least 100 people murdered in American custody (by the doctrine of command responsibility in the Tokyo trials – leaders who do not explicitly head off war crimes are guilty of them). They had many more tortured. That administration flaunted American contempt for what is decent in international law and attempted to destroy it. One should see Obama’s recent decisions in the perspective of Nuremberg and the founding of the UN. In shielding the criminals, Obama underlines today's American hypocrisy on the Nuremberg trials. In opposition to the great jurist Robert L. Jackson, he tries to convince the world that the Nazis were only punished because they lost the war. He shows that the rule of law for America is a joke, to be enforced against others, but not against members of a powerful elite (no matter how criminal).
In this period of time, there is, once again, a danger of global warming and wars making a large part of the world uninhabitable (and producing new wars and victimization in the remaining part). Many of us saw Obama as hopeful compared to the Bush era. But some like to tell themselves – “oh, the rule of law. It isn’t that important. The US is fighting terrorists, and only sticklers – lawyers, ACLU people, people who are a little unworldly about politics, really believe that torture is abhorrent.” Such an attitude is foolish, criminal or protective of criminals, and in terms of the fate of the world, blindly self-destructive.
*Alan J. Kuperman, "There's only one way to stop Iran," December 24, 2009. I guess this was the Times's idea of celebrating Christmas. There were some critical letters, but not even a "balancing" op-ed.
**The girl has miraculously has survived and grown up.
***Rawls’s thought is as useful as Firth’s and integrated more fully into democratic theory - that we must imagine ourselves as ideal legislators, articulating a policy that could be fairly applied to each of us. See “IF Stone, Chalmers Johnson and the original position" here. In Political Liberalism, Rawls weakens the apparatus of a theory of justice as a “comprehensive doctrine,” but his later notion of overlapping consensus on a core criterion of mutual regard among persons of differing conscientious views is probably an equivalent to what he meant in A Theory of Justice by the original position. I can’t go into it here, but I suspect that the original position is the right way of explaining what is useful in the notion of a self-standing political overlapping consensus.
****Unlike his predecessors, Obama did initially try to stop the settlements. This would have introduce an element of sanity into Israeli policy. Sadly, Obama reneged. The settlements are illegal and immoral and lead to all kinds of thuggery against Palestinians, for example destroying the olive groves of families grown over generations. They are a fundamental obstacle to a two state settlement, and thus undermine any preservation of Israel as a Jewish state. Greater Israel, with a majority Arab population, isolated from the world would not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid theocracy for very long. If Israel did not launch nuclear conflict (sadly, a serious possibility), democratic struggle from below would eventually produce, as in South Africa, a rights-based democracy for Jews and Arabs. But much more pain would be required to produce this result. It is a tragedy that Obama will not press Israel to negotiate seriously for a decent two state solution by freezing the settlements.
*****It is this point that Hilary addresses as “fantasy,” Yes there were imperial interests, as Wagner’s account suggests, at the root of the neocon endeavor, but these fantasists have no hope of producing more than imperial defeats and decline. Their bull in the china shop belligerence has merely overconfirmed bin Laden’s prophecies. He could not have brought down the United States, but the neocons have produced a remarkably swift decline. American imperial interests, or the war complex, again shows up however even in the escalations and aggressions of the initially anti-war in Iraq Obama.
*****One might also invoke the Soviet Union, the sole power in Europe to support the Spanish republic and stand up for Czechoslovakia at Munich regardless of whether any other power would join them, see "Josef Korbel, Stalin and the defense of Czech democracy" here.