instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A provoking contention

It was disappointing (though not surprising) to read this contention regarding Just War theory by Joseph Bottum at On the Square:
For the application of all this to the contemporary struggle over American intervention in Iraq, George Weigel's recent essay in First Things is the most provocative and serious analysis available.
I just got around to reading Weigel's essay this past weekend, and it left me thinking that the pro-war argument had better have a better defense than that.

Or at least a more serious one. The essay vacillates between an attempt to apply "classic just war thinking" to the Iraq War and an attempt to score cheap points against various opponents.

I'll grant that (largely due to the point-scoring efforts) the essay is provocative, although since I'm not a magazine editor I don't think provocativeness is much of a virtue. If I want snarks about "the vapors of Anglican bishops," I'll read a blog. If I want a serious look at the moral principles involved, without 600-word asides about how lousy the U.N. is, I'll read... well, I'm not sure, but it won't be Weigel's essay.

Without getting too far into it, it seems to me the chief unexamined assumption in the essay is that what Weigel calls "classic just war thinking" is normative. He uses the word "classic" nearly twenty times in this way, without once (that I noticed) troubling to explain why "classic" thought should be preferred over "contemporary" thought. And if it hadn't been proposed as a "serious analysis," I wouldn't even point out Weigel's suggestion that a find-and-replace operation on the U.S. government's National Security Strategy "might have helped accelerate needed fresh thinking among just war analysts and churchmen."