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Neo-Orthodoxy in the Morality of War


In recent decades, revisionist philosophers have radically challenged the orthodox just war theory championed by Michael Walzer in the 1970s. This review considers two new contributions to the debate, Benbaji and Statman’s War by Agreement and Ripstein’s Kant and the Law of War, which aim to defend the traditional war convention against the revisionist attack. The review investigates the two books’ respective contractarian and Kantian foundations for the war convention, their contrast with the revisionist challenge, and their points of disagreement. Building on the responses to Ripstein in the edited collection, The Public Uses of Coercion and Force, and providing an overview of the broader debate, the review offers an analysis of the two books’ positions on the relationship between the morality and laws of war, on just cause and the crime of aggression, and on the equality between just and unjust combatants.

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  1. Conventionalism, in a nutshell, is an interpretative method aiming at articulating the principles guiding current practices. Walzer further develops this general methodology in Walzer (1983, 1993).

  2. In addition to McMahan, other influential revisionist accounts include Fabre (2012), Frowe (2014), and Rodin (2002). For an overview of the debate, see Lazar (2017).

  3. For recent influential contributions to this debate, see Haque (2017), Lamb (2013), McMahan (2008), Meisels (2012), Rodin (2011), Shue (2013), Tadros (2020), and Waldron (2018).

  4. This relationship between “deep morality” and Cohen’s ultimate normative principles is often overlooked, although see Elster (2011). On the relationship between Walzer’s account and political realism, see Hendrickson (1997).

  5. See Johan Olstroom (PCF, 133–150) on distributive wars and the distinction between Grotian view on war of necessity and Fabre’s view on distributive justice wars.

  6. Thomas Mertens, for example, argues that in the Rechtslehre, Kant merely provides a descriptive, and not a prescriptive account (PCF, 43–51), and Katrin Flikschuh’s chapter presents an even more radical critique of Ripstein’s metaphysics of Right and its requirement of closure (PCF, 117–132).

  7. Interestingly, for both WBA and KLW, humanitarian intervention might be justified in extreme and exceptional conditions and requiring a wide coalition of state or the authorization of the UN Security Council (see KLW 85, fn. 26, and 102, fn. 2.; WBA 170). The question of preventative war is a bit more complex. WBA essentially adopts a prohibition on preventative wars, although Benbaji and Statman maintain that “in rare cases, states might be justified in violating their contractual duty not to use force” (78). Ripstein’s view seems stricter (see KLW 87–88 in particular), but see the contribution by Ester Herlin- Karnell’s chapter in PCF (pp. 186–203).

  8. Stilz develops this view further in her book, Territorial Sovereignty (Stilz, 2019).

  9. Rainer Forst’s contribution to PCF also focuses on the “paradox of peace,” by which the constitutive concept of peace essentially allows for (past) might to make right (PCF, 32–42).


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I am grateful to the Editor and reviewers at Jus Cogens, as well as to Michael Gross and Steven Klein for their invaluable feedback on this article.

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Correspondence to Lior Erez.

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Erez, L. Neo-Orthodoxy in the Morality of War. Jus Cogens 4, 317–328 (2022).

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  • Contractarianism
  • Just war theory
  • Kant, Immanuel
  • Laws of war
  • Moral equality of combatants
  • National defense