"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Can We Still Speak of "Holy War"?

Much confusion has existed since at least the 2003 Iraq war over the conditions of what constitutes a "just war," a notion with a long and venerable intellectual pedigree in the West. Now with conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq, inter alia, and the rise of the rebarbative ISIS, fresh talk is emerging about how to handle these groups, and what justification, if any, countries such as the US and UK have for doing so militarily. These debates are not new, of course, and a book set for publication in paperback in early 2015 reminds us that the debates go back hundreds of years: Patrick Provost-Smith, Holy War, Just War: Early Modern Christianity, Religious Ethics and the Rhetoric of Empire (I.B. Tauris, 2015), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
The catastrophe of Iraq has forced us to revisit the validity of what constitutes a supposedly 'just war'. In such critical circumstances, a sustained re-examination of the basis for contemporary just war theory is desperately urgent and required. This is what precisely Patrick Provost-Smith offers in this powerful and original re-evaluation of the topic. The author recognises that a coherent account of the ethics of modern warfare can only begin with history. He therefore explores the great sixteenth century debates about the nature of conflict, focusing on the Spanish conquistadors and their evangelisation of Mexico and Peru.He then shows how these debates were later appropriated by Spanish missionaries in the Philippines with a view to the conquest of China. In assessing previous discussions over 'just wars', and the shifting sands of the various logics that were applied to such conflicts, Provost-Smith puts a wholly new complexion on how current moral theory about war might be understood.
This is history in the best sense: the book makes a decisive contribution to current affairs through a profound grasp of how past ideas and rhetorics about conquest have shaped ongoing notions of western Christian superiority. It will be essential reading for all serious students of religious ethics, the history of ideas, and the history of politics and empire.

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