Plumb Lines

February 17, 2011

The Just War Arsenal

Filed under: Uncategorized — William Brafford @ 6:55 am

Public Discourse has been hosting a debate over the ethics of lying, taking as the central case the activist Lila Rose’s deception of Planned Parenthood in the making of her sting video. Christopher Tollefsen wrote the initial essay arguing that lying is wrong in all circumstances, Christopher Kaczor disagreed, and Tollefsen responded. Robert George has weighed in in support of Tollefsen, and the folks at Super Flumina have offered some interesting arguments.

I’m interested in Jody Bottum’s piece defending Live Action. Bottum wants to consider Rose’s actions under a metaphorical sort of non-war Just War Theory, saying: “Of course, the fight against abortion is also not fought on abstract fields. Its battlegrounds are the political and social worlds, and for those worlds, Lila Rose’s ruse seems to me both fitting and clever.”

Prof. Tollefsen’s response to the war angle is this:

More importantly here, however, it is crucial to point out that the pro-life movement is not, in any but the most distantly metaphorical sense, “at war” with Planned Parenthood. To take such a claim strictly would raise unsolvable problems in terms of just war thought: who, for example, is the legitimate authority that has tasked Lila Rose with this work? And it would justify untenable conclusions, for if anything is justified in war, it is the use of arms. Yet the pro-life movement has, rightly in my view, converged on an understanding that the use of arms to stop abortion is not right: it provides a counter-witness to the value of life; it constitutes an unjustified attack on our nation’s overall legal structure; and it is unlikely either to bring peace or to result in a proportionate balance of benefits over harms. The appeal to war is thus a non-starter.

In other words, you should be careful about using military-grade JWT if you don’t want military results.

-William Brafford



  1. It’s Tollefsen, actually.

    Comment by William Mullaney — February 18, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  2. I appreciate the correction and have fixed the text.

    Comment by William Brafford — February 18, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  3. Hadley Arkes, if he is correct, has today made Tollefsen and George look absolutely ridiculous. If Arkes is correct, how can someone of George’s intellectual stature be so wrong on so basic a point? If the issue is as basic and moral as Arkes presents, common sense tells you to lie when the situation is unjust. Why would anyone send his child to Princeton, and pay thousands of dollars, to learn from someone who has gotten it so wrong on so basic a point?

    Thus, I find it very difficult to accept that George, and Tollefsen, has gotten it so wrong. Augustine, Aquinas, Trent and the Catechism seem to think they have it right.

    Where is the real disconnect in the argument? What is the definitive answer? Both sides seem to think the answer is obvious. I thought one of the purposes of the divine founding of the Church was to give us the answer on these kinds of things, morals, that is.

    Comment by Kirk — February 19, 2011 @ 2:59 am

  4. Scrupulosity is a psychological emotional affliction that dresses itself up in vestments and passes itself off as moral theology on steroids . Perhaps they are correct and perhaps it is my life experiences that have colored my vision cracked the prism through which I perceive and respond to the world but on this one well have to agree to disagree for now.

    Comment by offshore corporations — March 1, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  5. An unusually intelligent spam post by offshore corporations.

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — February 17, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  6. Cribbing spam bots that linked to their sources could be very useful indeed.

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — February 17, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

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