Is There a Supreme Emergency Exemption?

Brian Orend

in Just War Theory

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2005 | ISBN: 9780748620746
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748672042 | DOI:
Is There a Supreme Emergency Exemption?

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Michael Walzer's just war theory claims that, when one is unjustly facing the “supreme emergency” of total extinction, one may legitimately waive the discrimination principle and target the civilian population of one's enemy. The key precedent for this, so he claims, is Churchill's bombing strategy against Nazi Germany when Britain “stood alone” in the early years of World War Two. At this point, just war theory would seem to revert to straightforward “means-end” consequentialism. This chapter analyses the case for a supreme emergency exemption, recognising the force of the criticisms to which Walzer's argument has been subjected. It argues that the case for the exemption can be vindicated, but only if its circumstances are understood in terms of a moral tragedy and its application subject to a bespoke and demanding set of constraints.

Keywords: Supreme emergency; Discrimination; Walzer; Churchill; Consequentialism; Moral tragedy

Chapter.  8231 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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