Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Pacifism, Just War, and Peacebuilding
- ISBN: 9781506431659
- Published By: Augsburg Fortress
- Published: March 2019
Like her earlier work Love Your Enemies (Fortress Press, 1994), Lisa Sowle Cahill’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Pacifism, Just War, and Peacebuilding offers a careful, thorough reading of major figures in the history of Christian moral reasoning surrounding the ethics of war, focusing particularly on pacifist and just war reasoning. The book serves as an excellent introduction to these traditions, highlighting not only important themes and concepts and tracing their development over time, but also contextualizing the thinkers described within the particular historical and political circumstances that inevitably shaped their writing. In addition to providing a general description of significant contributions to these traditions, Cahill mines these historical works to excavate resources in support of two theses: first, that Christian moral reasoning about war ought to take seriously the intrinsically tragic nature of any decision to go to war (or to forgo war in a case in which doing so might leave innocent persons undefended from harm); and second, that peacebuilding offers a more promising way of responding to these tragic realities than does either pacifism or just war. In doing so, Cahill offers an innovative, immanent critique of these moral traditions.
A chief contribution of the book is its insistence that ethicists must confront the reality that decisions to use or not to use armed force in response to injustice are morally fraught. One unfamiliar with the Christian pacifist and just war traditions might quite reasonably assume that a major feature of such thinking is confrontation of the unavoidable moral dilemmas raised by questions of justice and violence. Cahill argues convincingly, however, that thinkers in both traditions have largely failed to grapple with what she calls the “irreducible moral dilemmas” that inevitably accompany such decisions (124). She productively draws on the work of several moral philosophers (including feminist and womanist thinkers in particular) to describe the possibility of situations in which even the best possible course of action, morally speaking, involves the agent in wrongdoing and appropriately leads to a sense of remorse on the agent’s behalf. Helpfully identifying instances in which historical Christian thinkers (from pacifists like Tertullian and Origen of Alexandria to just war reasoners like Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas) come up against tensions between what are commonly regarded as Christian duties, including the duties to serve justice and the common good and to honor the dignity of life, Cahill argues that they do not adequately consider and account for the resulting ambiguities in their arguments. She concludes that from a Christian moral perspective, war constitutes an intrinsic and unavoidable moral dilemma. To truly account for this irreducible dilemma is not to conclude that we must simply adopt a realist position according to which moral principles are irrelevant to violence; rather, according to Cahill, it is to seek realistic and transformative alternatives to the practice of war, along with more robust practices of repair after violent conflict ends.
The second central argument of Blessed Are the Peacemakers is that recognition of the intrinsic moral ambiguity of both just war and pacifist positions reveals their insufficiency as responses to the profound moral challenges posed by these questions. Thus, Cahill concludes: “Just war and pacifism, therefore, must yield to the more pragmatic, realistic, and appropriately ambiguous work that is peacebuilding” (viii). Cahill argues that various historical, political, and Christian theological developments of the 20th and 21st centuries have already led many Christian pacifists and just war thinkers to adopt elements of the peacebuilding ethos into their own positions. As described by its proponents, peacebuilding involves practical efforts to transform conflict in the aim of achieving not merely the absence of physical violence, but more just interpersonal and social relationships that will ultimately promote lasting peace. In the book’s concluding chapter, Cahill provides a helpful theoretical and historical overview of peacebuilding in practice. She notes the diversity of peacebuilding approaches, but contends that they share in common a commitment to peacebuilding as an inherently practical and political practice. Moreover, Cahill argues that at least six commitments are widely shared among advocates of peacebuilding, which focuses on the development and implementation of practices intended to achieve these central objectives:
Some principles of just peacebuilding are to restore the fundamental dignity of life, to create a positive peace through a participatory process involving all stakeholders, to form just social relationships vertically and horizontally, to heal the personal wounds of war, to build up the human and material infrastructure, and to develop sustainable institutions and practices so that peace can endure over time (19–20).
The chapter benefits from a number of specific examples of peacebuilding work on the ground, including cases relating to interstate and intrastate conflicts around the world as well as responses to violence and white supremacy within the contemporary United States.
The inclusion of these examples of local, non-governmental peacebuilding interventions is significant. As Cahill rightly notes, the vast majority of just war theorizing comes from the perspective of elites and is focused on powerful states and institutions rather than on the vulnerable civilians who are most directly affected by the actual experience of war and unjust violence. I would argue that it is perhaps this intellectual distance from the real-life impacts and experiences of war that has made possible the widespread historical failure to confront the dilemmas of war Cahill documents. The more that those writing about the ethics of war (whether from a just war, pacifist, or peacebuilding perspective) take seriously these embodied experiences, the more they will be forced to acknowledge the inherently tragic nature of violence itself.
Rosemary Kellison is associate professor of philosophy and religion at the University of West Georgia, USA.Rosemary KellisonDate Of Review:July 23, 2022