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A NOTE ON THE THEORETICAL FOUNDATION OF THE JUST WAR DOCTRINE THE "JUST WAR DOCTRINE," one of the most original contributions of scholasticism to the history of political theory, and the chief source of international law in the West, attracts our interest not merely because of its importance in intellectual history. The increasing cosmopolitanism of our world fosters recurring attempts, by secular as well as Christian thinkers, to resuscitate the doctrine or at least to discover within it an acceptable basis from which to derive moral guidance for foreign and " national security " policy. But is not the scholastic notion of the just war, and all the prohibitions and prescriptions which follow from it, dependent on the acceptance of a specific, Christian revelation and therefore wholly unsuited to the contemporary situation? No: at least according to the authoritative transmitters of the Thomistic tradition, the great contribution of Thomas lies precisely in his reformulation of the Augustinian just war principles in such a way as to free them from any decisive dependence on the Christian dispensation. Our purpose here is not to discuss the specific details of the just war doctrine,1 but rather to investigate this claim regarding the doctrine's theoretical foundation. Adopting substantially the Augustinian views on war in the form they had been given in Gratian's Decretum, Thomas incorporates them into a general political theory based on a new, or much more systematic, idea of natural law. Let us recall here the terminology and outstanding features of Thomistic natural law, especially as contrasted with authentic Aristote1 See my essay, "The Moral Basis of National Security: Four Historical Perspectives ," Part II, in Klaus Knorr, ed., Historiccil Dimensions of National Security Problems (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1976), pp. 817-882. 464 JUST WAR DOCTRINE 465 lian political theory. Thomas implies that, although natural law does not play a very important role in Aristotle's thought, such a notion provides the only real basis for his prescriptions about politics. The reason is this: in the Ethics Aristotle leaves unclear how men grasp the first principles of moralitythe principles from which derive all the duties involved in each virtue that the political community aims to cultivate. Aristotle denies that these principles are based merely on convention or custom, he denies that they are inborn, and he refuses to say that they come from natural science or theoretical reason.2 But he does not state unequivocally where they do come from. Thomas supplies an answer by saying that certain laws or commandments (e.g. of the form" thou shalt not steal") are known to the human consciousness by means of a natural disposition or habit (" ha.bitus ") of which Aristotle had not spoken: synderesis, whose act is the" conscience." The "primary precepts " which comprise the natural law proper include commandments such as those found in the second table of the Ten Commandments. There are in addition " secondary precepts ," which are the applications of the primary precepts to various circumstances: for instance, from the prohibition on theft is derived the secondary precept, "return all deposits." The secondary precepts may change in some circumstances; but the primary precepts never change and it is always wrong to violate them. (It may in some circumstances be right not to return a deposit, but it is never right to steal.) 3 Both primary and secondary precepts together are contained in the "law of nations" (ius gentium or aonsensus gentium). For Thomas, the term " law of nations " does not then refer primarily to international law, and the difference between his usage and ours must be stressed, to avoid confusion. Following Cicero and the Stoics, Thomas intends by " law of nations " •Ethics 1094bll-14, 1134bl8-30, 1103a18-19, 1105b2-3; cf. 1095a30-bl3 and 1144a6fl'. •Commentary on the Ethics 1017-18, 1023-25, 1~8, and above all 1029; also 1072; Summa Theologiae I-II ques. 91, 93-95, II-II ques. 57 art. 2, 3. Cf. Il-II ques. 66 art. 7. 466 THOMAS L. PANGLE not so much the law regulating relations among nations as the law commonly held by all civilized nations: for example, the law that theft is a punishable offense.4 The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 464-473
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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