Pacem in terris... david corey

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Pacem in Terris and the Just War Tradition David Corey One of the most influential documents of the Roman Catholic Church in the area of international relations is the papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), issued by Pope John XXIII on April 11, 1963. Written two years after the erection of the Berlin Wall and mere months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the encyclical addresses manyof the policies and resultant anxieties surrounding the Cold War. It could, accordingly, be regarded as a narrowly historical document, a response to a limited set of political conditions which, once past, might render the encyclical less important. However, this is not the way the document itself or its abiding admirers portray its significance. Pacem in Terris presents itself as a timelessarticulation of the requirements of world peace under any conditions. Unlike most encyclicals, it is addressed not only to the Catholic faithful, but also to “all men of good will.” And to this day, many men of good will (though not necessarily of sound judgment) regard it as deserving of high praise. This is not my view, however, and I wonder if now might not be a good time to reevaluate this document.The 50th anniversary of Pacem in Terris is fast approaching. Panels and papers are already being prepared at the Vatican and in the academic community for a celebration in 2013. We can of course expect to hear continued praise about the way Pacem in Terris brought the church more in line with modern liberal hopes about the prospects for world peace. But we might ask, at the same time, whetherthese modern liberal hopes are themselves of sound mind; and we might ask whether they are, after all, compatible with the historic teaching of the church. The argument I make here is that Pacem in Terris marks a serious departure from the teaching of mainstream Christianity in terms of its view of rights, its understanding of war and its philosophical anthropology. And I argue that in all three ofthese aspects the departure is a mistake. The older position known as the just war tradition is superior in theory and practice to the unmistakably modern idealist position embraced by this encyclical. The Just War Tradition We do well to begin with a basic description of the just war tradition, since despite the spate of recent books on the subject, many of which are very fine, people in generalremain confused about what this tradition is.1 The just war tradition is a tradition of religious and ethical reflection. Its purpose is to explain how war can be reconciled with man’s desire to be good—whether “good” here is understood in religious or secular terms. In other words, if war is necessary, how can it be fought in ways that least compromise the ethical aspirations of the agentsinvolved? That is the basic question of the just war tradition. The most common way of misunderstanding the tradition is to suppose that its goals are basically identical to those of two rival perspectives, realism and pacifism, and then to blame it for failing to achieve those goals as effectively as it could. International realism or raison d’état comes in many varieties and is thus challenging todefine.2 But one of its hallmarks is certainly its programmatic doubt


For good historical overviews of the just war tradition see James Turner Johnson, Ideology, Reason, and the Limitation of War: Religious and Secular Concepts, 1200-1740 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975); The Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: A Moral and Historical Inquiry (Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1981); Morality and Contemporary Warfare (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (New York: Basic Books, 2003), ch. 3. 2 See W. David Clinton, ed., The Realist Tradition and Contemporary International Relations (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007) for excellent...