Contemporary Mennonite discussions about peace and war all too often present themselves as a response to the work of Reinhold Niebuhr. At the height of Niebuhr's influence, Guy F. Hershberger gladly accepted the backhanded compliment Niebuhr payed to Mennonites in which he acknowledged as "non-heretical" that kind of pietist pacifism which is grounded in a personal and nonresistant law of love and not offered as a response to the political realities of the day. More recently, others, such as Duane Friesen, have sought to develop a more direct response to Niebuhr's rejection of Christian pacifism by arguing that pacifism can have teeth, that it can be realistic and politically relevant too.
Important as these debates may be, it is risky for Mennonites to articulate a conception of Christian pacifism which presents itself as a response to Niebuhr. It is risky because the key claims of a Christian ethic of peace are obscured by the Niebuhrian logic which distinguishes nonresistance from non-violent resistance and drives a wedge between ethics and politics. By contrast, it might be suggested that a much more fruitful dialogue partners for Mennonite pacifists can be found within the just war tradition. Among other things, this is because both pacifism and the just war tradition are agreed in rejecting the basic assumption which lies at the heart of Niebuhr's Christian realism, namely that, with respect to war, questions of ethics do not apply. Both the pacifist and the just warrior challenge the Niebuhrian claim that war is the exclusive work of politics, here understood to involve self-interested negotiations between competing nation-states vying for a lasting balance of power as well as the so-called problem of dirty-hands. They insist that moral discriminations and judgements do have a meaningful place in a "foggy" world of war.
That the absence of substantive exchange between Christian pacifists and just warriors is a regrettable loss of opportunity was, of course, a persistent lament of John Howard Yoder. But Yoder's lament frequently goes unheard, or at least unappreciated, as contemporary Mennonites go on to speak of a peace which is articulated largely on Niebuhrian terms. One possible reason, but by no means the only one, for this lack of meaningful conversation is that there are no "real" advocates of the just war tradition left with whom pacifists might engage in dialogue. Such, at least, seems to be the suggestion behind Yoder's suspicion that those who claim to employ just war reasoning have typically failed to "be honest in just war thinking," that the language of just war tends merely to be a rhetorical screen designed to justify violence to which one is already committed on other grounds. And such a conclusion about the disappearance of legitimate heirs to the just war tradition is echoed, from the other end of the spectrum, by the work of George Weigel. Weigel sets out to respond to "those who have forgotten the just war tradition while retaining its language." His task is to restore the just war tradition to its authentic roots. Given some of the points of continuity noted above, this is a promise that the Christian pacifist ought to take most seriously.
At the heart of Weigel's argument is a rejection of the assumption, common in recent discussions of the matter, that the just war tradition begins with a "presumption against violence." Such a reading claims that the burden of proof lies with those who would defend the necessity of violent force, noting that the default position is that violence is unjustified. Weigel argues, however, that this reading of the just war tradition begins in the wrong place. It begins with a focus on means, on the question of how to act, at the cost of obscuring an understanding of the ends to which one's action is directed. This is said to distort the logic of the just war tradition by inverting the traditional subordination of means to ends, such that the direction of moral discrimination is effectively turned inside out. Weigel's task is thus to return the just war tradition to its rightful focus on ends, on the question of the nature of good government and political organization. As Weigel himself puts it, the moral analysis at the heart of the just war tradition is concerned first with the matter of statecraft. The particular conception of statecraft Weigel defends is one in which peace is sought as a kind of ordered relationship between nations, a peace which is which is created and sustained by ordered freedom and a conception of justice understood primarily, it seems, in terms of fairness. It is because terrorism and threatening "aggressive states" represent a disordered political reality that war is necessary in order to return right order to the world, both at home and abroad.
Among other things, Weigel's interpretation of the just war tradition is an attempt to distance it from the position that has come to be known as "just war pacifism." Such a position accepts the criteria of the just war, but claims, for a variety of reasons, that no contemporary war could possibly be just. So given the political realities of the world today, just war discriminations are employed to justify a stance that is strongly opposed to war. Aside from the fact that such interpretations typically rely on the presumption against violence reading, Weigel seems to object that this is to collapse the just war tradition into pacifism, creating a kind of "functional pacifism" which obscures the fact that the just war tradition exists to defend the intelligibility and moral necessity of war in certain clearly articulated cases. Put differently, Weigel seems to object to the sense in which the just war pacifist sees war as justified merely in principle, insisting instead that the just war tradition exists to uphold the actual practice of war. Weigel has no interest in defending merely the theoretical possibility of war, nor even its tragic necessity. Rather, he is committed to building a case for the moral obligation to go to war in order to build and preserve the common good.
Whereas much recent literature on the just war tradition can be read as an attempt to bring the pacifist and just war traditions closer together, Weigel seeks to reinstate a greater distance between them. How, then, might the Christian pacifist respond? In one sense, Weigel is correct to remind us that pacifism and just war represent two different, and in many ways competing, stances that Christians have taken with respect to the ethics of war and peace. On the other hand, I worry that his argument against the just war pacifist so overstates the difference between pacifism and the just war tradition that it blurs commonalities and other substantive points of connection that might be instructive for further conversation. Let me illustrate this worry by offering two brief sets of remarks, one in response to Weigel's reading of the just war tradition, and the other concerning how the just war tradition, as Weigel interprets it, differs from Christian pacifism as I understand it.
Concerning the just war tradition, Weigel is no doubt correct to direct our attention to the question of ends. He is right to emphasize the need for a discussion of the kind of political arrangement to which the actions of the just warrior are directed. But what is striking is that his discussion of ends simply presumes that the political body in question is the contemporary nation-state. This is perhaps most succinctly captured in his description of the just war tradition as a theory of statecraft. Nowhere does he acknowledge the possibility that the conception of justice on which the just war tradition is based might exist to put the contemporary nation-state in question. But that is really the point behind those who emphasize the so-called "presumption against violence." That Weigel's counter-argument is constructed in a way that directs attention away from this key concern is misleading and regrettable. He does not so much respond to those critics from within the just war tradition who question the legitimacy of the nation-state, but rather appears simply to sidestep their request to respond to the burden of proof. That the targets of Weigel's just-war reflection are restricted to terrorists and "rogue states" does nothing to correct for the impression that his reading of the just war tradition is but another apology for the politics of the nation-state. Given that the just war tradition claims to be grounded in a substantive rather than merely procedural conception of justice, it must at least be theoretically possible that the just war tradition might find itself at odds with a conception of politics grounded in the contemporary nation-state. The nation-state is not a given, but a contingent reality that is subject to critical moral discrimination grounded in justice. Further, where justice is illuminated by the Christian virtue of charity, as the just war tradition claims it to be, it could be argued that the concentric and territorial conception of the political reflected by the nation-state bears the burden of proof from the perspective of the just war tradition, and this not only from the perspective of means, but of the very ends to which Weigel so rightly directs our attention.
With respect to Christian pacifism, the relationship between means and ends is equally important. But for the Christian pacifist, the question here does not so much concern the proper ordering of the relationship between means and ends as it does the intelligibility of the very distinction between means and ends in the first place. Having said that, contemporary advocates of Christian pacifism might benefit from Weigel's emphasis on the importance of examining the question of just/good political arrangements. For peace is not merely a negative presumption against violence, but a positive vision of justice and the good. But the more important point here is that this positive vision of justice and the good is exactly what the church claims to embody. More specifically, it might be suggested that the vision of peace which is reflected in the church involves a radical rethinking of the political. It is not yet another conception of politics that is grounded in concentric identities and bounded territorialities. Rather, it views the political as a peaceable exchange of gift-giving and receiving. The church is a political experiment in which one can risk being vulnerable to the other because one has learned to appreciate that life is not a given to be protected and secured, but rather a gift received and exchanged as counter-gift. Among other things, this equally involves a rethinking of the virtue of charity to which the just war tradition points. On a related note, the Christian pacifist agrees with Weigel's claim that peace is something created, not found. The point which Weigel misses, however, is that peace is not created by us. Rather, the pacifist claims that Christians are called to meet that peace which has already been given, even if not fully received.
For all of these reasons, I wonder whether Weigel's interpretation of the just war tradition really ends up being as different from Niebuhr as his emphasis on the need for "moral clarity in a time of war" makes it seem at first blush. Though he begins with the decidedly non-Niebuhrian claim that war is something to which moral reflection can and should be brought to bear, the substance of his position is not very far from the central tenets of Niebuhrian realism. In addition to his preoccupation with the nation-state noted above, the rhetoric of Weigel's account gives the impression that he is concerned more about America and less about the church, Catholic or otherwise. Despite his claim to retrieve traditionally Catholic teaching, his use of the word "we" should almost always be read to mean "we Americans." Further, by restricting the domain of the political to the state over against the church, as reflected in the claim that the just war tradition is for statesmen and not religious leaders, Weigel's argument reads as but another attempt to silence the voice of those who would take seriously that political vision of peace which is given in the gift of Jesus Christ. Finally, Weigel's position comes strikingly close to Niebuhrian realism in that his entire discussion is driven by the need to respond to the "distinctive realities of war." By contrast, I am reminded of the words of Karl Barth, who called the church in the face of Naziism to "go on as if nothing has happened." What Barth meant is that our moral reflection in so-called extraordinary situations or times of crisis is meaningful only to the extent that it is nourished by ordinary moral practices which inform everyday life in the church. Or, as John Howard Yoder would put it, Barth is suggesting that the church is called to be the church, in times of war and other, less "foggy," times. To what kinds of assumptions are we Mennonites, we Christians, catering when our publications line up behind the mainstream press in the rush to dedicate special issues to the question of the war?