Returning from lunch today I saw a bumper sticker that read, “WAR Doesn’t Decide Who’s Right – Only Who’s Left.”
I couldn’t help but think that the world is better left without the likes of Hitler.
Beyond that though there’s something very naive in the logic. It presupposes that support for a given war effort is predicated upon the belief that war determines who’s right. But who really believes that the good is determined by the stronger? This was the gist of Thrasymachus’s argument in book one of Plato’s Republic, but he also argued that injustice is the proper course of action.
Book one reads like one of Plato’s shorter dialogues, which end without resolution (Socratic aporia) as Socrates concludes that he has not arrived at a definition of justice. Yet in this work the technique, and the foil of the sophist Thrasymachus, lead us into an extended exploration of justice and the ideal state, which variously touches upon warfare as an unavoidable reality, not as an exercise in determining right and wrong.
My hunch is (and now I’m suddenly interested in studying the Republic …) that Plato would agree that war does not determine who is right, but must often be undertaken by those seeking justice as the ultimate answer to injustice.
The saturday-morning-cartoon-morality of the bumper sticker set assumes that there’s more Thrasymachus than Plato in us (in point of fact the relativists opposed to war have more in common with the sophists), and we should do better than to counter that war does determine who’s right.
It can, so long as the right keep up the fight and resist naive appeals to peace in the face of danger.