Paul J. Griffith's analogy of the "just war" with the procedure for licensing drivers confuses agents and their actions (see "Who Wants War? An Exchange," April). Licensing implies that the state has a "presumption against drivers" (agents), not a "presumption against driving" (actions). Once a driver is licensed, the state has no presumption either for or against the act of driving as such. A particular act of driving must be judged on its individual merits: Driving your sick child to the hospital is good; driving home after a dozen beers at the Red Lion is bad.
Just war theory refers to both agents and actions. With respect to agents, it provides "licensing" requirements that determine whether an agent has the authority to prosecute war. This constitutes a presumption against agents, not a presumption against any particular act of war. With respect to actions, the theory gives criteria that must be met if war is to be conducted in a just manner. But just as requirements for prudent driving do not constitute a presumption against driving, neither do requirements for a just war constitute a presumption against war. We have a duty to drive our sick child to the hospital (a "presumption for driving," one might say) a well as a duty to drive safely. The Christian has a duty to pursue justice, and this may mean on occasion that a legitimate authority has a duty to pursue a just war. George Weigel is correct in sniffing out that the "presumption against war" is really a means of smuggling in pacifist assumptions, specifically the notion that no war is ever really just.
I side with George Weigel in his exchange with Paul J. Griffiths, but I think most of Weigel's opponents fail to understand what he means when he denies that there is a "presumption against violence." These opponents think Weigel is denying the traditional criterion of last resort: If a cause is just, then authorities must not go to war immediately, but determine if there are other reasonable means for accomplishing the same goal. Perhaps it is the vague similarity of this criterion to a "presumption against violence" that has made it so easy for that concept to be smuggled into just war thinking.
The "presumption against violence" is a way of thinking about war based on the proportionalist method of ethical reasoning. As James Turner Johnson pointed out in "Just War, As It Was and Is" (FT, January), the concept originated with the Quaker James...