LINK: Megan McArdle recaps Stephen Carter on some parts of just war theory. At MPSA this year, I was on a 'Just War Theories' panel, and virtually the first thing everyone says in an academic context when the subject of just war comes up is that there's no tradition of just war theory, just a bunch of sometimes-related theories. A broad-strokes theory has some use, so long as the person hearing it understands that they are either getting Thomas Aquinas' position (from which many, including within the Thomist tradition, have dissented on various matters; and keeping in mind that Thomas does not say very much on this topic at all), or else a compendium theory of some main features that are common across the work of many theorists, but not strictly reducible to them. The unfortunate tendency is to reify individual parts of the compendium theory without indicating what's controversial and why. Proportionality, and its cousin double effect, are postulates included in some just war theories under the 'ius in bello' section, but what they mean and when they should be applied are very much under debate.

It's important to be clear where there is play in the theory to make it clear where there is none. The view of the second commenter is sadly common:

The whole idea of war is to impose your will on others, and the best way to do that is to destroy his ability to resist. And that means to kill as many of your enemies as possible as quickly as possible, so that they give up resistance.

A view like this takes a purported fact--that in certain wars, winning is what matters (I don't doubt this commenter has WWII in mind) and uses it to reject any jus in bello restriction whatsoever. By being clear about what can change depending on the facts of the situation, one gets a sense of theory's robustness: we can address what is reasonable within the framework of proportionality, even while disagreeing as to particular policy outcomes.

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