Christian Just War Reasoning and Two Cases of Rebellion: Ireland 1916–1921 and Syria 2011–Present

| January 2014
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The contemporary West is biased in favor of rebellion. This is attributable in the first place to the dominance of liberal political philosophy, according to which it is the power of the state that always poses the greatest threat to human well-being. But it is also because of consequent anti-imperialism, according to which any nationalist rebellion against imperial power is assumed to be its own justification. Autonomy, whether of the individual or of the nation, is reckoned to be the value that trumps all others. I surmise that it is because in liberal consciousness the word “rebel” connotes a morally heroic stance—because it means the opposite of “tyrant”—that Western media in recent years have preferred to refer to Iraqi opponents of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and Taliban opponents of the ISAF in Afghanistan not as “rebels,” but as “insurgents.”

The Christian tradition of just war reasoning, however, is more discriminate. It is not mesmerized by the problem of excessive state control and coercion. It is capable of recognizing that a too weak state can be quite as threatening to political health as an overbearing one. This is because the tradition predates the formation of strong nation-states in the late middle ages, and so remembers the terrible woes of anarchy, when powerful regional barons were wont to trample on the king’s fragile peace in pursuit of private quarrels or ambitions. If twenty-first century Westerners find, for example, Thomas Aquinas’ general prohibition of sedition to be reactionary, it is only because they luxuriate unreflectively in the peaceful order that their forbears spent sweat and blood in constructing—and because, not withstanding the many hours spent in pious cultural devotion to Shakespeare, they have failed to imagine themselves into the turbulent world of his history plays.

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Category: Issue 27.4, Roundtable: The Ethics of Rebellion

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