Home » political philosophy

On the End of War

“Only the dead have seen the end of war,” wrote George Santayana in 1922.  A century later his observation clearly remains poignant.  War has proven a commonplace ever since, with seldom a year passing without violent conflict.  Though we in the United States have lived fortunate enough never to have prolonged conflict upon our own soil, war has remained at least marginally present in our cultural conscience for decades.

But what makes a war just?  This is the question we seek to ask and answer in our Philosophical Happy Hour this week—a topic more sober and sobering than our usual fare.

To help orient our conversation, it is helpful to note that three temporal conditions have been customarily established to provide context for justification of war: jus ad bellum (before war), jus in bello (during the war) and jus post bellum (after the war).

Jus ad Bellum: Before the War

Why and when do we find war a necessity?  The ethical considerations prior to engaging in armed conflict ought to weigh heavily on any legitimate and authoritative leader: considerations such as whether one’s cause is just—for instance, self-defense, defense of innocent life, or attainment of conditions necessary to living—or that the war is not clearly susceptible to abuse by bad actors, that there is a reasonable probability of success, that no reasonable peaceful option remains, and that conditions of victory are clearly stipulated and recognized.

Jus in Bello: During the War

Once conflict has been enjoined, it remains necessary that the combatants employ restraint: proportionality ought to guide every action.  Even if the enemy might be wholly eliminated—purged from the face of the earth—this will seldom if ever be called for by just conditions of victory.  Similarly, non-combatants should not be targeted, nor should the violence exceed what proves necessary to win the conflict: acts such as rape, torture, or the use of weapons such as chemical gasses have no place in even the most acrimonious of wars.

This restraint protects not only the opposed soldiers and civilians, but also one’s own warriors: to de-humanize the enemy is to lose one’s own humanity.

Jus post Bellum: After the War

Most especially is this evident in the aftermath.  Having overcome the opposed, the victor might impose, and all too readily, certain punitive measures on the conquered.  Again, the measure here must be a certain proportionality aimed not merely at victory but at peace and at the reinstallation of equitable conditions.  Maintaining these principles will be much easier given both just antecedent cause and restraint in the war’s conduct.  Escalation of violence beyond proportion can end only in utter annihilation of even non-combatants or in a resentment that nourishes hatred.

Join the Conversation

Though we take up here a heavy topic, given current conditions in the world, it is important to note that—so long as the sun shines—we must strive ourselves to live a fulfilling human life.  Our conversation will not likely end violence in the world; but it may add some humanity to our understanding of war.

Philosophical Happy Hour

« »

Come join us for drinks (adult or otherwise) and a meaningful conversation. Open to the public! Held every Wednesday from 5:45–7:15pm ET.

Political Philosophy: A Thomistic Defense of Democracy

This seminar has been cancelled and will be offered instead at a later date TBD.

Can we have a democratic government in an increasingly post-liberal world?  Must we return to a strict hierarchy if we are to abandon the “liberal experiment” that has rendered increasing ailment in recent decades?  These are not questions with simple or straightforward answers.  To answer them, we would be foolish both to ignore St. Thomas Aquinas and to caricaturize his thought to fit facile solutions.  Thankfully, though under the auspices of a somewhat different world, great Thomistic thinkers have already anticipated the question and can provide us guidance going forward.

The famous saying of Aristotle that man is a political animal does not mean only that man is naturally made to live in society; it also means that man naturally asks to lead a political life and to participate actively in the life of the political community. It is upon this posulate of human nature that political liberties and political rights rest, and particularly the right of suffrage. Perhaps it is easier for men to renounce active participation in political life; in certain cases it may even have happened that they felt happier and freer from care while dwelling in the commonwealth as political slaves, or while passively handing over to the leaders all the care of the management of the community.  But in this case they gave up a privilege proper to their nature, one of those privileges which, in a sense, makes life more difficult and which brings with it a greater or lesser amount of labor, strain and suffering, but which corresponds to human dignity.

Jacques Maritain, The Rights of Man and Natural Law.

Many are familiar with Jacques Maritain, great Thomist author and figure of the twentieth century: a man who wrote on topics far and wide, and strove most of his life to bring a living Thomism into a broader public.  Fewer are familiar with the thought of Yves Simon, scion of Maritain’s approach to understanding St. Thomas, and an adept thinker and careful author in his own right.

Among Simon’s many contributions is his Philosophy of Democratic Government, a work which presents the core insights of Maritain concerning the nature of democracy in a more deeply-rooted scholarly appraisal of St. Thomas, and rife with many additional insights of Simon’s own.  Using this text as our basis, this seminar, taught by Dr. Francisco Plaza, will revisit these twentieth-century thinkers and discern how their thought can help address the troubles of our own times. View the syllabus here. Registration closes June 2.


Discussion Sessions

4:00pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &

Lecture 1: Christianity and Democracy
» Jacques Maritain, Christianity and Democracy, pages 3 to 63
Lecture 2: General Theory of Government
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 1 to 71.
Lecture 3: Democratic Freedom
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 72 to 143.
Lecture 4: Sovereignty in Democracy
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 144 to 194.

Lecture 5: Democratic Equality
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 195 to 259.
Lecture 6: Democracy and Technology
» Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, pages 260 to 321.
Lecture 7: The Failure of Liberalism
» Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, pages 1 to 42; pages to 179 to 198.
Lecture 8: Freedom, Nature, Community, and Democracy
» Yves Simon Reader, pages 134 to 148; pages 267 to 284; pages 289 to 298; pages 399 to 414; pages 433 to 446.

Pricing Comparison

Standard priceBasic Lyceum
Advanced Lyceum EnrollmentPremium Lyceum Enrollment
Benefactor$200 per seminar$903 seminars included
$90 after
8 seminars included
$90 after
Patron$135 per seminar$653 seminars included
$65 after
8 seminars included
$65 after
Participant$80 per seminar$403 seminars included
$40 after
8 seminars included
$40 after

The Practice of Philosophy in a Time of Loneliness

Brian Jones (PhD candidate, University of St. Thomas, TX) delivers a thoughtful lecture on how the practice of philosophy in our time of loneliness can sustain and elevate us throughout the present crisis and the threat it poses to the world. Jones draws on the thought of Alexis De Tocqueville, Byung-Chul Han, James V. Schall, and many others. You may now listen to the full lecture below—and if you enjoy, please consider donating to the Lyceum! Your donations allow us to continue supporting academics like Mr. Jones in their pursuit and promulgation of the good and true.

You can download the lecture using the three-dot menu at the right! – Brian Jones on the Practice of Philosophy in a Time of Loneliness.

ABSTRACT: The COVID-19 pandemic and the destructive mitigation responses to it have certainly placed a heavy existential weight on democratic citizens. The social, political, and economic chaos of the past two years has profoundly disorienting. In the midst of such an unprecedented response, we are right to wonder about the very endurance of our modern liberal democratic regimes. The current crisis, however, is not the result of the pandemic. Rather, the general Western response to the pandemic has exacerbated certain social and political conditions present prior to the arrival of the virus. The pandemic has merely escalated an already existing form of disintegration. While there are many features of this present crisis, one that is most acutely felt and witnessed is a cultural condition which tends to incline citizens towards thoughtlessness.