Friday, November 10, 2017

The Right to Resist (especially violent) Oppression & Just Revolutionary War

To date, and rather surprisingly given the violent (and non-violent) struggles of oppressed peoples around our planet in the twentieth century, those who specialize in normative political theory and the ethics of war (or just war theory) have had precious little to say, at least in any systematic or theoretical sense, about what constitutes a “legitimate, armed, non-terrorist resistance to oppression” (in particular, when such oppression takes the form of violence by the state), in other words, “what are the moral rules or constraints and parameters of justifiable armed resistance and revolution?” Christopher J. Finlay’s book, Terrorism and the Right to Resist: A Theory of Just Revolutionary War (Cambridge University Press, 2015), addresses these questions by providing us, in the words of one reviewer, with “a lucid, persuasive and comprehensive extension of revisionary just war theory to cases of resistant violence.” The morality of revolutionary war is given a fair hearing and just defense. With regard to a possible warrant for terrorism, Finlay argues that “some such justification is conceivable.”

“But at the same time, the conditions that would need to be present to warrant such a justification are such that it is very seldom likely to occur in reality. It is necessary to specify what those are, not only—or indeed, not primarily—in order to recognize justified terrorism if it should ever arise, but also to reinforce the assurance with which we may condemn its use in the vastly greater number of case where it is not justified.”

I have only skimmed through the book for now, and it appears to be first-rate. The fact that it references some of my favorite political philosophers (as well as others whose work I’m not nearly as familiar): Allen Buchanan, C.A. J. Coady, and Robert E. Goodin, for example, also inclines me to view it with favor.

Finally, I found the title—while provocative and thus market-savvy—misleading. It should rather be A Theory of Just Revolutionary War: The Right to Resist and Terrorism. The change would better reflect the extent and significance of the respective arguments, as the treatment of terrorism does not have pride of place in the book.

I have two bibliographies at my Academia and ResearchGate pages directly relevant to Finlay’s argument: “Violent Conflict & the Laws of War,” and “Terrorism.”


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