This paper defends the view that a nation is justified in undertaking a defensive war — conceived of in terms of collective personal self-defense — against mitigated aggression. A nation committing mitigated aggression conditionally threatens — rather than imminently threatens — the lives of the citizens and soldiers of the victim nation in that it will employ lethal military force if and only if the victim nation does not submit to the invasion, the purpose of which is only to conquer and rule. What mitigated aggression threatens is a nation’s political sovereignty and cultural integrity, in short, a nation’s common way of life.
I was led to write this paper after reading David Rodin’s award winning book War and Self-Defense (Oxford 2002), where he argues that while mitigated aggression is immoral and against international law, a nation is not justified in responding to this kind of aggression with lethal force, for such force is disproportionate. The right of lethal self-defense doesn’t extend to everything that’s valuable. If a robber threatens to kill you if you don’t hand over your car, or if you don’t allow him to take what he wants from your house (he will let you live if you give him what he wants), it’s not clear that you are permitted to kill him. Killing the robber would be disproportionate.
In this paper I give an account of why a nation’s common way of life, by itself, is sufficiently valuable to defend via lethal force [incidentally, Jeff McMahan (cf. “War as Self-Defense”, Ethics and International Affairs 18, 2004) and Thomas Hurka (cf. “Proportionality in the Morality of War”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 33, 2005) argue that a nation’s common way of life by itself is insufficiently valuable to lethally defend but that a defensive war against mitigated aggression is nonetheless permissible. McMahan’s article can be accessed here. Hurka’s article can be accessed here]. I start by asking, what exactly, other than our own lives, is sufficiently valuable such that we can lethally defend it? I argue that our “primary” interests, because they are indispensably necessary for our well-being, are worth lethally defending. Following David Archard and Joel Feinberg, I discuss two kinds of primary interests: our central and our welfare interests. Our central interests (e.g. being autonomous) define who and what we are fundamentally and are central to our self-concept. Our welfare interests (e.g. minimal level of income) are necessary for the realization of our more ulterior goals in life, the realization of which is constitutive of our well-being. I then show that our interest in participating in our national community (or common way of life), an interest that mitigated aggression seriously sets back, can be characterized as both a central and welfare interest.
A copy of the paper can be found here.
Colleen Murphy’s comments on the paper can be accessed here.
An audio version of the paper can be found below.
I look forward to receiving any comments you may have!