FORGIVENESS AND PROPORTIONALITY

Political forgiveness proves problematic for rights-based theories because there is no mechanism within these theories for explaining why or when it might be morally good for a nation to forego a valid claim. Furthermore, rights-based just war theories will struggle to reconcile their emphasis on the upholding of just claims with the ad bellum requirement of proportion- ality, which stipulates that no war should be pursued unless it will leave the war better-off than it would be if war was not waged. In cases where both sides are militarily equal and both genuinely believe in the justice of their cause, this is a recipe for perpetual war. Although in many cases pursuing compensations for violations of national rights by force is a morally justifi- able enterprise, an approach to political forgiveness that incorporates both conditional and unconditional approaches suggests that there are times when it is in the best interests of all involved for the cause to no longer be pursued and for the claim to be dropped.

When might these claims be prudently forgone? Here it is worth recalling that all just wars aim at peace, and thus one should forego pursuing a valid claim by war when the costs of such pursuit become too high to be consid- ered consistent with the common good. However, determining when it is appropriate to embark on such forgiveness requires prudence. (Although I am following Digesar in developing an account devoid of interpersonal emotion, it is worth noting that this type of forgiveness also requires politi- cal virtues to possess virtues that regulate anger and pride; viz. meekness and humility.) Applied to relations between political communities, one can see prudence as one of the virtues that bears on the ad bellum principle of proportionality, the 'estimates of costs and benefits of a war' (Fotion, 2008,

p. 15) to the international community. Where war's continuation is likely to see a continued diminution in the overall flourishing of the international community, it ought to be abandoned in the interests of peace. Just as it is unreasonable to avoid all risk in a war intended to defend the innocent, it is unreasonable to continue to fight a war when the peace it aims at will be a worse situation than the current one. Here we see that prudential forgiveness can be brought to bear on the ad bellum condition of probability of success. If there is little chance of a war being brought to a just resolution (i.e., of victory), then it is in the interests of peace that one not engage in war at all.

The contrary is also true though: if a political community's failure to enforce its valid claim would leave the international community in a worse state than going to war, then it ought to go to war. When Cicero encour- aged Brutus to be severe with Caesar's sympathisers, he is said to have remarked that 'if we wish to be clement, there will be no end of civil wars' (Konstan, 2005, p. 341). In this case, according to Cicero's assessment, the common good was best served by going to war. (Notwithstanding the ques- tion of whether there was just cause or legitimate authority in this case.) The merits of this approach are clear: ordinarily, international relations operate within the framework of conditional forgiveness, and the interna- tional community exercises pressure on those who threaten to undermine that framework. However, in the event that a party or parties to a conflict refuse to admit to having done wrong (even when or if the entire interna- tional community is confident of it), any talk of claims must be jettisoned; the question now concerns the common good. In some cases the common good may be better served by seeing political leaders at times relinquishing their communities' claims rather than by pursuing them, even when they are entitled to do so. Furthermore, incorporating a model of unconditional forgiveness also allows for a concept of the 'unforgiveable', thus admitting that certain crimes - such as those of the Nazi regime under Hitler - could still not be forgiven even if it would serve the common good, as Digesar notes (2004, p. 483):

If there exist acts that lie beyond the pale, that create a permanent stain, that generate an irreparable breach in the moral fabric, then we need to consider the possibility of absolutely unforgivable acts. Such acts result in a debt from which the transgressor can never be released and they forever destroy the possibility of a fruitful or valued relation- ship between the victim and the doer of the deed.

Again, in making prudential judgments about political forgiveness, we must consider the common good. In situations where aggression will mean the installation of a totalitarian, violent and oppressive regime, an argu- ment could be made that the international community would be left in a better state were such a regime to be resisted, even if that resistance was unsuccessful. Prudence may, perhaps, suggest that a nation accede to aggression where the new regime will likely do little to damage the common good. What is most important, and where an aretaic approach to forgive- ness and peace building enriches and complements a deontological approach is in providing a moral framework through which political com- munities can depart from a state of war and revert to a state of peace when that peace is in the interest of the common good.

 
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