Friday, 24 February 2017


We are approaching the end of the philosophical interlude in Paris. The preoccupation has been, inter alia, with Leibniz, his necessary truths, contingent truths, monadology and principles of sufficient reason without which nothing happens. It - the preoccupation - has also been with Aurelius Augustinus and Tommaso d’Aquino, an Algerian and a Sicilian.
Augustus lived to the age of 75 in the year 430 and his work The City of God, in which he explains his justification for war, was initially published in 426, four years before he died. As to Aquinas, he died age 49 in 1274, some 844 years after Augustus. Aquinas worked on his opus Summa Theologica over a period of 9 years until his death. Aquinas takes up Augustine’s just war theory and improves on the justification of war including ideas of the just means of conducting war. Indeed Aquinas appeals to the authority of Augustine to underpin his arguments. Aquinas does not refer to Augustine as a saint as he was not canonised until 1298, but City of God, Contra Faustum Manichaeum (Reply to Faustus the Manichaeum) published in 400 and other writings were very much part of the authority of the church. Aquinas was himself canonised 25 years after Augustine in 1323.
I find that this course, Philosophie du Droit – La guerre juste, has more to do with history of the Church than Philosophy; néanmoins, it is of some interest. There are two passages in particular from the Contra Faustum (Book 22: paragraphs 74 and 75) of note:

“…The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way…”

“A great deal depends on the causes for which men undertake wars, and on the authority they have for doing so; for the natural order which seeks the peace of mankind, ordains that the monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable, and that the soldiers should perform their military duties in behalf of the peace and safety of the community. When war is undertaken in obedience to God, who would rebuke, or humble, or crush the pride of man, it must be allowed to be a righteous war; for even the wars which arise from human passion cannot harm the eternal well-being of God, nor even hurt His saints;…”

Augustine clearly allows that there is a lawful authority other than God. The authority men have to preserve the natural order of things, the peace of mankind. Unfortunately he claims that the natural order ordains a monarch exercising power. Nevertheless he suggests that God might not necessarily have anything to do with it and it is not just a question of free will, but a lawful authority on which a great deal depends.

There have been other written justifications on the matter of just wars, in particular from the Mahabharata some 800 years before Augustine and in Cicero’s De Officiis written around the time of Caesar’s assassination, but nothing so influential in the western world as Augustine. His just war theory has been 'prayed in aid' and wrung out for the justification of our recent turmoils notably by the likes of Bush, Blair and others. It seems odd then that this son of North Africa, born in what is now an Algerian Souk (God knows what it as like in 354) would have a great deal of difficulty getting a visa to enter into the United Kingdom or States of America. He might even have been a boat refugee seeking asylum, picked up by the Italian Navy. I wonder how he would approach lawful authority now. 

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