World Philosophy Day 2011, UNESCO Paris presentation – II


l by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

(December 03, Paris, Sri Lanka Guardian) In one sense, what I have tried to do here is to apply or transpose a particular body of thought which derives from and has been best worked out within Christian theology: the theory or theology of Just War. Of all the religions, perhaps for certain specific reasons, it is Christianity that gave rise to this reflection, the grappling with the question. One the one hand you have a religious founder whose message is taken to be the message of peace and love. This will be questioned by the liberation theologians who would say that justice was as important as peace and love, but the ‘Prince of Peace’ is the way Jesus Christ had been described. On the other hand, the very success of Christianity meant that it had captured from below and inherited the Roman Empire or whatever was left of it. For the message of Christianity to be taken forward, the institutions were necessary. The institutions, the State or a transnational system had to be defended, and that brought up the question of violence. There was another factor, namely the Protestant schism and the intra-Christian wars. So, how to deal with the question of violence which seems to be at variance with the founding inspiration and doctrine? This led to many rich reflections, and we have what is known as the Just War theory. However, Just War theory remains essentially applicable and applied to the behavior of States, because one of the justifications for a Just War is that it is declared by a legitimate authority, and a legitimate authority was thought to be established rulers or States.
I would say that universality is reflected and refracted through the presence of the regional, the local. One may argue in terms of stages of development that certain societies are on the same path but are not at the same point of evolution. Another perspective or a variant is that there are different pathways, different trajectories. Whichever explanation you choose, it is important to understand that the universal acts through the particular.
This leaves a huge moral and ethical vacuum. What of movements for resistance and rebellion? Is their violence therefore unconstrained? Liberation theology did not address this. Though in general I am in sympathy with liberation theology, and have been from the time I was a teenager, I do think that Cardinal Ratzinger, the present Pope Benedict, was correct when he made a brilliant short critique, in thesis form, I think it was in the 1980s. pointing out that the liberation theologians run the risk of opting for Barabbas. We know that Barabbas was an ultra-nationalist resistance fighter, a terrorist who fought against the Roman Empire. There was a choice and the people instigated or supported by the hierarchy of the religious clergy of that society at that time, opted for Barabbas.
Too often, including in my country, liberation theology has been used merely to say that whenever and wherever there is resistance against the status quo it is ok because it is in a just cause and for justice. Now this is just not good enough, because there has been too much barbarism which has been unleashed, not only by States but by movements that purported to transform societies: Pol Pot in Cambodia, the LTTE and JVP in Sri Lanka, Sendero Luminoso in Peru. I argue that you need to develop the doctrine of Just War in order that movements that purport to be for change apply it themselves, practice it, because it is not good enough to base yourself on the apriori notion that since you are fighting against injustice, your cause is just and therefore whatever you do is right.
Just War theory has two moves or moments: just cause or justice of the war itself (‘jus ad bellum’) and ascertaining (certainly with Thomas Aquinas’ developments) the just use of violence in war (‘jus in bello’). Not only must the war be just and fit certain criteria but you must be just in the way you wage it. Today there is a third, tentative, a not very well developed ‘move’ calling for a ‘just outcome’ or ‘just peace’. This is relevant, for instance, in a place like Sri Lanka, but it has not been theoretically worked out very much.
I think that it is very necessary to have a rigorous notion of just war, and this is especially true for movements and projects of transformation. One of the great strengths of movements that resist the status quo, movements for change, is precisely that they are morally and ethically superior to the conservative, reactionary, or elitist status quo. Now if that is to be true, it must be not only because of a self-proclamation, but demonstrably so in the actual, political and military conduct of such movements. Under what circumstances should they take up arms? There are certain structural pre-conditions. Che Guevara said that “if a regime has come into being by electoral means however fraudulent, the outbreak of insurrectional violence cannot be promoted”. But many so called Guevarists, such as the FARC of Colombia and the JVP of Sri Lanka, disregarded this.
There are certain criteria where it is justifiable and certain others where it is not (yet) justifiable to resort to violence. Even if one does resort to violence, how should that violence be practiced? There has to be a code. This is what Christian theology was wrestling with. Violence may be necessary, and if it becomes imperative then it has to be practiced in the right way. Saint Paul said that “it is not true what they say about Christians, that we say that it is permitted to do wrong in the cause of right, so that right may result”. He said that this is not what Christianity is about and I do not think this is what any religion is about, nor do I think it is what any movement for liberation should be about.
If a State crosses the red line of using lethal violence against non violent protests then it undermines its own existence; certainly a regime does. Similarly, if a movement for transformation consciously uses lethal violence against innocents, against the uninvolved, against non combatants, it loses its right to consider itself morally superior and almost inevitably it will lose the struggle it is engaged in.
Msgr. Francesco Follo pointed to the distinctions between ethics and law. I use the Schmitt versus Kelsen debate as a reference point, and my notion of law is perhaps biased by political science. If one believes that law is a superstructure which reflects power relations, then a movement for political change is more likely to respect the notion of ethics rather than the notion of law. So this is why I still take my chances with the ethical rather than the legal.
I must confess here that my own attitude towards philosophy is somewhat ambivalent. That ambivalence derives from a particular exchange during Christ’s Passion. To me there is a philosophical question which is brought up in the Passion of Jesus Christ, and there is a leap to a post-philosophical position. In the exchange, the only classically philosophical issue that is asked is when Pontius Pilate raises the question: ‘what is truth?’ Significantly the Bible says that Jesus remained silent. To me this is a very important rupture in history of thought because a different personality, a philosopher or teacher of philosophy, would have used the opening for a long disquisition into the nature of truth. But the Gospel says that Jesus remained silent. To me, this is in a way, the ‘end of philosophy’ and the silence of Jesus perhaps points to the next level of philosophy which is the importance of a ‘way of being’. This is what I am trying in my humble way to bring into the conversation, in this book. A way of being, whether it is as a rebel or a revolutionary, whether you are fighting for something you believe in or you try to defend something you believe in. Ethically is it possible to do anything and everything that it takes to achieve an objective, or must we also be conscious of a way of being and of our way of being, in the world?
I do not focus on updating the theory of Just War for states because that has been done, particularly in the West by those such as Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff. What has not happened, where there is a theoretical absence, is in the non-state or anti-systemic space. This is where I have tried to make an intervention.
Is it possible – Nietzsche would say that it is not – to think philosophically in terms other than that of hierarchy? Is not the more important issue what that hierarchy is based on? The crucial question of values was brought up, and here I believe that Nietzsche was correct when he referred repeatedly to the transvaluation of values.
Regarding the debate about universality, I think that a synthesis is possible in this debate. If above all else we are human, then there are certain values deriving from that common, shared, condition of humanity which are universal. But the error that is made is two-fold. On the one hand there are those who deny that there are any kinds of values that are universal and counter-pose ‘Asian values’ or ‘home grown’ values to universality. By doing so, what it really means is that you do not accept the universality of the human condition — that all beings are created or born as equal and equally human, and possess inalienable equal rights. This is one cardinal error. The other is to forget what Lenin called “uneven development”. Mao and Althusser reminded us that absolutely everything develops unevenly. Universality does not manifest itself universally and at the same time! Regis Debray was correct when he said that the historical clock shows different times from Caracas to Paris. I would say that universality is reflected and refracted through the presence of the regional, the local. One may argue in terms of stages of development that certain societies are on the same path but are not at the same point of evolution. Another perspective or a variant is that there are different pathways, different trajectories. Whichever explanation you choose, it is important to understand that the universal acts through the particular.
So the denial of universality is one philosophical and methodological error and the failure to understand uneven development and the dialectic of the universal and the particular, is another. I think we should avoid both. But I remain passionately committed to the notion of universality and universal values which derive from our common human condition. The values of humanism are part of these universal values.
Msgr. Francesco Follo said that one must be a seeker and that a seeker needs a goal or target to seek for: ‘if a hunter has no target he is not a hunter’. He then evoked Novalis who said that philosophy gives the courage to go on. That reminded me of Martin Heidegger who said that the crucial question of philosophy is to find a place to dwell. But in order to find a place to dwell you have to go on. Then again Bob Dylan said there’s “no direction home”. So these are the problems of philosophy, to find the direction home, to find a place to dwell and find the courage to go on.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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