Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 11, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2004

Sergio Koc-Menard
Pages 57-64

Just War Tradition, Liberalism, and Civil War

The just war tradition assumes that civil war is a possible site of justice. It has an uneasy relationship with liberalism, because the latter resists the idea that insurgency and counterinsurgency can be justified in moral terms. The paper suggests that, even if this is true, these two schools of thought are closer to each other than often appears to be the case. In particular, the paper argues that insurgency and counterinsurgency can be justified using the liberal assumptions that nonviolent opposition is the proper non-institutional technique to fight oppressive regimes, and that law enforcement is the appropriate response to unjustified rebellions. Given these assumptions, insurgent warfare is limited to circumstances in which, firstly, nonviolent resistance is no longer a reasonable course of action; and secondly, insurgents have the intention to create the political conditions that are needed to make it a coherent option again. Counter insurgent warfare, in turn, is restrained to those situations in which, first, there is a rebellion or revolution even though the use of nonviolent strategies for conflict and change remains a reasonable choice; and second, police agencies lack the resources that are required for managing and suppressing rebel activities. Of course, these requirements should be taken as presumptions, and there may be cases when they do not hold.