Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.
Part 29: Just Rebellion Principle 6: Comparative Justice
By Leonard O. Goenaga
Regarding the comparative justice principle, Keown asks the following in relation to the America Revolution: “Were the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war and to justify killing?”1 Tooley abridges Keown’s response where he writes, “Regarding the demand for ‘comparative justice,’ Keown is skeptical that sufficient ‘values’ were imperiled to ‘override the presumption against war’.”2 As expressed in this paper’s survey on tradition, there hardly seems to be any graver condition than tyranny. As Buchanan expressed, who himself greatly influence Thomas Jefferson, the tyrant was the “enemy of humanity” and a war against such an enemy was “the most just of all.”3 A condition of tyranny breeds both war and suffering, and itself is the worse of all conditions. Regardless of its degree during the Revolution, the downward descent was evident, and who but the Omniscient God knows how far such tyranny could fall? Also related to comparative justice is upon whom the guilt of spilt blood falls. As noted, the battles at Concord and Lexington were the product of the British Army’s attempts to disarm the colonies of arms. Not only did their actions lead directly to the spilling of blood, but Aquinas faults the perpetrator of tyranny as responsible, saying:
Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, since it is ordered to the private good of the ruler and to the injury of the multitude.4
As the Declaration maintains, what was at stake was liberty itself.5 Since tyranny is considered by many prominent Christian just war contributors to be one, if not the most, repulsive and unjust of states, and since the guilt of bloodshed is on the hands of the pugnacious tyrannical agitator, the American Revolution adhered to the comparative justice ad bellum principle.
1 John Keown, “America’s War for Independence – Just or Unjust?” 303.
2 Mark Tooley, “Was the American Revolution Just?”
3 George Buchanan, De Jure Regni Apud Scotos, ii, 47, in The Powers of the Crown in Scotland, ed. Charles Flinn Arrowood (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1949) 50. On the influence of Buchanan on Thomas Jefferson, see James Brown Scott’s The Catholic Conception of International Law (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1934).
4 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, ii-ii, q. 42, art. 2, r.o. 3.
5 The Declaration on Last Resort: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The Moral Liberal Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at Leonardooh.com