Just War in Western Traditions

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The justification of war has been an ideal that has caused much debate and controversy for humanity throughout all time. It has been studied and interpreted by many theologians, philosophers, and politicians. There have many manuscripts documenting the correct use of war and the proper means of exercising force. Within the western tradition two main principles, the Christian and Islamic, have appeared that attempt to explain just war in relation to maintaining a peaceful society. Both of these traditions have similar main premises of a constant battle between a split society, one of good and the other of evil. However, there are many differences within each of the two respective religions view on the ideas of the conception of a well ordered society, the religious and secular influences on each ideology, and the justification and authorization of war.

The Christian conception of a well-ordered, peaceful society, the City of God, was maintained and influenced by the ideal of just war. The City of God theory was created by St. Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century. His motivation for his writing was fueled by the decaying Roman Empire. St. Augustine felt that the collapse of the western empire to the invading barbarians resulted from the peaceful Christian ethic. “The charge was the traditional Christian pacifism had helped create untenable military circumstances for the western empire, the Church’s concern to prepare it’s members for the next life, had led to an ahistorical and socially irresponsible approach to the inescapable problems of individuals and societies in history (Tranquillitas Ordinis, Weigel).” Within his writings, he made a clear distinction between two cities, one that was based for Earthly living (City of Earth) and one that was based on love for God (City of God).

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He believed the City of Earth was capable of doing good, however was fundamentally evil because the only pure good is God. There is a direct correlation between the City of Earth and the Roman Empire. Augustine pointed out the many achievements of the Roman State, but felt it did not give God his due (Holy War Idea, Johnson). In order to correct this situation God created salvation for the inhabitants of the City of Earth through grace. By altering human motivations to become properly ordered through the love for God (Holy War Idea, Johnson). With this love for God, the City of God will become a reality. This entire society stemmed from individual motivation, and for love of neighbor. Augustine felt that a selfish motivation was a sign of a sinner. Only a good person would have right motivation, which is expressed as love towards God.

To maintain this peaceful society it would have to have the following three characteristics: Justice, Order, and Peace. To uphold these ideals, there existed a positive attitude towards just war. Just war aided the transformation from the presently evil world to the benevolent City of God. The Muslim concept of a well-ordered society, dar al-Islam, developed their ideals of jihad. Classical Islamic thought partitioned the world into two separate societies. The Dar al-Islam was considered the territory of peace, and the dar al-harb was literally the “territory of war”. The dar al-Islam is an area that promotes and signifies the supremacy of Muslims beliefs. The dar-al Islam is the area of peace and justice, it is considered to be the most secure place for all humans. The people of this territory need not be Muslims, they have to acknowledge the Muslim rule, and they need to be of a monotheistic religion. Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians were all allowed to live within the Dar al-Islam peacefully.

The important aspect of non-Muslims living within the dar al-Islam is their behavior. Right action, not right thought was used to define which inhabitants can exist within the Dar al-Islam. By Contrast, the dar a-Harb was the state of unrest and war. It is characterized by strife and internal disorder (Islam and War, Kelsay). This disorder, if mobilized correctly could become a threat to the dar al-Islam. The peace of the world could only occur if it was all part of the dar al-Islam. These two areas were constantly in a state of war with each other. For Muslims to carry out their submission to God, they must attempt to destroy the dar al-harb. “Muslims are charged with extending that obedience over the entire Earth, thus eliminating this perpetual state of war and instituting a universal reign of peace (Holy War Idea, Johnson).” This struggle leads to the concept of the jihad. Literally translated jihad means to “struggle” or “strive”. It was the struggle of one’s own heart, the attempt to bring oneself into accord with God (Islam and War, Kelsay).

The jihad was used to extend the boundaries of the dar al-Islam, thus spreading the Islamic values and beliefs. The wars that were fought under the cloak of the jihad were used to bring the ignorant to the ways of God, and transform humanity to the way of peace. The rightly guided Dar al-Islam concept leads Muslims to use the jihad to bring the world under its blanket of peace and righteousness. The Augustian formulation of the City of God conception explicitly states the justification and authorization of war. Augustine left his strict belief in pacifism and acknowledged the inevitability of war. He believed that war could be used in punishment of evil that poisoned the City of God. As a result, war became an instrument in maintaining peace. He proceeded to establish which wars were “just” and thus allowed morally. This just war tradition concerned itself with the moral issues of waging war.

The basic premise for all just war is the concept of love for neighbor. The unselfish motivations fueled the inhabitants of the City of God to protect their neighbors from evil. The ideals for waging just war are: when it is right to resort to armed force (Ius ad bellum) and what is right when using force (Ius in Bello). Ius in bello includes the moral necessities that armed force should be discriminate and proportionate. Ius ad bellum included the following requirements: just Cause  authorized by a competent authority motivated by right intention  pass four prudential tests: it must be expected to produce a preponderance of good over evil, b) have a reasonable hope of success, be a last resort have peace as its expected outcome (Just Cause Revisited, Johnson). In Augustine’s theory three kinds of war were morally justified: a defensive war against aggression, a war to gain reparations for a previous wrong, and a war to recover stolen property (Tranquillitas Ordinis, Weigel).

Another key concept in his theory was that of proper authorization of war. Once a properly constituted authority had declared the necessity of war, the Christians duty was to obey (Tranquillitas Ordinis, Weigel). The choice for a moral authority figure was not described at length by Augustine, however at this time it was usually a monarch of sovereign authority “by the grace of God (Competent Authority Revisited, Rostow).” Augustine believed that these ideals of just war would punish evil correctly and transform the City of Earth into the City of God. The classical Islamic jurists defined the justification and authorization of war through interpretations of the Koran and the Hadith. The justification of the war had two main ideals, the offensive jihad and defensive jihad. The continuing threat of the Dar al-harb provided the use defensive jihad, and the promotion of the dar al-Islam ideals lead to the use of the offensive jihad.

Any Muslim can authorize the use of defensive jihad, against the dar-al harb. It is also required of every Muslim to participate in the defensive jihad. The leader of the Muslim society, the caliph, can only bring about the offensive jihad. The purpose of the jihad is to subdue the dar al-harb, and to bring it into the dar al-Islam. Not every Muslim is required to participate in the offensive jihad on an individual level, but as an entire community. The jihad leads to a clear definition to the rules of armed conflict. They are: 1) There must be a just cause, to extend the territories of the dar al- Islam. 2) An invitation and declaration of the Muslim Intentions by the Muslim Ruler 3) The war must be conducted with correct Islamic values, Muslims should fight to extend God’s will, not for personal glory. Using these criteria, Muslims used the jihad to extend their conceptual peaceful society, dar al-Islam.

The City of God forced the Church to use secular means to enforce their religious ideals. The Church’s peace movement took the form of protecting innocent people who were being attacked by brigands and bullying militias (Quest for Peace, Johnson). As a result, the Church had to align themselves with secular powers to end this type of violence. The religious righteousness of protecting the innocent had to be carried out with secular forces. This mixture and the just war criteria of “right authority” caused the need for a sole ruler to protect the City of God from evil. Consequently, the existing communes of Cities of God became a more universal ideal. “So that the community of those already living the life of heaven on Earth was no longer composed of small enclaves, might expand to include everyone touched by the gospel (Quest for Peace Idea, Johnson).

The religious foundation of the City of God became less a personal ideal, but the right to use force became vested in a single power of that civil society (Quest for Peace Idea, Johnson). This secular City of God carry’s the original religious purposes but adjusts the carry out of implications through the long term. The City of God finally recognized and accepted the inevitability of evil in history, and the further need that force employed to protect and preserve these religious values (Quest for Peace Idea, Johnson). There had been a negative attitude towards secularization of purely religious ideals in both the classical and contemporary Muslim theorists. “For many devout Muslims, secularism indicates an orientation that fails to respect religiously sanctioned norms, including those governing resort to and limitation of war (Islam and War, Kelsay).” Muslims believe that a secular government lacked a sense of morals innate to the Dar al-Islam.

The lack of a religious presence as the leader of an area leads to an aggressive behavior. For example, the Iraqi attack on Iran was not of religious behavior, and would not have been sanctioned under the rule of a rightly appointed Caliph. The Koran covers a large realm of ideas, including political, religious, social, and economic fundamentals. A secular rule is not needed, when a religious rule would be enough to satisfy all the needs of the community. Only a religious rule would promote the dar al-Islam, while a secular rule would be superfluous and ineffective.These two religious traditions give much insight into the justification of war. The constant battle between good and evil generated much of the ideals for justification of armed conflict. Both the Christian and Islamic beliefs in their own concept of a well-ordered society directed their attitude for just war, and their methods in maintaining a world of bliss and peace.

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Just War in Western Traditions. (2018, Aug 30). Retrieved from


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