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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 June 2017
Despite a recent explosion of interest in the ethics of armed conflict, the traditional just war criterion that war be waged by a “legitimate authority” has received relatively little attention. Moreover, of those theorists who have addressed the criterion, many are deeply skeptical about its moral significance. This article aims to add some clarity and precision to the authority criterion and the debates surrounding it, and to suggest that this skepticism may be too quick. The first section analyzes the authority criterion and reveals that there are at least two distinct moral claims associated with it, each requiring separate evaluation. The second section outlines an increasingly influential “reductivist” approach to just war theory, explaining how this approach grounds powerful objections to the authority criterion. The third section sketches the most promising strategies for providing a qualified defense of authority, while acknowledging the further questions and complications these strategies raise. Importantly, the article aims to rehabilitate the authority criterion from within a broadly reductivist view.
2 For a detailed list of references, see my “Civil War and Revolution,” in Helen Frowe and Seth Lazar, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). In addition, see Fabre, Cécile, “Cosmopolitanism, Just War Theory and Legitimate Authority,” International Affairs 84, no. 5 (2008), pp. 963–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yitzhak Benbaji, “Legitimate Authority in War,” in Frowe and Lazar, Oxford Handbook of Ethics of War; Reitberger, Magnus, “License to Kill: Is Legitimate Authority a Requirement for Just War?” International Theory 5, no. 1 (2013), pp. 64–93 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Heinze, Eric A. and Steele, Brent J., eds., Ethics, Authority, and War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lang, Anthony F. Jr., O'Driscoll, Cian, and Williams, John, eds., Just War: Authority, Tradition, and Practice (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Blair, Robert and Kalmanovitz, Pablo, “On the Rights of Warlords: Legitimate Authority and Basic Protection in War-Torn Societies,” American Political Science Review 110, no. 3 (2016), pp. 428–40;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Stilz, Anna, “Authority, Self-Determination, and Community in Cosmopolitan War,” Law and Philosophy 33, no. 3 (2014) pp. 309–35;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Steinhoff, Uwe, On the Ethics of War and Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), ch. 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Kutz, Christopher, On War and Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), ch. 3Google Scholar.
3 I defend these claims in much more detail in Parry, Jonathan, “Just War Theory, Legitimate Authority, and Irregular Belligerency,” Philosophia 43, no. 1 (2015), pp. 175–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In his contribution to this special section, Pål Wrange argues that, as a matter of international law, the notion of authority in war may in fact be much more diverse than I have suggested.
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7 As George Fletcher points out, “Until the Statute of Henry VIII, passed in 1532 . . . there was no theory of self-defense that rendered a killing fully lawful, justifiable and therefore free of the taint that affected excusable homicide.” Fletcher, George, “Defensive Force as an Act of Rescue,” Social Philosophy and Policy 7, no. 2 (1990), p. 171CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
8 For discussion, see, Kutz, On War and Democracy, ch. 3.
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11 Glover, Jonathan, Causing Death and Saving Lives (London: Penguin, 1977), pp. 251–52Google Scholar. For an analogue of the continuity thesis applied to the use of force by state officials outside the context of war, see Gardner, John, “Criminals in Uniform,” in Duff, Anthony, Farmer, Lindsay, Marshall, Sandra, Renzo, Massimo, and Tadros, Victor, eds., The Constitution of the Criminal Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 97–118 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
12 Lazar, “National Defence, Self-Defence, and the Problem of Political Aggression,” p. 12.
14 See Nickel, James W., “Griffin on Human Rights to Liberty,” in Crisp, Roger, ed., Griffin on Human Rights (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 200Google Scholar.
15 See Ferzan, Kimberly, “Self-Defense and the State,” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 5, no. 2 (2008), pp. 449–504 Google Scholar.
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17 Fabre, Cosmopolitan War, pp. 144–45. See also Steinhoff, On the Ethics of War and Terrorism, p. 20; Steinhoff, Uwe, “What is War?—And Can a Lone Individual Wage One?” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 23, no. 1 (2009), pp. 133–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Pattison, James, “When Is It Right to Fight? Just War Theory and the Individual-Centric Approach,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16, no. 1 (2013), pp. 34–54 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially p. 53.
18 See McMahan, Killing in War.
19 McMahan, Jeff, “War,” in Estlund, David, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 298–315 Google Scholar, at p. 310 (my emphasis).
20 In a talk given at Stockholm University in May 2014, McMahan explicitly labeled this view the “No Extensions Principle.”
21 Finlay, “Legitimacy and Non-State Political Violence”; Finlay, Christopher, Terrorism and the Right to Resist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schwenkenbecher, Anne, “Rethinking Legitimate Authority,” in Allhoff, Fritz, Evans, Nicholas G., and Henschke, Adam, eds., Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 161–70Google Scholar; Lazar, Seth, “Authorisation and the Morality of War,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 94, no. 2 (2016), pp. 211–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also McPherson, Lionel K., “Is Terrorism Distinctively Wrong?” Ethics 117, no. 3 (2007), pp. 524–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
27 A similar point might also apply to bystanders: If bystanders have a duty to shoulder a certain level of risk, their objections to the use of force may be discounted.
29 For further discussion, see Benbaji, “Legitimate Authority in War.”
32 I explore this particular idea at length in Jonathan Parry, “Consent and the Justification of Defensive Harm” (unpublished manuscript).
33 See Shapiro, Scott, “Authority,” in Coleman, Jules and Shapiro, Scott, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 382–439 Google Scholar.
34 The following proposal draws on arguments I defend in much greater detail in Jonathan Parry, “Authority and Harm,” in David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne, and Steven Wall, eds., Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Vol. 3 (forthcoming). For different arguments for a broadly similar conclusion, see Estlund, David, “On Following Orders in an Unjust War,” Journal of Political Philosophy 15, no. 2 (2007), pp. 213–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ryan, Cheyney, “Democratic Duty and the Moral Dilemmas of Soldiers,” Ethics 122, no. 1 (2011), pp. 10–42 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Massimo Renzo, “Duties of Citizenship and Just War” (unpublished manuscript).
37 For a different invocation of a Razian conception of authority in the context of war, see Benbaji, “Legitimate Authority in War.”
38 Raz, Morality of Freedom, p. 53.
39 Raz, Morality of Freedom, pp. 67–69. The preemptive character of commands can also be defended by an argument from double counting. Ibid., pp. 58–59.
40 Raz, Morality of Freedom, p. 71.
41 See, for example, Green, Leslie, The Authority of the State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)Google Scholar; Simmons, A. John, “Political Obligation and Authority,” in Simon, Robert L., ed., The Blackwell Guide to Social and Political Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), pp. 17–37;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Raz, Joseph, The Authority of Law: Essays on Law and Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), ch. 12CrossRefGoogle Scholar.