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“I have also acted to protect the lives of Americans by my adherence to the doctrine of “just war.” This doctrine, as articulated by Augustine, suggested that war must only be waged as a last resort— for a discernible moral and public good, with the right intentions, vetted through established legal authorities (a constitutionally required declaration of the Congress), and with a likely probability of success.”
 ~ Ron Paul, July 2007

Earlier in the year, when the primary season was still going for Republicans, I read an approbation of Ron Paul, and heard a defense of his apparent isolationism, citing his adherence to Augustine’s doctrine of “just war.”  I know that Ron Paul wants American forces out of Iraq immediately.  Aside from his economic policy, this is his second biggest campaign pillar.  Having already decided that his take on the US Constitution and federal government are impossible to implement (and also incompatible with the intentions of the founding fathers), I didn’t research Augustine’s position any further until I read another quote from Augustine in The Preacher and the Presidents

The way Christians embraced Ron Paul because he follows Augustine disturbed me, because as Christians, we are not bound to agree with or follow the teaching of any religious leader.  I follow God and His inspired word, the Bible.  Augustine, being human, can make mistakes. 

Augustine’s ‘Just War’ entry on Wikipedia says, “Firstly, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Secondly, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Thirdly, love must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.” 

Wikipedia has an entire page about ‘Just War,’ which summarizes the doctrine’s points and history. 

I disagree with maintaining Augustine’s position for the following reasons:

  1. Augustine also lived a long time ago, when the threat of war, though very great, was not so distant and imminent at once.  What I’m saying is that enemies today can launch a rocket and wipe out a city, at least, in our country, before we have any chance of retaliation – all from thousands of miles away.  In Augustine’s day, and army had to march into another country, wreak its havoc, and then wait for the next move.  Retaliation was more accessible and potentially less harmful.  (If we’re attacked with a nuclear weapon today and choose to repay our damages in kind, a lot more damage has been done on both sides than if we had dropped normal bombs on the weapons facilities the enemy was building to use against us.) 
  2. There were no spy satellites or photographs, no sound recording.  Whereas today we can have concrete proof of the capabilities and intentions of our enemies, when the doctrine of just war was devised, the only way to know for sure what someone could or would do to you was to watch them do it. 
  3. Augustine’s just war seems to rest on the philosophy of retaliation rather than self-defense.  Here in America, we have always believed in self-defense.  That’s more or less the story of our founding (“When in the course of human events…”).  If the sword is coming down on your head, can you not raise your own to prevent it?  A step back from that, if a professed enemy is charging you with his sword point-first, can you do an Indiana Jones, point your gun at him and shoot?  I think you can.  I think that’s still self-defense.  And just. 
  4. Finally, Augustine’s sense of justice may be questionable.  He is often quoted as having said, “An unjust law is no law at all.”  Considering one of his tenets of a just war is that it be legally authorized, I wonder if his position has any foundation at all.  Either he must stand up under his own wisdom, defining justice himself and ensuring that all laws and wars are in accordance with his preference, or (which is ultimately the same thing) he has to use circular reasoning. 

Please don’t misconstrue: I’m not trying to attack any candidate or defend any one decision in history.  I am not telling you about any event that has happened.  Only as a matter of principle, of philosophy, am I warning against an outdated view of the world.  Perhaps if Augustine’s doctrines were grounded in eternal truth, rather than temporal and temporary fact, he would have remained relevant.  When Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, that did not rest on technology. 

For further consideration, should a Christian support even a just war?  Or did Jesus not command all our conduct to be based in love and mercy – a turn-the-other-cheek approach to world affairs?  My friend Brian at The Philosophy of Time Travel is wrestling, if I understand it correctly, with this question, and has compiled a list of resources on his post, To Everything there is a Season.  Take a look. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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