Ethics and the Use of Force: Just War in Historical Perspective by James Turner Johnson. Surrey: Ashgate, 2011. 174pp., £55.00, ISBN 978 1 4094 1857 3
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2013 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 11, Issue 1, pages 85–86, January 2013
How to Cite
Rovie, E. M. (2013), Ethics and the Use of Force: Just War in Historical Perspective by James Turner Johnson. Surrey: Ashgate, 2011. 174pp., £55.00, ISBN 978 1 4094 1857 3. Political Studies Review, 11: 85–86. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12000_18
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
Ethics and the Use of Force is a collection of essays by noted just war scholar James Turner Johnson, covering over two decades of his work in the field. Johnson's primary philosophical aim in this collection is to highlight the importance of the historical development of just war theory (JWT), an approach that Johnson finds lacking in much contemporary analysis. The essays include discussions of the nature of JWT in realist, Christian and Islamic varieties, as well as close interpretation of major figures in the tradition and analysis of contemporary issues in warfare, including terrorism, humanitarian intervention, international criminal law and aggressive war. Each essay provides a stand-alone argument and none of them requires a deep background in JWT, although the arguments and historical contexts can be off-putting for novice readers.
The strengths of these essays are many, including the fact that few scholars of the just war tradition spend much time outside the Christian version, but Johnson devotes several chapters to the Islamic tradition and the vexed terminology of jihad. Helpfully, several of the essays are extremely recent, and this lends an air of timeliness to the discussion of terrorism and of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His discussion of Grotius’ use of charity as a central principle for the evolution of Christian JWT highlights the increasingly important role that Grotius holds for scholars of war, and that essay also presents Johnson's own method most clearly: historical analysis used to illuminate the weaknesses of contemporary ahistorical methodology. In this way, Grotius is pulled out of the seventeenth century and placed directly into conversation and critical analysis of the twenty-first-century version of the JWT.
The primary weakness to be found in this collection is the failure of most of the essays to address the outstanding recent contributions to JWT. In the past ten years, excellent books and articles by David Rodin, Larry May and Jeff McMahan (to name just three) have added new arguments and wrinkles to JWT, but for the most part Johnson's critical discussion stops with Walzer's 1977 classic Just and Unjust Wars.
This volume will be of interest to specialists from several different fields, including philosophy, political theory, peace studies, religious studies and international law. The essays themselves would be suitable for course use for upper-division undergraduates and graduate students, as well as anyone with an historical interest in the development of just war theory.