Rewriting the Just War Tradition: Just War Ideas in Classical Greek Political Thought and Practice

International Studies Quarterly

Author/s (editor/s):

Cian O'Driscoll

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

Find this publication at:
Oxford University Press

Cian O’Driscoll, ‘Rewriting the Just War Tradition: Just War Ideas in Classical Greek Political Thought and Practice’, International Studies Quarterly, 59(1) 2015: 1-10.

The just war tradition is the predominant western framework for thinking about the ethics of contemporary war. Political and military leaders frequently invoke its venerable lineage to lend ballast to their arguments for or against particular wars. How we understand the history of just war matters, then, for it subtends how that discourse is deployed today. Conventional accounts of the just war trace its origins to the writings of Saint Augustine in the 4th century CE. This discounts the possibility that just war ideas were in circulation prior to this, in the classical world. This article contests this omission. It contends that ideas homologous to a range of core jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum principles were evident in classical Greek political thought and practice. This finding challenges scholars to re-consider not only the common view that the just war is, at root, a Christian tradition, but also the relation between victory and just war, the nature of the ties binding just war and Islamic jihad, and an innovative approach to the comparative ethics of war.

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