War and Statecraft reconsidered.

Author:Maguire, John F.
Position:Letter to the Editor

In "War and Statecraft: An Exchange" (March), George Weigel is right to distinguish "rigorously" between bellum in its traditional sense of public war and duellum in its equally traditional sense of private war (piracy, brigandage, terroristic raids, most forms of partisan insurgency). Yet it seems to me that in the post-September 11 situation it is difficult to distinguish between the two in some part because the two senses of conflict are mixed.

Whatever the connection between the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the agendas of certain states, these attacks are execrable instances of partisan or private warfare. Indeed, their purpose is to initiate a worldwide duellum, a global duel. Consequently, it is incumbent upon just war theory to revisit the question of duellum.

Giambattista Vico, in the first edition of the New Science (1725), describes in a compelling way how, despite the ancient Romans' ambiguous usage, the term duellum nonetheless became associated with "barbarism" in the narrow sense of contempt for public law: "The first outlines of war as such therefore lay in these wars, which were private, with the result that, up to Plautus' time [in the late first century], the Latins called public wars duella. And when the barbaric times returned, the first form of war spread anew from Scandinavia throughout all of Europe."

But why did the duellum "spread from the nations of the north to the whole of Europe"? Vico's answer should not be waved away: "Because civil purges under the judgment of God were deemed just."

Mr. Weigel and Vico, then, both endorse a sharp distinction between bellum and duellum, but Vico makes an additional sociological point. The motive of partisan warfare, Vico claims, is a purportedly divine warrant for purging civil power. In keeping with Vico's theory of divine warrant, did not ancient Zealotry, we can ask, pit itself against the civil power of Rome? Did not the Leninist partinost pit itself against the international community composed of civil powers? Has not modern Muslim extremism pitted itself against any civil power that is not a mere instrument of the umma? And has not the West's military-industrial complex pitted itself against any civil power that does not privilege the "divine right" of capital?

As Mr. Weigel notes, the peace which the civil power is committed to defending is the peace of right order. Vico's concurring view is that duella will continue to disrupt this peace so long as "the law of conscience that the gospel commands" is not acknowledged.

John F. Maguire

Natural Law Jurisprudence Center

Berkeley, California

Leaving to the side for one moment several of George Weigel's more questionable assertions concerning the specifics of the war in Iraq, his account of just war doctrine within a "theory of statecraft" should occasion some comment even from those who supported the war on grounds of self-defense. Mr. Weigel's claim that his analysis [is] fully "Thomistic" calls for careful consideration, especially in light of his failure to distinguish properly between the "directive" and "executive" aspects of political prudence. Doubtless this seemingly technical observation will inspire derision among some. However, if our aim is to discover whether St. Thomas would have countenanced a preventative war like the one we have just witnessed, a little strict observation of the Angelic Doctor would seem to be in order.

Mr. Weigel is quite right to question Dr. Williams' overly pacific account of the "presumption against war." Basing such an argument on a "presumption against violence" is clearly difficult to reconcile with the Thomistic and Augustinian analyses, which emphasize the licitness of such coercion by duly constituted authority, as Mr. Weigel observes. Nevertheless, in distinguishing a "presumption against war" from a "presumption against violence," one seems inevitably drawn to the conclusion that...

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