Kant's Just War
Immanuel Kant (17 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) once said: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made." That thought seems to hold some credence when it comes to war. Kant expressed his 18th century ideas of what the Romans called 'Justum Bellum' in his work, Toward Perpetual Peace.
Kant's central concept was that our practical reason or innate sense of knowing will forge cosmopolitan federations of free republics based on the rules of human rights and cultural and commercial expansion. That concept still resonates as a plausible and achievable prescription for humanity's future.
Kant argued that perpetual peace was inevitable because our natural antagonistic tendencies will irresistibly incline us to establish an international juridical condition, but that condition is only achieved through just wars.
The concept of just wars can be traced back to St. Augustine. Justified warfare was one of the first issues that Christian pacifists faced when Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Augustine drew knowledge of just wars through Old Testament stories. Those stories talked about the Israelites defending themselves by a command from God.
Augustine reasoned that fighting on the behalf of the Roman Empire was a Christian obligation since it was an empire with a Christian leader. Fighting with God against God's enemies was as just as Israel fighting against God's enemies in the Old Testament.
Augustine set the just war concept in motion, but two issues were added to the just war theory to make a just war credible. Those issues are Jus Ad Bellum and Jus in Bello. Jus Ad Bellum refers to the circumstances that make it right to engage in war. Augustine said there must be authorization from a legitimate authority. Emperors were divinely appointed so they fit that condition. The second condition was a just cause for war.
Thomas Aquinas added a third condition a little later that said there must be right intention. Those conditions are not considered legitimate in post-modern society for several obvious reasons. Modern democracies don't believe their leadership is divinely appointed, and what constitutes a just war is problematic since it is a subjective perception, plus both sides believe their intentions are right so war is always justified by one side or the other.
Jus In Bello refers to how the war should be fought. The war must be fought proportionately to the suffering inflicted. That rules out biological weapons to resolve a minor dispute. A distinction between innocent civilians and those engaged in war must be made as well.
Innocent lives should not be taken in a just war. Augustine believed that war should not be fought with hatred, but with the desire to defeat evil and the injustice that stems from it. Those distinctions are also problematic. The wars waged today involve civilians who engage in the conflict due to religious pressure, not necessarily because of personal convictions about war. And since millions die from hunger around the world it's hard to apply proportions when it comes to suffering.
Kant's theory of just war does have a little of Aquinas's attitude in it. Kant believed there should be right intention, but it's difficult to find justice in universal killing. Uncensored killing is a contradiction of the law of nature as well as the law of the will, but we seem to overlook those innate facts due to our pessimism and Kant's pessimism about the human race.
Kant said that warfare is permissible in non-ideal circumstances in which states find themselves, but the killing of others for a greater good does not conform with Kant's requirements to treat humans as ends in themselves; not a means to an end.
Kant's thought, "To preserve one's life is duty" and may justify violent action for some people, especially when one's life is threatened. According to Kant, war is one way to preserve life when the intention is to extend personal life. Kant's theory of duty may be a step in eliminating hateful wars but it is certainly not a step in understanding that there are no just wars.
In fact, what is increasingly evident in the era of the Internet Reformation is that there are a small handful of banking families that have likely been responsible for most if not all of the major wars that have wracked the world in recent centuries. In the 20th century, especially, these families backed such individuals as Hitler and Lenin – and in fact, such backing eventually led to wars between these leaders and their nations and the West.
Seen this way, war is a policy tool of the elites intended to lay the groundwork for a new world order. These wars, then, in their initial phases are neither "just" nor mounted for purposes of "self defense." Modern warfare has departed from what was once commonly considered the comprehensible rationale for war and its depredations. Is Kant then becoming less relevant?